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The Plant Page!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2002 - Planting Zone 6

Hello, Gardening Friends!

Well, it's hard to believe, but it's about that time again! Spring is almost here, and it will soon be time to start our bedding plants for the garden. If you are new to gardening, you should find some helpful suggestions in my article from March 13, 1998. If you are a veteran, you still may find a helpful tip or two!




Happy Gardening!
Nancian





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TREES

"I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems were made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree."

~ Joyce Kilmer


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Friday, March 13, 1998 - Planting Zone 6
(Last expected frost date - May 15th)

Today, I'm starting a new feature at My Place - gardening tips. Do I have all the answers? No, but I'll do my best to find out for you. Since this is something new, and I don't know how great the response will be, I'll have to make up the rules as we go along. For right now, if it's green and it grows, I'll try to include it on The Plant Page. I plan to update this page once a week. Of course, I am open to suggestions, so feel free to e-mail me your comments, ideas and questions. You'll find a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of this page. Well, let's get started!

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Thinking of starting your own bedding plants from seed, this year?
The time is now! Six to eight weeks before the last expected frost date is the recommended time to plant the following: tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, petunias, alyssum and impatiens. These are just a few examples. Check your seed catalogs or the backs of your seed packets to be sure.

Besides the seeds, we'll have to decide what we need to get started. The most important thing on our list is a good quality planting medium. If you want to save money (and who doesn't), this is NOT the item for which to substitute a "bargain brand." The main ingredient in most bargain brands is composted cow manure. While this is a good fertilizer, it is not a good planting medium. It packs, clumps and drys out easily. It just does not permit healthy root growth.

I always use Pro-Mix or a brand with the same ingredients. This is a blend of equal parts of sphagnum peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. Some manufacturers also add a weak fertilizer to the blend. Pro-Mix is light weight, does not pack or clump, holds water very well, and promotes healthy root systems in seedlings. Most importantly, it is sterile and the sphagnum peat helps prevent damping-off fungus. Damping-off fungus is the culprit when seedlings look healthy for a day or so, and then fall over and die. They literally rot off at the soil line!

Next, we'll need to get our containers ready. Ideally, you should probably use peat pots or Jiffy-7 pellets. However, this is not an ideal world, and this is one area where we can really save some money! We can do some recycling, as well. You probably already have a lot of things around your house, that you can use as starter pots or flats.

If you saved your 6-pack cell flats from last year, just recycle them. Styrofoam meat trays (the ones that are 6.5"W x 9"L x 1-1.5"D)work great as trays. One tray will hold two 6-packs, and allow for bottom watering. It also makes it easier to carry the 6-packs, when you have to move them.

One old standby that makes a fairly good seed flat is an egg carton. Be sure to carefully cut a small slit in the bottom of each cell, to allow for drainage. With the styrofoam cartons, you can remove the lid and use it as a tray. The one problem with using egg cartons is that they are a bit too shallow for most seedlings, such as tomatoes or peppers. You'll have to transplant to larger pots a little earlier, to insure proper root development.

Supermarkets provide a wealth of material for the home gardener! Remember that roasted chicken you bought from the deli, in the black tray with the high domed clear lid? That container makes a great mini greenhouse. Another source for the mini greenhouse is the bakery. In this case, it's the clear plastic containers that hold layer cakes. Back in the deli, there are many items that come in plastic containers that can be recycled as trays or flats. Don't forget that a lot of produce comes on plastic trays, as well. Look around and use your imagination!

There are many household items that can be recycled as seed starting pots. For years, many gardeners have been using both the quart and half gallon sized milk cartons for seed starting. Some other good containers are styrofoam or paper cups, margarine tubs (some of these make colorful flowerpots, as well), 6-8 oz. yogurt cups, sour cream tubs, and even the larger 2 lb. cottage cheese or yogurt tubs. The larger containers are useful for transplanting tomato seedlings, from their starter flats. The possibilities are limited, only by your imagination. Whatever you use, just be sure to cut slits in the bottoms for drainage.

If anyone has any other ideas for recycled planting containers, you can e-mail your suggestions to me. I'll print them here on "The Plant Page" and I'll be sure to give you the credit.

Now that we have our seeds, our planting medium, and our containers, all that's left to do is the planting. Moistening Pro-Mix is very much like trying to moisten a dried out sponge. For this reason, I always pre-moisten it in an old bucket or tub. Mix thoroughly with a trowel or your bare hands, between waterings. Keep adding water until it feels like a wrung-out sponge.

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Here are a few tips to make planting easier and insure a higher success rate:

  • Don't plant your seeds too deep. Most seeds should be planted twice as deep as the seed is thick. Some seeds require light to germinate and shouldn't be covered at all. So, always read the seed packet.

  • Seeds germinate better with bottom heat. If you don't have heat tapes, sit them on a radiator, the fridge, or other warm place.

  • As soon as the seeds start to germinate, remove them from the heat. Set them on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights. Otherwise, they will get tall and spindly.

  • Water seeded flats and seedlings from the bottom, or from the top with a spray bottle.

  • If the seedlings are on a windowsill, be careful that they don't get "cooked" in the afternoon sun. You may have to move them or provide some shade for them, especially as the daytime temperatures get warmer.

  • Relax and enjoy yourself! All gardeners have successes and failures. If your marigolds didn't sprout, plant some more. They may bloom a couple of weeks later, but you'll still have the satisfaction of having grown them yourself.

Happy Gardening!
Nancian

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