Every year you plan that THIS will be year you have pots and pots of lush plants on your balcony or deck. Then you visit your local nursery in spring and reality hits -– cost for your fantasy is just outrageous! Sound familiar?
But you can have planters of your dreams at a fraction of cost and with a choice of varieties far beyond what local garden center offers. How? Start your own flower seeds now.
If you’ve never grown from seeds indoors before, it’s best to begin with just a few types. Easy starters: Trailing lobelia and petunias make a bright and simple garden for sunny spots. Licorice plant and dwarf nasturtiums are also attractive.
Once you’ve decided on your plants, you must know two things to determine when seeds should be started: last frost date for your area, and time required before transplanting.
•The last frost date is date beyond which there is a low chance (usually about 10%) of temperatures at or below freezing mark. This is important because many traditional plants for hanging baskets are tender, that is, they will not survive when frozen. You may already know what frost date is for your area. If not ask gardening neighbors or your local gardening center. If you are in USA, visit http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/documentlibrary/freezefrost/Spring32F_hires.jpg for information from national Climatic Data Center.
•The time required before transplanting is different for each type of flower. You’ll see this listed in seed catalogs or on seed packet. For example, a packet might tell you to “start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost date.” Some seeds such as nasturtiums, zinnias, or cosmos may be sown directly outside but if you have to wait after danger of a frost has passed, you may want to get a jump on spring by starting those inside too.
Licorice plants and geraniums need 12 weeks to sprout from seed. So if my last frost date is May 15th, I’ll want to start them around last week of February. Petunias, impatiens and lobelia require 10-12 weeks, so I would start them around first of March. Morning glories, which make a beautiful privacy fence from a plain piece of latticework, need six weeks from start to transplant, but can’t be put outside until two weeks after last frost date. This would mean starting them indoors about mid-April. I’d start nasturtiums and zinnias about then too.
Your goal is to promote germination (with heat and water) and seedling growth (with light) while preventing your seedlings’ chief enemy, “damping-off” (with air circulation and proper drainage). Here are some tips for successful seed growing.
•Use plastic containers, about 2” deep, fairly wide and with multiple drainage holes. Growers’ cell packs are ideal but you can also use yogurt or cottage cheese containers as long as you sanitize them with a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water) for 15 minutes and then punch several holes in bottoms.
•Use commercial seed-starting mix. It’s sterilized and contains necessary food to aid germination. You might also want to try using a product specially formulated to prevent damping-off.