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In the Garden: The seeds of success

Sun., March 3, 2013

Your calendar might say it’s still winter but mine says it’s time to get started on the 2013 garden season.

Starting today, these columns will run every Sunday until it’s time to put the garden to bed this fall. I’ll cover a wide variety of topics for every kind of gardener out there. No matter what you grow – vegetables, flowers, herbs, trees and shrubs, tropical plants, houseplants, or if you garden in containers – you’ll find useful information here.

I’ll continue my summertime tradition of profiling local gardeners and give you sneak peeks at upcoming garden tours that shouldn’t be missed.

So let’s get started. One of the most enjoyable aspects of gardening is starting your own plants from seed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re growing veggies or flowers, all of the concepts are the same.

As you can see in the info box, I’ve been doing some shopping and have quite a list of vegetable crops to grow this year.

When selecting seeds, remember that our frost-free growing season is about 120 days long, from mid-May through mid-September. Because of this, you’ll want to check the seed packets to make sure the days it takes for a plant to mature are well under that.

For example, tomato varieties can take anywhere from 50 to 115 days, and longer, to ripen. Winter squash need 80 to 140 days to mature. Savvy Inland Northwest gardeners know to select short-season varieties for the best success.

Some seeds should be planted indoors before transplanting them out into the garden and others should be sowed directly in the garden. The seed packets will tell you when and how to start your seeds.

I start peas, beans and corn indoors because the quail that visit our garden love to eat freshly sprouted seeds. That’s a real showstopper. If you don’t have this problem, you can sow these seeds directly into the garden when the packets advise.

I start tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, and summer and winter squash indoors to give them a head start since they will need a long growing season.

I’m frequently asked about the timing for starting seeds. I start tomatoes, artichokes, peppers and eggplants around the middle of March, and cabbage at the end of March. I start peas and basil in early April, which is also when I start many annual flowers indoors. Summer and winter squash, pumpkins and beans are started about the first of May.

When should the seedlings be transplanted outdoors? The peas go out around mid-April, which are followed by the artichokes, beans, corn and annual flowers about May 15. The tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, peppers, basil and eggplants go into the garden in late May, provided the weather is reliably warm.

To start seeds indoors, you will need clean containers, a soil-less germination mix and finely-milled sphagnum moss, all of which can be found at garden centers.

I primarily use plastic flats with inserts and clear dome covers but have had good success with seed-starting kits from garden centers and online sources.

Fill the containers with a couple of inches of lightly-moistened germination mix and plant the seeds at the depth listed on the seed packet. Sprinkle a light layer of the sphagnum moss on the surface to prevent damping-off, a deadly fungal disease that can wipe out a whole flat of seedlings.

Cover the container to keep the humidity constant and place it where it will get plenty of light. I use a grow light set-up for this purpose with a timer set for about 16 hours of light per day, but a sunny windowsill works well, too.

Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the cover and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Follow the seed packet directions for the timing of when to transplant the seedlings either into a larger container or out into the garden. When handling your plant babies, never pull on the stem. Always lift them up from below with a small trowel or a chopstick.

Email Susan Mulvihill at her blog at susansinthegarden.

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