Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
February, 2004
Regional Report

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A favorite well worth the trouble of starting early indoors, chamomile is pretty, fragrant, makes a yummy tea, and often reseeds, too.

Homegrown Bedders

Garden center shelves will soon be overflowing with bedding plants, but there are good reasons to start now growing your own. Many flowers that must be set out early are rarely available as seedlings, yet they are easily grown indoors under lights. Let me introduce you to a dozen likely candidates, and to the simple equipment you will need to grow them from seed.

Cool-Season Standouts
In alphabetical order, look for these seeds when browsing seed packet displays: alyssum, ammi, bachelor's buttons, bells of Ireland, calendula, candytuft, chamomile, dianthus, nemophila, nigella, statice, and sweet pea. All are cool-season annuals that grow best when set out a week or so before the last frost.

The Right Stuff
Near the seed racks, you will find plastic trays with clear domes that fit over the tops; and either peat pots that you can fill with seed-starting mix (like Jiffy Mix), or dried, compressed biscuits of peat moss (Jiffy 7s) that swell into little pots when you add water. Both are foolproof for starting little seeds.

You will also need a fluorescent light, which can be a "stick" light, a pair of desk lamps outfitted with compact fluorescent bulbs, or a proper grow light that can be adjusted for height. If you've wondered if such a light is worth the money, it is! I've had mine for fifteen years, during which time I've replaced the bulb twice. I think it may outlive me.

A last (optional) piece of seed-starting equipment is a heating pad. I use the same one I reach for when I strain my lower back. To help my seeds germinate, I place the planted tray on an old cookie sheet, and then set the whole shebang on the heating pad. I turn the heating pad on to medium setting for about an hour twice a day. This gentle bottom heat speeds germination, so I have a good show of seedlings basking under the grow light within a week.

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