Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Seed racks are stocked and supplies are ready for seed-starting 2011.

To Start Seeds or Purchase Plants?

Frigid weather gets old in a hurry and has me contemplating the spring. It's also a tempting time with all the colorful seed and nursery catalogs arriving in the mail. Should I purchase and a plant seed for this year's garden or sit back and wait until planting time arrives and buy started plants from the garden center?

To make a decision, several considerations are necessary. Begin by reviewing the growing conditions that are available at home for starting and growing seedlings successfully. If conditions are not ideal, you'll end up with spindly, weak plants that start out slowly when set outdoors. Weaker seedlings are often damaged by spring winds and dehydration and soil-borne diseases.

What conditions are best for starting your own seedlings? I suggest a fairly large area of bright light exposure. Flowers and vegetables require very bright light, even as small seedlings. Grown outdoors, impatiens thrive in shade, but need plenty of light indoors to grow vigorously. My preference for indoor lighting is a south or southwest window or supplemental artificial light.

Artificial light sources are helpful when window light is insufficient or none is available. The most economical and effective in a home setting are fluorescent lights. They can be easily mounted underneath shelving so the lights can be adjusted up or down as the seedlings grow. Hang the lights so the tubes are four to six inches above the tips of the seedlings, and keep the lights on for 14 hours each day. A timer can be used to keep the interval regular. Where window light exists but may not be adequate, it can be supplemented with artificial light sources.

Proper temperature is also vital for growing vigorous seedlings. Warm-season crops, such as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, germinate well at 70 to 75 degrees F., but should be grown cooler as soon as germination has occurred. Night temps slightly above 60 degrees and day temps at 70 to 75 are best. For complete details on germination requirements and care, read the seed packet for helpful information.

Seeds of many cool-season crops should be started now, since outdoor planting time is not too far away.

When deciding whether or not to sow seeds, keep in mind your personal time available, as well as the amount of care certain plants require. Very tiny seeds, including petunias and begonias, may be a challenge or grow so slowly that they need many weeks inside before planting outdoors. If you want unusual or the newest plant varieties, starting your own seeds is the way to go, since garden stores and nurseries generally handle the varieties most in demand.

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