What to do Now

March Garden Tips

garden spring cleaning   In the Garden
Starting seeds indoors, is probably a good idea after the winter we have had. But, different flowers and vegetables vary widely in their requirements. Some seeds need to be started inside several weeks early, while others do better if planted directly into the ground. In either case don't start them too early. In general, you will need a good source of light to grow plants inside, such as a really sunny windowsill, or grow lights. Here are some tips for starting plants from seed:
• Read the information on the seed packet. The best information is right there on the packet. Most will tell you whether it's better to start the plants inside or to plant directly into the ground. For example, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are best started inside ahead of time. Carrots, beans and radishes do better planted directly into the ground. Likewise, some flowers are easy to start in the garden, while others need a head start.
• Don't start seeds too early. Plants grown inside for a long time tend to get 'leggy' unless you have a really good system of grow lights, so don't start seeds inside any earlier than recommended on the package. The package will probably tell you to sow seeds a certain number of weeks before the last expected frost, or before the ground really warms in spring. The average last frost date in the Washington area varies from around April 15 in the city, through about May 10 in some areas outside the Beltway.
• Start seeds inside in a sterile mixture such as vermiculite or a light potting soil or seed starting mix. Don't use garden soil: it's too heavy and may contain diseases that kill off young seedlings. You can plant in seed starting trays or pots (we sell a variety of good ones), old pots that have been cleaned with a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, or even egg cartons (one or two seeds per indentation).
• Place soil in pots and moisten first. Sprinkle seeds on top, and then cover seeds to the depth listed on the seed packet. As a rule, seeds should be planted four times as deep as the seed is wide. (Some small seeds shouldn't be covered at all, just lightly pressed into the soil. Put a plastic cover or plastic wrap over the trays to help keep them moist.) A heated seed starting mat can really help with germination. Soil temperature needs to be 65 to 75 degrees F.
• When seedlings start to come up, remove plastic cover and place in good light - either a very sunny window sill or grow lights.
• Continue to water gently so that plants never dry out completely, but are not soggy either. When the second set of true leaves develops, start fertilizing with 'Neptune's Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer'.
• When seedlings are ready to be planted out, and the ground and outdoor temperatures have warmed enough to receive them, accustom them to being outside before you actually plant them in the ground. This process is called 'hardening off'. You can do this by putting them outside in a somewhat shady, protected area, for a few hours the first day, then for longer periods over the course of a week, until they're used to being outside.