Spring fever is starting as the temperatures warm up and the gentle rains wash away the salty memorial of the past ice and snow. Backyard gardeners are itching to get out in their garden beds and get their hands dirty. It may be a few weeks before it’s safe to put plants and seeds in the ground, but now is the perfect time to start seeds indoors for transplant later this spring.
Before selecting seeds, it’s important to know what kind of garden you’re “growing for” this season. Do you have raised beds or planters to fill? Or perhaps you’ve created a large garden out of the majority of your backyard. Is a small herb garden in the works? Or a wildflower patch? Once you’ve created your gardening goals, the fun part begins – seed shopping. And, just like potato chips, you can’t have just one. I found it quite easy to get carried away this year myself, selecting several more squash varieties than I can probably use or have space for (I’ll have to put National Sneak Some Zucchini on Your Neighbor’s Porch Day on the calendar). Just remember, fresh seeds will have the best germination chance. Those that have been stored for two and three years will have fewer and fewer viable seeds.
If you have a raised bed, sometimes they can be a bit limiting in what you are able to plant because of spacing requirements for individual plants; pumpkins, melons, or other vine-type vegetables aren’t going to fit the bill. On the other hand, bush beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers are all great options for gardens with space limitations. If you are container gardening, many times greenhouses will have tomatoes already started in 10 to 12-inch pots ready to adorn your patio. Jalapenos, poblano, and bell peppers can all grow well in planters, too.
When selecting seeds, regardless of garden type, reading the packet to know sun and moisture requirements and days to maturation can help you group plants according to needs. Some seed companies, like Burpee, have created companion plant guides with the assistance of universities to help streamline this process. For example, carrots grow well next to beans, lettuce, and peas, but dill may have a negative impact on carrot development. Peas grow well with carrots, corn and cucumber, but onions and garlic will likely stunt their growth.
If you’re really antsy to start gardening, beginning seeds inside is always an option for most garden vegetables. Choosing a location away from extreme heat or cold and heavy traffic will set the seeds up for success. Of course soil will be involved so putting your potting table near the white rug probably isn’t in you (or the rug’s best interest). Basements can be ideal places to start seed because you can artificially manipulate their light and heat.
When starting seeds, it’s best to give them each their own little cell in a plastic flat or pot. Fiber or newspaper pots also work and the whole pot can simply be planted into the ground rather than risking disrupting the root structure during transplanting. However, a benefit of the plastic flat starter kits is that they are reusable year to year with proper sanitation between growing seasons. Some gardeners may also choose to use a plastic dome or the top of a milk jug over the flat/pots to help retain moisture and prevent excessive soil drying. Once the seedlings are brushing the dome, it can be removed.
The soil used for starting seeds isn’t really soil at all. Peat and vermiculite mixes are popular because of their lightweight nature and porosity, perfect for all sizes of seeds. Make sure to wet the flat cells or pots several times and refill with the potting mixture before planting to truly fill the cells. When planting the seeds, follow the package instructions for seed depth and if several seeds can be planted in one cell.
Eventually, the seedlings will need to be transplanted, but need to toughen up a bit before permanently hitting the great outdoors. About two weeks before transplanting, take the seedlings outside for several hours at a time and bring them in during the chilly evenings. Build up their time outside by a few hours each day in progressively more intense sunlight, finally allowing them to stay outside until ready for transplanting.
Stay strong! Spring is right around the corner and starting seeds inside can be a fruitful new adventure for any stage of gardener.
Haley Zynda is an Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources for Ohio State University Extension. She can be reached at 330-264-8722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CFAES provides research and related educational programs to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis. For more information, visit cfaesdiversity.osu.edu.