I know it might not look and feel like it, but springtime is almost here (42 days to be exact). The days have slowing been getting longer, and I am starting to notice the birds are back especially the pair of Canadian geese that choose our pond as a perfect place to make a nest every year. This is the time of year where its good to start thinking what you want to plant in your garden this summer. You have multiple options on how you want to start your plants. You can start them at home, buy them from a greenhouse or sow them directly into the ground. In this article I will be discussing all options that you can choose from so you can have a successful harvest this year.
Grab An Egg Carton; Start The Planting
Starting your warm season plants indoors as seeds is a great way to get a few weeks ahead of the growing game because you should wait to plant those until after the first frost. According to the Farmers Almanac the last frost for this area will be May 8 but that can always change, and you should watch the weather close. Common warm season vegetables to plant are beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, zucchini, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, tomatoes and watermelons.
If you choose to start seeds indoors is very simple. First you sow or plant the seeds individually into seed trays or paper egg cartons. If you use paper egg cartons, you can plant the section right into the ground because the carton will biodegrade. If you choose to do this method, make sure you poke a small hole in the bottom of the carton so the extra water can run out. Label your trays or cartons before you plant so you do not get different varieties mixed up. You should plant the seed to the correct depth by checking on the back of the seed package. Most seeds need light to germinate so it is recommended to put them by a warm window or use fluorescent lights. You don’t want to keep the lights on for 24 hours a day, because plants only need 12-16 hours of light a day. Did you know that the temperature of the soil for indoor containers can be 5 degrees lower than the actual inside temperature? Providing the seeds with extra heat from the bottom is also important for growing healthy plants. This keeps the soil warm which helps the roots of the plants grow strong and healthy. Providing heat from the bottoms also helps with damping off. That is when a fungus or mold grows from wet conditions. It can also cause root rot or crown rot in mature plants.
You need to keep the soil moist to help with germination, but you do not want the soil so saturated because that will affect the roots of the plants. After you water if you notice a lot of extra water make sure you drain it because the plants will not thrive if they are sitting in water. What I suggest you use as a watering tool is a spray bottle. That will help with not using too much water and so you do not make a mess with the potting soil when you go to water.
Don't Fertilize Until You See Sets Of True Leaves
You might think once the plants start popping up that you should fertilize them to help them grow, that is incorrect. Fertilizing your new plants does not need to happen until they have multiple sets of true leaves. True leaves are the leaves that appear after the first set of leaves. The first set of leaves you will see are the cotyledons. The purpose of cotyledons is to provide the baby seedling with food until the true leaves rise up above them. The true leaves are what the plant uses to make its own food through photosynthesis. You want your plants to be on the bigger side (3-4 true leaves) before you fertilize because you could scorch them especially if you mixed your fertilizer up too strong.
We are almost to the fun part, transplanting them outside, but you have one more step. It is always a good idea to harden off the plants before you plant them outside. Hardening off is when you get the plants accustomed to the outside. This should take place around two weeks before you want to plant them in the ground. They have been inside for the last 3-4 weeks, so they are not used to full sun, wind, rain and fluctuating temperatures. This step can be accomplished by moving the seedlings outside during the day and bringing them in at night. Start off with a couple hours a day in full sun then move them to a shady spot and increase that time outside each day. After that two weeks you will be able to keep them outside all day and might only need to put them in a garage at night if the weather gets below freezing. Your plants are now ready to be planted into the ground. If you used plastic trays carefully remove them and break the roots up before planting in the ground. If you used containers made from organic matter, you can plant that straight into the ground. What I suggest is try and gently break open the bottom part to the roots can branch out. Happy planting!
Shelby Tedrow is an Agriculture & Natural Resources and 4-H Youth Development Program Assistant at OSU Extension-Wayne County. She can be reached at 330-264-8722 or email@example.com
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record.