start thinking spring
Starting your own plants
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[February 19, 2007]
It's now heading toward March. It still gets
cold some days, and the days are still short, but those seed
catalogs are a sure sign of spring on the way. Groundhog shadow or
not, it is time to plan for starting your own plants. There are
quite a few details to begin your own transplants.
I don't know which comes first, the chicken or the egg, so I'll
begin with the hardiness zone. All of Logan County lies in Zone
5b, but we are on the border with 5a. What difference does this
make? "About a three-week difference in seed starting date" is
the answer. In Zone 5b, we would want to start broccoli,
cabbage, cauliflower and lettuce (if that's something you want
to transplant) as early as March 5. Eggplant, herbs, pepper,
petunias, marigolds and tomatoes would be planted March 25.
Cucumber, muskmelon and watermelon could be started as early as
April 15. The rule of thumb is to allow about six weeks before
you want to set the plants outside. This gets back to the
frost-free dates and the frost tolerance of plants.
should you plant your seeds in? You should use a sterile growing
medium. There are several kinds of soil-less germinating mixes,
potting soils, peat cubes and compressed peat pellets that are
available. These media are generally free from insects, diseases
and weeds. Enough fertilizer is generally present in these to
allow for three or four weeks of plant growth.
As far as sowing the seeds, traditionally seeds have been put
in shallow boxes in rows about two inches apart and covered
lightly with vermiculite. Soon after the seeds come up, they are
transplanted into other containers. An easier method is to start
the seeds directly in the final growing container. The final
container should match the seed (or plant) planting depth to
what it would be directly seeded in a garden.
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Most seeds will germinate in a growing medium temperature of 60
to 70 degrees, but the melons and eggplants like it a bit warmer.
Watering and fertilizing are just as important. Water can't be too
much or too little. The medium you are using also makes a
difference, as peat pellets tend to dry out quickly. Fertilizer
should be in the medium for the first three to four weeks. You can
add a soluble fertilizer to the water at the rate of one tablespoon
per gallon, used about once a week, on established seedlings.
Non-fertilized water should be used between the fertilizer
Vegetable plants need direct light. Natural light only goes so
far in the winter months. We want to try to provide about 12 hours
of light a day on these transplants. Artificial lights work well to
supplement natural light, or provide all light in a basement
setting. Grow-light bulbs work well but are expensive. A combination
of cool white fluorescent and incandescent bulbs provides about the
same light spectrum. Lamps should be about 12 inches away from plant
Before your starts are planted outdoors, they should be hardened
gradually by exposing them to outside conditions. Start by placing
the plants outside a few hours a day. Use a very sheltered area to
protect from direct light and winds. Gradually extend the time
outdoors as planting time approaches.
Then hold off transplanting until the proper time of the season.
Otherwise, you've probably gone to the effort of starting your own
seeds for nothing. Garden centers like nothing better than gardeners
who set out tomato plants the first warm spell in April. That means
they probably get to sell another set in May.
[Text from file received from
Fulton, unit leader,
University of Illinois Extension,
Logan County Unit]