The days are getting longer and the spring flowering bulbs are starting to push their heads through the thawing soil. Soon it will be spring -- in full force. It is time, once again, to turn our attention toward gardening.
With so many different flowers and vegetables for gardeners to try, it can be difficult to find what you want at the garden center. If so, now is the time to start many of your favorite plants indoors. If you have tried and were not successful with starting seeds indoors, here are a few tips:
Start with good plant selection. Not all plants are easily grown from seed. Choose plants known to do well. Plants such as marigold, ageratum, annual pholox, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cosmos, gazania, gomphrena, nicotiana, periwinkle, scabiosa, salvia, sweet alyssum, tithonia, verbena, and zinnia all do well from seed.
Likewise, vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, cucumbers and eggplants lend themselves nicely to being started indoors. Be sure to use fresh seed that is ready to go. If you have seeds left over from last season or even the year before, do not expect great results especially if the seeds were not stored properly.
Choose a good location for the seed starting. A good location is one that is out of the way of everyday living but stays warm during the day and cool at night. Just because you do not have a sunny picture window facing south does not mean you will not have success with starting seeds indoors. I prefer to grow my seeds under artificial light. When done properly, you can produce compact plants that are strong and healthy.
Seeds can be started in a variety of containers. You can use paper or Styrofoam cups with drain holes punched in the bottom, commercial peat pots or seed starting flats. They all work well. Fill the containers two-thirds full with potting mix. Place several seeds in each and then cover them lightly with more mix. Water gently and cover the trays with plastic or a blanket to reduce evaporation. Keep seeds warm and moist. Seeds germinate best at between 750 and 800 degrees. After germination, gradually move back temperatures to 650 to 700 degrees. Move the newly emerging plants under lights or near a sunny window. If using artificial light, use cool white fluorescent lights and keep them 2-4 inches above the top of the plants, raising the light fixture as the plants grow. For the best growth and development, leave the lights on for 20 hours a day.
Apply water mixed with a water-soluable fertilizer as needed. Follow the fertilizer's label directions for seedling plants. Soilless potting mixes can require 2-3 feedings each week.
-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.