No, this is not another post about the interminable wait for my grandson, although I can certainly understand how you might think so… Instead, it’s about the other all-consuming wait that gardeners in cold climates go through at this time of year – when can I start planting?
For me, that was last Friday.
Well, sort of. It’s really too early to start much of anything. Our average last frost date isn’t until the first week of May, 13 weeks away. It’s almost time to start the leek seeds, but everything else is still pretty far in the future. Pansies, however, can be planted out before the last frosts. And, if the ground stays frozen beyond what is normal, I’ll have a really nice centerpiece for Easter.
Might also keep me from going completely nuts before the weather breaks…
Getting started is easy. Like with any project – or recipe – it will go much smoother if all your supplies are gathered before you begin. You can find seed-starting kits at many stores this time of the year, some complete with seeds and dirt, but, they’re pretty unnecessary. Any container that will hold soil can be used to start seeds, as long as it has a drainage hole. I’ve got a ton of old nursery pots that I’ve saved over the years, but might just as easily use recycled yogurt containers, butter tubs, or egg cartons. After that, it’s seeds, soil and water, along with a tray to catch the drips.
It’s best to use a seed-starting mix for planting your new babies. Lighter than potting soil, it drains well to keep the seeds from rotting before they sprout, and it’s sterilized to keep pathogens at bay. You’ll want to wet it thoroughly before packing it into your containers, and be careful not to let it dry out completely – it’s next to impossible to ret-wet if you do! Mix it up, and pack it lightly into the pots – just like making mud pies!
Once the pots are ready, they should be placed on a drip-pan of some kind to keep the water from running all over the place. It needn’t be deep – the lid of a margarine tub, or a disposable pie plate are perfect. It’s a good idea to prepare all the pots you’ll be using and clean off your hands before opening the seed packet, especially with tiny seeds like this:
That’s my son’s hand. The teeny speck in the middle is a pansy seed. They’re awful easy to lose if your hands are still covered with dirt. Now, there are lots of people who swear by those little plastic seeding devices that are advertised in garden catalogs. I’ve never used one, so I can’t judge good or bad for myself, but the pinch-and-tap method works just fine for me.
That’s where you pinch the sides of the seed packet to form a funnel, then tap the packet gently with your finger to shake the seeds out. Plant more than one seed per pot, as not all of them will germinate. Once they’re up and established, select the strongest seedling in each pot and snip the others out. (But, that’s a few weeks away…)
Different seeds have different needs when it comes to planting depth. Some are pushed deep into the soil, others barely beneath the surface. A few, which actually need light exposure to germinate, just sit on top. The back of the seed packet should tell you everything you need to know in this department, as well as optimal soil temperature and moisture requirements. Pansy seeds are covered with about 1/8th inch of soil, and need complete darkness to germinate. I covered them lightly with dry mix, then misted the top with a plant sprayer.
Covering the pots isn’t completely necessary, but it does help keep them moist until everything gets going. A sheet of clear plastic wrap stretched over the top is just as good as a purchased ‘greenhouse dome’. Just be sure to uncover them after the plants sprout so that there are no mold issues.
And, that’s it! Now, we (what else?) wait…