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My Northern Garden - Mary Schier
Sharing experiences and ideas about cold-climate gardening
Updated: 1 hour 2 min ago
Over the years, I’ve had lots of successes and lots of failures with indoor seed starting. While seed-starting time is in February or March in many parts of the country, early April is actually a really good time to start seeds indoors in Minnesota, especially if you are planning to grow warm season crops such as tomatoes.
So, here are my top six tips for starting seeds indoors successfully.
No. 1 — Put them where you will see them. Many gardeners have to put their seed-starting set up in the basement. They end up forgetting to check them and before you know it, the seeds are dried up or overgrown. Put them in a prominent place so you are inclined to coddle them.
No. 2 — Let the breezes blow. Outdoors, your little seedlings will experience wind (where I live, it’s gale-force a lot of the time), so get them used to it with a fan set up near your seed starting area. Keep the fan on low to get the seedlings used to wind. This will also help reduce fungal diseases.
No. 3 — Label, label, label. You think you will not forget which of the six varieties of tomato seeds you started are in which pots — but you will. My latest trick is to use a label maker to create labels on the seed starting trays. This is much neater than writing it out on a popsicle stick and less likely to fall off or get washed away. When the plants move to the hardening off stage, the label maker will be employed again.
No. 4 — Water gently and sparingly. More seedlings have been killed by drowning than by drying out. Water regularly, not too much, and if at all possible, from the bottom. My current set up includes really great trays I got when I ordered prairie plants from Prairie Moon Nursery. Each cell is 5 inches deep and the cell tray stands in another tray. I just pour the water into the lower tray and the plants drink it up from below. This encourages the roots to go deeper. When seed-starting season is over, I wash the trays thoroughly and give them a dip in a 10 percent bleach solution to kill any bacteria.
No. 5 — Don’t spend too much. If you only are growing a few tomatoes, it may not be worth your time and money to start from seeds. Just buy a few plants at a local farmers’ market or a garden club plant sale. You don’t need a fancy grow system either — a basic shop light, a couple of flourescent bulbs and a way to suspend the shop light above your seed trays, trays of some kind and seed starting mix — that’s all you need. Do buy or make your own seed starting mix rather than using old potting soil or garden soil.
No. 6 — Pot them up. Depending on the size of the cells you use to start your seeds, you may have to move them to larger pots as the plants get bigger. This is particularly true in my experience with those little pellets that expand when you add water. I’ve got some seedlings that were planted about two weeks ago that are going to need to go into a bigger pot very soon. Save small yogurt cups or the pots that purchased plants came in, add some potting soil and very gently move the seedlings into a bigger pot. Pot them up gradually. A tiny seedling might go to a 2-by-2-inch pot or a 3-by-3, even if it eventually will fill a large container.
For more information on seed starting:
- Check out my how-to on starting seeds indoors
- Or, Tom McKusick’s three-part series on seed starting
- Amy at Get Busy Gardening has a good comparison of peat pellets vs. seed starting cell trays.
Yesterday I attended an event for bloggers at Bachman’s Spring Idea House in Minneapolis and got a sneak peak at what will be in stores this spring. It was great fun to meet several fashion, lifestyle and photography bloggers, as well as seeing the colors and ideas for home and garden decor in action.
In a word: think “fresh.” Also, “pink.”
Karen Bachman Thull led us through the house, a 1920s beauty that was built by Arthur Bachman Sr., a son of one of Bachman’s founders. Three times a year, Bachman’s re-designs the rooms in the house — furniture, paint, the whole she-bang — and opens the house to the public. This year, the house is open every day until April 19. It’s $5 to tour the house and, if you are someone who enjoys decor or is just hungry for spring, it’s well-worth a visit.
Lots of the decor was done in a fresh, bright combination of citrus green, bright pink and white. The combination works great in containers, in table decorations and in the furniture in the airy sunroom and living room of the house. Karen noted that this combination is dynamite as long as you do not add another color. If you put in a blue, a purple, an orange — it falls apart. The look goes from fresh to garish in a minute. I have a pair of bright green containers and plan to try this combination in them this summer.
Another garden trend worth noting is the improved vertical gardening trend. I’ve been a bit cool on most vertical gardening systems because they require so much watering — some of them are basically gutters mounted on a frame. Bachman’s is selling a couple of self-watering systems now. A sweet window box containing herbs was on display in the idea house kitchen and a massive, multi-part living wall of foliage was in the yoga room upstairs. The wall you see in the photo below contains six of the wall garden systems. Fully loaded with plants and water, each system weighs about 60 pounds. The way the systems work is that each plant is in a pot. A wicking device inside the system pulls water from the troughs to the plants.
Karen told me that the kitchen system would only need to be refilled about once a month. If you want to try vertical gardening, self watering is the way to go.
The house also features several forced branches of spring blooms. I think more northern gardeners should try forcing branches in the spring — it’s a great way to bring color into the house. Other garden trends noted in the house are increased interest in terrariums and air plants.
I also really loved this arrangement of snow boots outside the house. Everything is a container this spring!
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Looking at a forecast that includes several days of 60 degree weather, in March, in Minnesota — well, it’s hard not to be thinking about seed starting. But hold off — this too may pass and, in fact, I’m hoping it does. A very early spring can wreck havoc on Minnesota’s outdoor plants as we found out in 2012 when an unreasonably warm March caused fruit trees and other plants to start acting like it was spring only to get zapped by a nasty freeze in April.
So, while this weather is tempting, stay off the grass and out of your gardens to avoid compacting the thawing earth, and think about indoor seed starting instead. I’m getting ready to start seeds in the next couple of weeks. I’ve checked my light set up to make sure it’s still working and organized my seed box so I know when to start what. This year I’ll be starting a few more annual flowers than I have in the past. I find the home-started annuals do just as well as those I’ve bought as starts and there is a big savings on costs.
Most of them can be started about the same time as many of your vegetables. Here’s a typical schedule for starting annuals. The “last frost” date in Minnesota is typically in early to mid-May, so I use May 15 to be on the safe side.
8-10 weeks before last frost: Baby’s breath, viola, vinca, alyssum
6-8 weeks before last frost: Snapdragons, ageratum, gomphrena
4-6 weeks before last frost: Celosia, cosmos, sunflower, marigolds, salvia
This year, I’ll be starting baby’s breath, violas, cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds and salvias, in addition to a fair number of vegetables.
What plants will you be starting from seed this year?