Gardening with Sylvia 2018 Articles

Growing Your Garden

By Sylvia Stockill
January 2018

As soon as the snow begins to melt, the urge to get the garden growing hits. Some retailers start offering seed packets for sale in February. Try to ensure that these seeds are not just left-over, unsold stock from last year. Seeds lose their viability over time. How they have been stored is important. They should be stored cool, dry, and dark. Age affects some seed varieties more than others, but to ensure the best success, always use “new” seed (seed that has been collected the previous year). Be aware from the start that the germination percentage of that old pack of seed will be lower.

Starting seeds too early on the windowsill is a mistake many make. If you do not have the proper spot to grow the plant after germination, you will only end up with a tall, spindly, weak version of the plant you are attempting to grow.

Grow your young plant under a “grow-light”. It is a specialized bulb, simulating sunlight. Young plants grow well under these lights. If you have a greenhouse, and it is warm enough, (especially at night) move the plants to the greenhouse. If the night-time temperatures, especially, are too cold, you may need to heat the greenhouse.

If you are only growing a few plants, one of those small, five-foot tall, plastic covered ‘greenhouses’ would work great. Place it in a sunny, protected spot outside, put your plants out in the daytime, and bring them in, in the evening, when temperatures drop.

Some vegetable plants are more susceptible to cold than others. Most, however, do better when the night-time temperature is lower than in the daytime. (within reason of course). (Celery and peppers, for example, should never, ever, experience temperatures below 13 degrees C.)

Always be sure to water your young plants with warm (room temp) water. Never use cold water. A sprayer or mister can be very useful for keeping very young, delicate plants watered. Attempt to water the roots (the soil) and not the whole plant. You do not want the weight of the water droplets to plaster the plant to the ground. Another method is to place the small starter pots in a leak-proof tray and water the tray, allowing the water to be soaked up by the soil. This works especially well with peat pots or jiffy pellets. Caution must be taken to not leave standing water in the tray. The soil should be moist, but not soggy. Soggy soil and warm conditions only encourages disease, mold and fungus, which will kill your young plants quickly.

The first leaves to emerge when the seed germinates are not true leaves, they are called cotyledons, and do not resemble, in shape or size, the plants’ true leaves. The cotyledons will eventually just die off.

Once your plant has several true leaves, and is in a tiny ‘starter’ pot, it will need to be transplanted. If it is still too early in the year to transplant into the garden, or its’ outdoor patio planter, then plant it in a larger pot. You can fertilize at this point as well. Use a good general vegetable fertilizer, but be sure to read the instructions and do not overdose or “burn” your plants. A root stimulating, 5-15-5 fertilizer can be used to encourage strong root growth on your young plant. More about fertilizers in the next column. Always handle plants carefully, taking special care to never pinch the stem.