Best of
 Wild Things…
Seed Starting
Part I of II
By Karen Vizzi
     We’re almost at the end of a long winter, and it’s finally time to officially begin the 2001 garden season. Yahoo! This week, we’ll do the first in a two-part discussion on starting seeds indoors.
     Starting plants from seed is one of the most fascinating and rewarding tasks the garden has to offer and is also the most economical way to have the garden of your dreams. Seed is much cheaper than full-grown plants, and there is greater variety to choose from. But starting seeds indoors offers many challenges and can be frustrating, unless you follow a few simple guidelines.
     The first step is to make a schedule. Seeds germinate and mature on very different time schedules, depending on the plant. So you’ll want to schedule the initial sowing based on the date they can actually be transplanted into the garden. On the back of most seed packets, you will find instructions that say something like “start indoors 
4 – 6 weeks prior to last frost date”. I will not buy seeds from any grower that does not print instructions and cultural information on the back of the package.
     The last frost date is the average or approximate date when temperatures should moderate and we can be reasonably sure that there will be no more frost or freezing conditions. In our area, the approximate date is somewhere between May 10th and May 15th. However, we know better than anybody that the weather doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to…so when it eventually comes time for transplanting, we need to faithfully watch the weather forecast. Every so often, the Weather Channel provides a 10-day temperature forecast. I go by that forecast, not the calendar!
     Erring on the side of caution, I count backwards 4 – 6 weeks from May 15th, and that is the time I start those particular seeds. To be more specific, this weekend (March 3rd) I will start the seeds that say “start indoors 10 –12 weeks prior to last frost date”. No matter how anxious I am, I stick to my schedule. Success depends on timing the growth of each plant to be mature enough to survive transplanting into the garden, but not so mature that they start to languish and outgrow their indoor homes.
     In general, perennial flowers and herbs will have the longest start-up times and are usually in the 10 – 12 week category. Annual flowers and some vegetables will range anywhere from 4 – 8 weeks, and heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zinnias and morning glories will generally fall into the 2 – 4 week timeframe. In any case, ALWAYS follow the planting instruction on the packet. The danger in ignoring this advice is that you end up with root bound or leggy seedlings. These unhealthy plants generally do not transplant well, and are never able to thrive in the garden.

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