For your reading pleasure, we are reprinting a popular article from one of our newsletters. Enjoy and best wishes for a fruitful garden in 2017!

35576It’s that wonderful time of year again, when gardens are sketched, catalogs are dog-eared, websites are bookmarked, and long lists are made and pared down and re-made. It’s garden planning season, and for those of us who start from seeds, it’s about to become the busiest few weeks in the whole year! Here are a few tips to make the process a little easier:

1. Label every seed you sow. We know, we know — you pined for Petunia Desert Sky Mix from the moment you saw it in the catalog, you sowed it way too early because you just couldn’t wait, and you’ll never forget where it is . . . except you might. In the hustle and bustle of moving around Bio Domes and Jiffy Pots and seed flats, you might find yourself in a month’s time staring at a dozen or so cute little green seedlings and wondering, “What on earth are these?” Label everything.

2. Shop smarter for your seeds. Always a bargain, seeds can become a downright steal when they are (a) discounted, or (b) put into a collection.

(a) Discounted seeds on the Park Seed website aren’t old or in poor condition. They’re just discontinued, because they are no longer trendy, or we only have small quantities left, or a new variety came along to replace them. Click here, or goo to the homepage and choose “Sale” from the horizontal menu along the top, then find “Seed Closeout Sale” and save LOTS of money on terrific varieties you’ll love. You know what the amazing thing is? Many of these varieties have 5-star customer ratings, and are gardeners’ favorites. You can’t go wrong.

(b) Seed collections are a great way to try new varieties, and they can save you some serious coin. For instance, if you’re a Sunflower lover, you can spend $4.95 on a packet of 25 Superted seeds. Or you can spend $9.95 on Park’s Sunflower Seed Collection and get Superted — plus Soraya, Sunspot, Cherry Rose, and Giganteus. These 5 packets contain a total of 175 seeds, and you get to try other varieties you might fall in love with.

Why the difference? Every Sunflower lover in the world wants Superted, because it’s new and gorgeous. But the other 4 varieties in the collection — a multi-flowered beauty, a magnificent red-and-yellow, a fluffy giant with 10-inch flowers, and a dwarf with huge blooms — have been around for years, so their price has fallen. (And because they’ve stood the test of time, you can be pretty sure that they do well in the garden and are much admired. Many, if not most, new varieties vanish after a few seasons, with only the best and most beautiful surviving the competition!)

3. Build a safety margin into your transplant schedule. Everything about transplanting hinges on the last anticipated frost date for your area, and that date is a best guess from years of experience. It is meant to be approximate. Unless you’re set on growing the first tomato on the block, add a week or two to your transplant schedule as buffer. This way you’ll be less frustrated if the transplant date arrives with snow still on the soil!

4. Honor the hardening off process. “Hardening off” refers to the process of acclimatizing seedlings that have been started indoors to the conditions of the outside world. It usually takes a few days and more patience than most of us gardeners have this time of year, but grit your teeth and remind yourself that your plants will thank you with healthier, quicker growth. Here’s what you do:

36600_1Bring the young plants outdoors and place them in a shaded, protected area, such as a picnic table on a covered porch or a wind-free place beneath a tree. (If you’ve started seeds in the Bio Dome, go ahead and bring the whole dome out, with the clear plastic cover on — you can remove the top the next day.) Let the seedlings remain outdoors for just a few hours the first day, and then bring them back into the house or potting shed. The next day, try to leave them out all day, unless the temperature changes abruptly or a storm kicks up. The third day, leave them all day and all night. They should be ready to plant the following morning.

5. Keep sowing seed indoors even after spring arrives. Your Bio Dome or seed flats can be used all spring, summer, and fall as well as in late winter! You’ll want to start your fall vegetable garden in mid- to late summer, and houseplants can be grown year-round from seed. Make starting from seed a four-season activity, and your garden and home will always be bursting with new growth!

Best wishes for a banner garden from seed this season!

About Sappho Charney

Sappho Charney is a garden writer living in Lubbock, Texas.

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