Yay, a Pro Dome full of big, healthy seedlings! Now if only it weren’t late February and 27 degrees outside . . .
When I was a new gardener, I always wanted to start seeds on New Year’s Day. It seemed so symbolic, such a terrific way to begin another year . . . and I always had seed packets on hand, as most of us do, that never got sowed the previous season or were impulse buys at the wrong time of year. I’d been drawing new garden designs and dogearing catalogs (these were the pre-Internet days!), and once I got my first Bio Dome, there was just no stopping me.
No stopping those early seedlings, either,
See these tall, pale seedlings? They’re stretched. Not enough light.which is how I learned to plant ultra-stretched tomatoes horizontally, to prop up everything from Geraniums to Peppers from an age (I’m talking the two-sets-of-true-leaves stage!), and to plant my tall, spindly seedlings closer together to compensate for the fact that they weren’t going to branch very well. My first gardens may not have been lovely, but they were sincere . . . and often under-populated, in spite of my enthusiasm, because not all seedlings could put up with the long delay in transplant time.
which is how I learned to plant ultra-stretched tomatoes horizontally, to prop up everything from Geraniums to Peppers from an early age (I’m talking the two-sets-of-true-leaves stage!), and to plant my tall, spindly seedlings closer together to compensate for the fact that they weren’t going to branch very well. My first gardens may not have been lovely, but they were sincere . . . and often under-populated, in spite of my enthusiasm, because not all seedlings could put up with the long delay in transplant time.
So here’s the thing: I still feel the impulse to sow seeds on New Year’s, but now I indulge it a little more sensibly. I resist all vegetables and most outdoor flowering plants, but when it comes to houseplants and some container subjects, any date will do.
All 3 sizes of bio sponges fit into your Bio Dome tray.
So in January I still have full Bio Domes (yes, I have several domes by now, and I highly recommend trying all three sponge sizes to find your own sweet spot. Mine is the 40-cell, but I have been known to rely on the 18-cell for seeds that I know, in my heart, I’m still sowing way too soon!), but now they are bursting with new plants and old favorites for my indoor garden, as well as some
Angel’s Trumpet takes its own sweet time. Who knew this could be an advantage for eager gardeners like us?!
slow-to-germinate types (I’m talking to you, Angel’s Trumpet) that never mind an early sowing.
If you have the urge to start some seeds right now, rely on the ones listed below. Most take 2 to 3 weeks to germinate and several grow slowly at first, so you don’t have to rush to find a bunch of pretty containers that match your decor, if that’s something you worry about. (My indoor pots bear a striking resemblance to my outdoor pots, which is to say most of them are, shall we say, highly adaptable!)
For the indoor garden your home has always deserved:
African Violets. Come on, what else loves being in the steamy bathroom?
Yes, this picture is ghastly, but you do not have a home that resembles a lab circa 1966. African Violets are truly delightful, especially on desktops under fluorescent office lights!
If you’re my age, African Violets will forever evoke the 1970s (along with macrame plant hangers and aloe plants on the kitchen windowsill), but it’s really time to give them a second chance. No houseplant is easier for humid rooms, and the blooms really do have a color intensity that’s hard to beat.
Hens and Chicks. Oh, speaking of mini succulents . . . Hens and Chicks, formally known as
This is an unusual “in bloom” shot of Hens and Chicks. Usually it looks more spreading and groundhugging, with fewer flowers.
Sempervivum (the name is encouraging: it means “lives forever”), drags out the germination for 2 to 4 weeks, then produces adorable little pointy succulent leaves that become groundhugging rosettes. Our mix has several different kinds, so you don’t know what will sprout until it does. Even if you’ve never looked twice at cactus-y plants, consider Hens and Chicks. I can’t tell you why, but it’s addictive. The plants set little offsets (the “chicks”) as they grow, and you can snip them off at will and start them in a new pot with great success — they’re fun.
Hosta. Okay, not a houseplant. But I put it here because we offer an excellent Hosta mix from seed, which is hard to find, and because these
I must brag about this mix. We’ve offered it for years, and it always gets raves. Give it a shot — you’ll love watching the different types of leaves open up!
seedings appreciate a bit of extra time indoors before transplant. They germinate in about 3 weeks, but then they like spending another 6 weeks or so at very cool (but not freezing) temperatures — say about 35 to 40 degrees F. Now, just because they like it cold does not mean they like it dark.
Plant lights are expensive, but there is no doubt that they make a huge difference in seed-starting and growing-on seedlings. This, our most economical model, lasts a lifetime.
If you have plant lights, you are going to grow the most beautifully uniform, gorgeous little Hosta leaves you’ve ever seen. If you don’t, no problem. Use the kitchen fluorescents or your brightest window, and transplant them after 6 to 8 weeks of growth no matter what the leaves look like (they tend to be various sizes; not a problem, just a thing they do in low light). Hosta lives for many, many years, even when the deer eat every single leaf to the stem and you think there’s no hope of seeing it again next year. It improves with age, its foliage becoming more textured and interesting every spring. When you use the seed mix you miss out on those fantastic, funny Hosta cultivar names (‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is my personal favorite), but you save lots of money on pricey plants, and who’s to say you can’t name your own plants whatever you like?!
Santa Barbara is the latest of the stunning B. boliviensis varieties from seed. Pair it with ANYTHING — those white blooms just make all the others look brighter and fresher!
Begonia. For years, Begonia was often the first seed started by gardeners indoors in late winter.
You just never knew when it would choose to germinate. But today’s varieties are much, much more reliable, and multiseed pellets
have sealed the deal, almost guaranteeing you one or two seedlings within about 3 weeks from sowing. Begonia goes indoors or out, and because it takes its time getting started and likes a bit of shade, it’s just perfect for hanging around the windows in its bio sponge or little pot, waiting for you to find the perfect spot for it. Many Begonias I have started, fully intending to transplant them into outdoor settings, have remained in the house simply because they are attractive and easy and nice to have around.
Angel’s Trumpet. Okay, this is a seed you need patience for, which is ironic here in west Texas, where a beautiful night-blooming wild Datura springs up like weeds anywhere the seed happens to land. The cultivated varieties, which open during the day with magnificent colors, big flowers, and often fragrance, take a month to sprout. However, they aren’t tricky . . . just a bit slow! So start them now, transplant them into a big pot when they seem to need it, and enjoy them for pennies a plant. They are magnificent, after all.
Coleus. So quick (compared to
All of the Giant Exhibition Coleus varieties are striking, but for my money, Rustic Red tops them all. Those serrated chartreuse edges! That unique russet shade! –Yeah, I can’t resist a good Coleus.
most of these others), so easy, and so darned cute from the moment you see their brightly colored, neatly serrated little leaves emerge in the Bio Dome! My favorite right now is Chocolate Covered Cherry for its combination of super-bright rose and mellow chocolate brown tones, but ask me tomorrow and my answer may have changed. It’s really fun (and, let’s face it, much more economical) to get a collection, so you have all kinds and colors of leaves popping up! Coleus appreciates a pinch or two as it grows, so take the central stem and just pinch off the tip between your thumb and forefinger every few weeks once it has 2 sets of true leaves. This will make the plant bushier and better branched. And if you see flower buds forming in summer (again, from that central stem), pinch ’em off fast. Coleus is happy indoors or out, makes a great companion to flowering and foliage plants, and is generally a charmer.
So go ahead and indulge that New Year’s fever by sowing seeds of plants you will enjoy for seasons to come, right at your fingertips!