Give garden a head start

Rob Zimmer Special Contributor
Now Media Group

After a long, seemingly endless winter, and all of Mother Nature's teasing for the past month, the time has come to begin preparing to start your own seeds indoors.

Starting your own plants from seed gives you a head start on spring and summer gardening, as well as saving you big bucks.

By selecting and starting seeds indoors, you also increase the selection of plants you're able to grow, as well as giving these plants a leg up on the growing season, an important factor to consider for many varieties of vegetables, as well as perennial wildflowers.

Best plants to start indoors

Many perennial wildflowers are best started indoors from seed rather than directly sown outside. This is especially true of lupine, columbine, Oriental poppies, delphinium, purple coneflower and others. The jump start provided helps them become established faster before first bloom.

Many annuals also benefit from indoor starting due to the length of time required to reach blooming size. For earlier bloom, it's a good idea to start annuals such as cosmos, Mexican sunflower, petunias, marigolds and others indoors.

Seed starting supplies

Just about any annual, perennial, vegetable, vine, herb or grass can be started indoors from seed. Simply follow the directions indicated on the package for proper sowing instructions.

For the best results, most of these require a growing light set up of some sort. This does not need to be elaborate or expensive. Simply a few ballasts on adjustable chain will do the trick.

Providing the proper lighting is especially important when starting seeds indoors. The most common mistake beginning seed starters make is providing insufficient light.

Simply using a bright, sunny location is often not enough. What we may perceive as bright light indoors does not compare to a bright, sunny day outside.

To keep young seedlings and starters healthy and lush, it's important to maintain light at the proper height over the seedlings as they emerge. If the light is not sufficient, the result will be extremely spindly, leggy seedlings that will have difficulty surviving once moved outdoors.

In addition to lighting, seed starting medium, containers or flats, and proper misting or watering system are all that are needed.

None of this needs to be fancy, elaborate or expensive.

Many seed starters who are environmentally conscious, make their own seed starting containers using newspaper, recyclable egg cartons, even eggshells themselves, which are the perfect size when cracked in half.

Sowing seeds

Follow the sowing instructions included on your seed packets for best results. Many gardeners will sow multiple seeds in each pocket, cell or container to ensure at least one starter.

Some seedlings require light to germinate, while others require a period of darkness. Some seeds do not need to be covered with soil while others may need to be planted more deeply.

Once sown, gently water your newly planted seed trays, keeping them sufficiently moist, but not soaking wet, as they germinate.

Some seeds germinate more quickly than others. You'll find germination time frames included on the seed packet.

As your seedlings begin to grow, thin and pot up gradually as needed before preparing your new plants for their journey to the garden.

Using recyclable seed starting containers is especially beneficial at this stage as many gardeners unknowingly doom their plants at transplanting time.

Some annuals, perennials and vegetables are especially prone to shock and do not like to be moved or transplanted. Therefore, by using recyclable containers such as individual egg shells, recyclable egg cartons, newspaper pots and others, there's no need to damage or disturb the roots when transplanting.

Hardening off

Most seedlings benefit from a period of hardening off before being moved permanently outdoors. This simply means gradually adjusting them to the outdoors to prevent as much shock as possible to the young plants.

To accomplish this, gardeners may use a simple cold frame, temporarily set trays of seedlings outdoors for increasing periods of time each day, placing them in an outdoor garage or similar covered structure.

Saving seeds for next year

One of the most rewarding benefits of starting plants from seed each year is to be able to collect and preserve the seeds of your own heirloom vegetables, flowers, perennials and native plants each season.

From tomatoes and peppers to bee balm, milkweed and others, collecting and saving seed, storing appropriately through the winter season and propagating your own plants each year is a beautiful, simple and money-saving benefit of gardening.

Find Rob Zimmer online at www.robzimmeroutdoors.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RobZimmerOutdoors