URBANA, Ill. - The next "bug" you catch may not be the flu bug, but rather the gardening bug that starts to infect many gardeners about this time of year, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"There are some preventative steps to take to delay the early onset of 'gardenitis,'"said Richard Hentschel.
"Start by taking deep breaths and thinking back on all the good things that happened last year in your garden and forgetting about the bad stuff. Next, check your temperature by going to the patio door and looking at the indoor-outdoor thermometer to be sure it is still reading too cold to start anything indoors. Last, drink in lots of sunshine on the brighter, longer days we are having," he said.
Having taken all the above steps, gardeners can then consider starting their vegetable and flower seeds in a timelier, controlled manner. "Read the seed packet to find out the best time to sow the seeds for planting outside in our area, normally just a few weeks before the average frost-free date. The date will vary, depending if you are planning for that early garden, the summer or fall garden," Hentschel said.
Gardeners should start seeds at home that they cannot find as transplants or for those specific flowers or vegetables that can only be found in the seed catalogs. Hentschel recommends using fresh, packed for 2014, vegetable and flower seeds, brand new or very clean and sanitized seed starting flats; and a bag of brand new soil-less growing media for starting seeds.
"If the seed-starting media is dry, wet and stir in enough water to provide moisture for the seeds to start their germination process," he said. "Next, fold the soil into the starting flats, being sure to adequately fill the cells using clean hands or sanitized garden tools. Once that is finished, you are ready to sow your seeds.
"If you are using individual cell packs place one or two seeds per cell at the depth recommended on the seed packet. If you are sowing in rows, place the rows far enough apart so you can later transplant them easily," Hentschel added.
Gardeners can also sow across the flat in short rows if fewer plants are needed or to be able to sprout more kinds of vegetables of the same type. "Many gardeners will take plastic wrap from the kitchen and lightly cover the seed flat to retain even moisture during the germination process," he said.
Some seeds prefer warmer soil temperatures to germinate, others cooler, so be sure to sow similar seeds in the same flat. Once seeds are in the flats and covered, place them in an appropriate location to provide the needed heat to warm up or to keep the soil cool.
"Instructions on the seed packet will tell you when you can expect to see the seedlings emerge and if any thinning will be needed. If thinning is necessary, use a small pair of scissors to cut the unwanted seedling off, but do not pull it out as you will damage the seedling you want to keep," Hentschel explained.
As the seedlings continue to grow, move the flats into brighter light to keep them from reaching for the sun and getting too leggy and thin. The best conditions will be good sunlight during the day and cooler night temperatures to create the best transplant possible.
"Too much water can ruin your recipe for success by causing seedling diseases and later root rots of young vegetable and flower plants. When watering, water the soil only, not the foliage which can also cause diseases," he said. "If your 'gardenitis' gets too bad, contact your support group of other gardeners and have them talk you down."
Source: Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator, Horticulture, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pull date: March 31, 2014