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A Merry Gardener

Horticulture for daily living

Spring Struggles

If you have ever found yourself second-guessing your spring planting enthusiasm because of all of the miserable failures that you have faced, know that you are not alone! Novice and expert gardeners alike face a number of challenges early in the growing season. In the hopes of demonstrating that your own failures are not uncommon and certainly are not cause to give up, I've decided to share a few of my own challenges and set-backs that have occurred this spring. Perhaps sharing these experiences will also help you to avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

1) Crispy critters: Back in March, I started seeds in our high tunnel on a fabricated propagation bench (a table with a heat mat and a plastic cover to protect the seedlings on cold nights). During the day, the plastic cover was opened to prevent over-heating. About a week after the seedlings came up, the cover was lifted a little too late and the plants were toasted. Every little seedling was completely desiccated, withered up to nothing in the 140°F heat that had built up under the plastic tent. Moral of the story: be careful not to solarize your seedlings!

2) Furry critters: After the heat-kill incident, I replanted my seeds and took off the plastic cover completely. The night temperatures had increased enough that I wasn't worried about freezing and I didn't want a repeat incident. Two days later, I found big holes and disturbed soil in my flats. Some little rodent had been through overnight, plucking out and eating most of my seeds. Moral of the story: seed predators will enjoy the buffet you lay out for them if you don't create a fortress around your seeds. Wire caging, cloches, or plastic covers at night can be used to protect your seed trays.

3) Fungi: A few of the survivors, undisturbed by hungry mice, began to germinate this week. Having only a short time in the sun, the biggest enemy of seedlings struck. Several of my half-inch seedlings succumbed to damping off—a fungal disease that commonly infects and kills young seedlings. The best defense against damping off is starting with sterile containers and potting mix, and providing good air circulation. While I began with clean materials, my prolonged saga of attempting to germinate seeds in warm, moist media created the ideal conditions for fungal growth. Moral of the story: keep your growing area well ventilated and as clean as possible. Start with fresh media even in replant situations.

Growing plants does not come without its challenges, but I think that it is in overcoming our challenges that we are able to appreciate our success. Learn from what did not work and keep on planting. Then you can do your happy dance when your plants survive!

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