Spring fever

In the Garden

Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener


I have to admit that I have a bad case of spring fever. I can hardly wait to get out into the yard and dig in the soil. I have some plans for this new season and can hardly wait to get started. One way to get started early is by starting plants indoors. This is not difficult, but there are some steps that will help ensure success.

Before you begin planting, clean up your pots. If you are re-using pots, wash them with soapy water. This helps get rid of any disease spores that could remain from previous years. Once you have clean pots, start with fresh seed starting medium. I recommend using a sterile soil-less planting medium, which may be purchased at any garden center. You may also make your own using compost, coir or peat moss. You may sterilize the potting medium in an oven or a microwave.

Most commercially-available media tend to be packaged very dry to cut down on shipping weight. If you plant directly in such media, it is difficult to get the mix to take in enough moisture to support germination and growth. I usually put my planting mix in a bucket and stir in water until the mix is damp, but not soggy. I then fill my containers with the mix, plant the seeds and cover with an appropriate layer of the mix. If you are planting seeds from packets, the packets usually have instructions that tell you how deep the seed should be covered. If using saved seed or bulk seed, the general rule of thumb is to cover the seed as deep as twice the diameter of the seed.

Read the seed packet instructions. It will tell you how many days to plant the seed indoors before the plants can be set outside. It will also tell you if the seed needs special treatment. Some seeds need to go through a chilling period to germinate. This may be done by placing the seed in the refrigerator for the required chilling period. Other seed may need to be soaked or stratified by cutting a notch in the outer layer or scruffing the seed with sandpaper. Following the instructions increases the likelihood of success.

The next step is to place the container in a spot where it gets proper heat. Many seeds need a little extra heat to start the germination process. A heat mat is a good way to get that extra boost. If you do not have access to such a mat, you may wish to place the containers on top of a refrigerator or other appliance that gives off some heat. It is also important to keep the mixture moist. Covering the container with plastic or placing it in a plastic tent will help keep the humidity level up and will keep the planting medium moist. Check your containers frequently (at least daily) to see if they need more water. Allowing them to dry out after the germination process has begun is sure to lead to the death of the young plants.

Most seeds do not need light for germination, but as soon as the young plants develop leaves, they need light for proper growth. If growing plants in a window, you will need to turn the pots around to keep the plants growing straight. Artificial light works best if the light is close to the plants. This will require checking and raising the light daily as the plants grow.

The next step is the hardest for me. Plants often need to be thinned for maximum growth. Taking out the extra plants allows the remaining plants to develop better root systems. However, pulling out those plants may actually harm the roots of the remaining plants, so a pair of scissors may be the best tool for thinning. Some plants may be harvested as micro-greens and that makes the thinning a little easier to take.

Many people have been asking about starting sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine. In general, sunflowers do not transplant well, so if is best to wait and sow them directly. However, some dwarf types may be grown in pots and you may go ahead and plant those pots indoors to get an early start. Say a prayer for their country as you plant.


Please Login for Premium Content

Site Login Help

For current subscribers to The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat, you can login to the site using the following information:

Username: Please use your full email address associated with your account
Password: Please use your last name. Passwords are case sensitive, so please capitalize your last name (eg: Smith)