Category Archives: Spring gardening

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones.  Here are a few of my favs:

Gardenerd Tip of The Week

Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.

https://gardenerd.com/

My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices. 

On the Ledge

I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.

Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives. 

My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back,  fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them

Plant Daddy Podcast

We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.

Epic Gardening

The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge. 

Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants

Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!)  On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.

You Bet Your Garden

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.

A fav episode:

If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

Blessed Bee, Thy Name

Last week I attended a bee info session with Thaddeus Gourd, Director of Extension for Adams County to introduce new-bees to Dat Buzz Lyfe (I can’t believe this hashtag hasn’t been acculturated into the lexicon). Thad walked us through the bees we may encounter locally, how they got here, some typical and atypical behaviors, as well as a truly charming attempt at convincing me to bring bees to my own yard, regardless of my wife’s severe allergy, as he shows us his son bare-handing his GoPro at the bottom of a brand new bee abode. The bee community, it turns out, is pretty righteous. They are passionate about the bees livelihoods and are nearly involuntarily bursting with facts and love and recruitment strategies. As far as I can tell (and I’m pretty far), not only are bee keep-have-and-lovers informed of the goings-on of the world around them, they are also deeply involved in their communities with the idealism that we still stand a chance. 

One of my favorite parts of preparing for this post was reveling in how smitten everyone who writes, studies, or just enjoys, bees cannot help themselves to the low hanging fruit of the ever-accessible bee puns. I won’t go so far as to say it’s obligatory to at least dabble in the punny when writing about bees, but it’s pretty darn close (how’d I do?). 

To my surprise, North America has no native honey bees that produce large amounts of honey, and the bees we have working for us now were imported (intentionally and accidentally) by European colonizers. The European honey bees are typically docile and too busy to be bothered by folks approaching or tending to the hive-unless of course, the alarm is sounded and whatever intentions the intruder has are being interpreted as a threat, which apparently smells a bit like banana. File this under Lessons I hope never to encounter, and yet, how interesting! 

If you do happen to get stung, Thad informed us that the venom sack dislodges from the honey bee (essentially causing it to bleed to death, major bummer) and will continue pumping venom for another minute or so after the initial sting. To stop this, simply scrape the stinger from the entry point with a credit card or fingernail. DO NOT try and pluck it with your fingers or tweezers–this just pumps all the venom directly into the wound all at once. Expect the site to be a bit itchy after the initial shock and scramble settles, and write it off as an ouch! and a thank you for your service.

Of course, a small sting is literally nothing compared to the plight the bees face. Documentaries and campaigns are beleaguering (the opportunities for bee-utifying this entire post are just too much) the fate of our planet, and news reports of the extents of human willpower and reliance on the honey makers to keep the decline in bee population discussions plentiful. The main threats include loss of habitat, diseases and mites, pesticides, and climate change. 

As lovers of the living, albeit animal or vegetable, pesticide-speak can draw that line as firmly in the sand like many of our other hot button political issues. Be ye not afraid, comrades. We don’t have to go to the polls with this one, but we do have to follow the law (cue that GBU soundtrack). Treating plants–weeds included–with pesticides (neonicotinoids) while the plant is flowering transfers the chemicals into the nectar, and the feasting bees bring the toxins back to the hive. Truly, this seemingly innocuous move one time could kill an entire hive. Always read the labels, folks. Take your time and educate yourself on all the possible management strategies before grabbing the glyphosate. 

We are inundated with problems and presented with conveniently packaged solutions. We have come to a place that is moving so quickly that it’s too easy to keep in motion and miss the very real consequences each step incurs along the way. Unfortunately for bees, they are getting caught in our wake of rapidity. How can you take one extra breath, second, or step to consider your impact?


For those with a burgeoning interest in the apiary, one great way to check yourself is to plug into a community of other beekeepers/havers/enthusiasts. From what Thad was telling us, many organizations and groups are looking to help you get started, problem solve, or just ponder the wondrous life of bees. CSU Extension is an excellent resource for research and education on bees; they are continuing to compare hive designs to determine which work best for Colorado. There are also lots of beekeeper mentor programs, beekeeper associations, and even folks who you can hire to set-up and care for a hive on your own property. These folks have lots of experience and want to propagate more interest in beekeeping by mentoring and sharing. Getting into bees is definitely not something to go at alone or from a quick study. Taking risks is part of beekeeping, why not expand yourself right at the start by making new connections and community building?

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.

Image by McKenna Hynes

I recently returned from a little summer vaca in the South. New Orleans in July (a questionably timed vacation, albeit) is showy and fragrant; the ferns suckle lovingly to any crack and crevice providing green brush-strokes and blots everywhere, palms fill beds and pots alike, all of my houseplants are thriving in the wide open, the sun is scorching, and as our pilot reminded us as we prepared to de-plane, its humid enough to confuse a frog. I was constantly amazed at how effortlessly everything seemed to grow.

While in New Orleans, I was frequently amused by how the rest of the country (mis)understands Colorado living conditions. For the most part, folks think we spend most of the year dreaming of gardens as we stare out our frosty windows waiting for the snow to melt, visiting floral places abroad, and wearing multiple layers of socks at all times. Soooo… basically gardening at 10,000+ feet? While these perceptions are laughable, I started thinking that even though we don’t live in perpetual wintry wonder, the challenges we face to make anything grow aren’t necessarily less surmountable than our fam in the lofty-actual-mountains.

We were welcomed back to Denver with a remarkable storm featuring lightning, torrential rains, booming thunder… and hail. Of course, the very next day was smokin’ hot with nary a whisper of the siege.  Maintaining a vibrant garden in the Front Range is an extreme sport with our baffling daily fluctuations; the entire notion of keeping anything alive here seems impossible at times, but we’ve gotten pretty good at strategizing. Here are a few resources I’ve tracked down this year to help us all maintain beauty, build our skills, and be stewards to our land and community.

Image by McKenna Hynes

Resource Central is a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that helps communities conserve resources and build sustainability efforts simply and cost-effectively. Their water-saving initiatives include native plant sales with simple designs for home gardens and often include low water perennials. They also have a tool library in Boulder where you can borrow for a couple of bucks per day so you don’t just buy the tamper, hedge trimmer, turf roller, or post hole diggers you need so infrequently. 

The cities of Boulder, Lafayette, and Louisville partnered with Resource Central to give customers a Garden In A Box for turf-removal. Their Grass to Garden initiative is available to all communities with tips and resources to convert high water-consuming turf to low water garden areas. For the North Metro area, they have resources for assistance removing and disposing of turf, landscape architect recommendations, and more.


Denver Water coined one of our most successful water-wise strategies with xeriscaping. And to keep sharing the good water word, Denver Water also partnered with local landscape architects to provide us mere civilians with some FREE! FREE! FREE! creativity. For those of us who are new (it’s me) who struggle with vision (all me), and are easily overwhelmed by the thought of starting fresh with a blank canvas (still, totally, all me), they’ve curated a bunch of plans for a variety of situations. They have plans for sloped xeriscaping, budget-friendly xeriscaping, narrow bed xeriscaping, year-round beauty designs, and many more. July is also Smart Irrigation Month! Head to Denver Water for tips on maintaining irrigation systems, watering rules, and efficiency strategies.

And for the grand finale top-notch gardening game-changer, check out Plant Select for all your future dreaming. Plant Select is a nonprofit partnership between Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists to identify smart plant choices for the Rocky Mountian Region. Their mobile-friendly site has a tool to help you find plants that will suit the conditions you’re facing. I tend to challenge the tool to see how obscure or specific I can get, and it always provides me with something unique and gorgeous. Plant Select: taking “right plant right place” to an accessible and fun platform. Say So Long! to the multiple Google tabs researching the same plant with contradicting information on each site; Goodbye! Big Box Store swindlers promising “You REALLY can’t kill this one!” and go get yourself some good, wholesome, ACCURATE information quickly and easily from Plant Select. They also feature some garden designs and ideas.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Species Tulips

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Colorful hybrid tulips are an iconic symbol of spring. Planted in the fall, they’ll light up next year’s landscape with their tall stems and cup shaped blooms. In subsequent years, they’re likely to decline – sending up fewer blooms, weak foliage and sometimes not bursting through the soil at all. Allowing the foliage to senesce (turn yellow, limp and easy to pull up) after the flowers fade does help supply nutrients to the bulb for the following year, but the popular tulip bulb generally does not bloom for more than a year or two. In fact, tulips in public gardens are often treated as annuals and replanted each year.

tulipasaxatilis_drystonegarden

Tulipa saxatillis   Photo courtesy of Drystonegarden.com

An alternative to the common, hybridized “Holland” tulip are  species or botanical tulips. They are native to Central Asia and other Steppe regions, areas that are climatically similar to Colorado. This group of tulips are shorter (6-12 inches tall), will naturalize, or spread each year by self-sown seeds or stolons and some varieties will send out multiple stems. Good drainage and a sunny location with room for the plants to expand are ideal. The bulbs also do well in gravelly soil and are used successfully in rock gardens.

species tulip_google

Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ Photo courtesy of Google Free Images

Mid September to late October is an ideal time to plant, setting the bulbs in clumps or drifts and burying 4 inches deep or as recommended for the specific cultivar. Colors range from delicate pastels to vibrant reds and pinks, blooms can be bi-colored and foliage is often grey-green or stippled. Since the foliage is smaller and more compact, the die-back is less unappealing.

 

20180918_135845

Tulipa ‘Lilac Wonder’ Photo by Linda McDonnell

Species tulips can be found online and at independent nurseries, where they are sold in pre-packaged bags and found near other small bulbs such as crocus and muscari.

While I love the flashy hybrid tulip, I’m adding reliable, graceful species tulips to my garden this year too, how bout you?

 

 

 

Resources:

CSU Fact Sheet 7.410: Fall Planted Bulbs and Corms
University of Wyoming: Bulbs Well Adapted to Our Inhospitable Climate,

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

Growing Artichokes in Colorado

artichoke-2417833_960_720

 

Do you love artichokes? If so, why not add the plant to this year’s veggie garden? Globe artichoke is grown for its tender, delicious flower buds and with some TLC, will be a rewarding plant. A member of the thistle family, Cynara sclolymus is an annual in our zone 5 region, although perennial in  coastal climates with warmer winters and higher humidity. The artichoke in the grocery store was probably grown in northern California.

Planting and Care Tips

Start seeds in early winter, or plant transplants in the ground in early to mid April. Garden centers have starter plants for sale now or will very soon. Protect the plant if Spring “treats” us to a late season frost. A sunny location which gets some afternoon shade is an ideal planting site. Soil should drain well and be amended with 4″ to 6″ of compost, tilled 6″ to 8″ deep. Artichokes are heavy feeders: a 16-16-8 fertilizer can be added at the time of planting and a high nitrogen, 21-0-0, can be worked into the soil monthly thereafter. The plant needs good moisture, however, overly wet crowns will rot and invite slugs. For best success,  water with a soaker hose or drip irrigation and apply mulch to retain moisture and keep the roots cool. An occasional misting will provide beneficial humidity.  Hot, dry conditions yield fast growing but less flavorful plants that are susceptible to aphids.

Artichoke plants can get quite large – up to 4′ feet wide. Check the tag for the spacing on your specific selection. Globe is a highly rated, popular variety with fleshy chokes and excellent flavor, Imperial Star has shown good disease resistance and Romanesco has beautiful purple-tinged bracts and is less “meaty”.

Harvesting

The plant will send up one large and several small buds on a thistle-ly stem. Harvest blooming artichokewhen the buds are tight and about 3″ across. A cook’s tip is to pick chokes which are heavy for their size.  Once the bracts open, the vegetable becomes inedible. It will soon burst into an exquisite flower.

For additional information:

Colorado State University’s trial of six artichoke varieties

Utah State University’s Cooperative Extension’s publication “Artichoke in the Garden”

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com, a source for royalty free images

 

 

 

Never Put a $10 Plant in a 10¢ Hole and Other Gardening Tips From Denver Master Gardeners

planting-1898946_1920Passionate gardeners love to talk about gardening, so with that in mind, we recently asked Denver Master Gardeners for their best gardening advice. Responses included tried-and-true practices, creative suggestions and good reminders for all of us as the gardening season kicks into full gear.

As the title of this post implies, we believe that great plants come from appropriate soil preparation. Amending with compost is often imperative as soil in our region tends to lack organic matter. But proceed with caution, as some plants, such as natives, prefer a leaner, less fertile soil. Too rich soil will cause these plants to underperform and often just flop over. It pays to do a little homework before planting, read seed package directions and have your soil tested.

One of our gardeners shared her recipe for amending soil: Add 1/2 a handful of both Alaskan fish pellets and triple super phosphate to half a bucket (such as a kitty litter pail) full of compost. Mix this into the planting hole for strong root development and beautiful blossoms.

A tip borrowed from the Rock Garden Society is to plant bare root. By gently shaking off most or all of the soil that the plant is purchased in, the plant will adjust to the garden soil without the soil interface (or boundary) that can occur between two soil types. Bare root planting promotes healthy root development.

mulch-1100555_1920Mulch, mulch, mulch is the mantra of many of our survey respondents as it keeps weeds out and moisture in. Add it like crazy each time you dig in the veggie, perennial and annual gardens and don’t forget container plants too. Small to medium-sized bark chips are popular, practical and pleasing to the eye. Natural mulch options are very effective, including not quite finished compost from the compost bin which will add carbon, feed living organisms, prevent water runoff and prevent compaction. Local arborists are often willing to drop off wood chips which would otherwise fill up the landfill. In the fall, mow over your leaves and spread them throughout the yard, they’ll breakdown by spring and add organic matter to your soil. Consider purchasing a chipper to grind up branches and other garden waste.

garden-hose-413684_1920Suggestions for responsible use of water include watering when the plant needs it instead of on a set schedule. Soaker hoses, often made from recycled material, are effective for watering plants at the soil line. Plants (even xeric ones)  need moisture to maintain healthy roots and overall strength, but often less than we think. For example, the Water Smart Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is watered about seven times during the season.

Weeding can feel like a no-win battle, but attacking weeds after a soaking rain makes the task easier. Pull weeds and unwanted volunteer shrub and tree seedlings when they are small, before they take hold in the ground or develop seed. Add stepping stones to the garden to avoid stomping on plants and compacting soil when working in the garden.

bindweed-1207738_1920A clever tip to eliminate stubborn weeds, such as the nasty bindweed shown here, is to take a large piece of heavy cardboard, make a cut from the edge to the center. Keep the cardboard as level as possible, slip the vine in the center and spray the vine with the herbicide of your choice or horticultural vinegar, which is sold in garden centers. The cardboard will protect surrounding plants from overspray. Aggressive weeds may require multiple treatments during the season.

One of our members recommends a tomato planting technique passed on through generations of farmers. She adds blackened banana peel to the soil and feeds them with skim milk upon planting and again one month after that. This less conventional practice yields her sweet, abundant fruit. While CSU can’t vouch for the scientific efficacy of this, the banana could be adding potassium and the addition of calcium may reduce the chances of blossom end rot.

plant-1585251_1920Growing tomatoes in containers is recommended for those with limited space. Select varieties which produce smaller fruit such as Patio, Cherry or Sungold. Use a large container (18+ inches in diameter), a sturdy support and a tray with casters. This allows plants to be moved from the path of hail or to optimal conditions. Container plants of all kinds benefit from weekly feeding of 1/2 strength fertilizer.

To keep pests at bay, try a thorough weekly spray of water during the growing season, including the walls of the house and fence. It’s a kinder way to shoo pests away.

If your vines need a sturdier trellis consider building one out of remesh, which can be found at hardware stores. It makes a durable, cost-effective support and can easily be cut with bolt cutters. It also can be attached to supports to create a dog run or create plant cages.

botanical-garden-413489_1920In the flower garden, invest in perennials for texture and dimension and add annuals for bold color. “Enjoy the randomness of some plants that choose their own spots to thrive” suggests one gardener. What a positive way to think of the seedlings that sprout up at this time of the year. Remember, too, that perennials may not come into their glory until the second growing season.

Gardening is a four season hobby. Winter watering of trees and shrubs will help keep them healthy and  veggie gardeners can get a jump on the season by using a cold frame or floating row cover to get an early start on lettuce, spinach and other cool season crops. Fall is a fantastic time to fertilize, aerate and over-seed the lawn. It is also an ideal season to divide perennials so that they settle in and are ready to take off in the spring.  Share your divisions with your neighbors, too, or trade for plants you’ve admired (envied?) in their yards. If you need more gardening space, solarizing or sheet composting is an excellent technique to ready a new garden bed and can be started throughout the year.

And lastly, a veteran gardener advises us to “Remember each little garden flower or planting arrangement is a moment in time. It will change. Don’t worry about it or take it too seriously.”

 

Written by Linda McDonnell with thanks to the many Denver Master Gardeners who shared their advice.

All photos courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com, a source of royalty free images.

Where Does Baby Corn Come From?

A few weeks ago, one of my vegetable gardening friends asked me where she could buy seeds to grow baby corn.

She thought the tiny rows of corn stalks would look cute growing in her elevated garden bed.

I thought about it for a minute before telling her, “Baby corn comes from the same place as baby carrots.”

She looked confused until I explained what I meant. Then we both had a good laugh.

The baby corn found on appetizer plates and in stir-fry recipes isn’t a special variety of sweet corn. The tiny ears are the second ear from the top of regular sweet corn that’s been handpicked before the plant’s been fertilized. The top ear is left on the plant to keep growing into full size.

Because handpicking little ears of corn is especially labor intensive, almost all the baby corn we eat is grown and harvested overseas in countries like Thailand. Of course, there may be a few industrious U.S. growers who grow and harvest the baby ears of corn to sell in their husks at farmers markets.

But large farms steer clear of the early harvest because it can’t be mechanized.

The packages of baby carrots at the grocery store aren’t a special variety of carrot either. Baby cut carrots start out as full-size, slightly imperfect carrots that are sliced into smaller pieces, run through a mill and then polished into perfectly round “baby” carrots.

The idea for baby cut carrots came from one creative carrot farmer who was trying to find a way to increase carrot sales and reduce the amount of carrot waste from irregular or “ugly” carrots.

The leftover carrot scraps from the milling process don’t go to waste either. They’re usually composted, used as animal feed or turned into carrot juice.

The good news for vegetable gardeners is there are real baby carrots we can plant and grow in our gardens. These miniature varieties of carrots are sold in seed packets with names like ‘Romeo’ baby round carrots, ‘Baby Little Fingers’, and ‘Short ‘N Sweet’ carrots.

As for growing baby corn, you can always plant any variety of sweet corn and then start picking those little ears just after the corn silks emerge and before they have a chance to grow.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.

One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs.  It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.

Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground.  To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees.  A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.

To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close

Shop light suspended from chain.

Shop light suspended from chain.

over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture.  The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.

To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.

Seed tray and clear cover

Seed tray and clear cover

The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.

Partial set up showing on light fixture.

Partial set up showing one light fixture.

Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.

As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture.  Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,

Trays under lights after germination.

Trays under lights after germination.

keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level.  Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.

Happy plants.

Happy plants.

About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind.  Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast.  Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.

After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.

For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:

Plantalk 1034: Starting Seeds Indoors

Fact Sheet 7.409: Growing Plants from Seed

Fact Sheet 7.602: Saving Seed

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

What are your 2016 Garden Resolutions?

picjumbo.com_IMG_7189 (1)Spring is such a tease. One day its warm temperature and brilliant blue sky lure you into the garden, the next day you’re frantically protecting  plants from late season frost with sheets and buckets!  For many passionate gardeners, this transitional season marks the real start of the year. So it follows that Spring also offers a do-over on January’s resolutions. Not the “I’ll never eat another french fry” type, but rather, goals that expand your gardening skills, accomplish something you’ve long wanted to tackle or spark your creativity. Here are a few ideas.

  • Embrace shade. Relocate those plants that used to be in sun, but are now shaded by  vigorously growing taller plants. Observe the kind of shade you have – moist or dry or semi-shady with early or late day sun. Re-plant with plants  that are suited to your area such as Annabelle hydrangea (like moisture, especially to establish), coral bells (many new beautiful varieties), sweet woodruff (vigorous and non-picky), Oregon grape holly, bleeding hearts or plumbago (needs some sun, great for late summer blue color). Many more shade gardening ideas here.
  • Grow something you’ve never grown before. Maybe it’s a new vegetable, like heirloom tomatoes or New Mexico chilies. How about some new-to-you herbs to take your cooking up a notch?  For an extensive variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers, we’re partial to our Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale on May 14th and 15, but wherever you get your plants or seeds, resolve to eat veggies you grow yourself.
  • Shake up your planters. Are you guilty of using the same plants in your container gardens? This year, try mixing perennials, grasses or herbs or using a new color palate. Select plants requiring the same light and moisture which will fit your container once mature. Also  consider waiting to plant containers till after the traditional Mother’s Day weekend when a wider variety of plants, which are often more mature, are in the marketplace. Or, if you have perennials to divide, consider using your new plants in containers. Some that work well include Denver Gold Columbine, Kent Beauty Oregano and May Night Meadow Sage.

What are your garden resolutions this year? We’d love to hear.

 

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Photo Credit: Picjumbo.com

Seed Research in Fort Collins, CO

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrives a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit, is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).   The  National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) is in Fort Collins, CO.  They collect, store, test and research  both plant and animal genetic resources.

The National Seed Storage Laboratory is part of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

The seed storage lab “opened in 1958 and was expanded in 1992. • Seeds are packaged in moisture proof foil bags for cold vault storage (-18°C; 0°F). • Cryogenically (liquid nitrogen, -196°C; -320°F) stored seeds are sealed in polyole n tubes.”

“The testing and storage protocols developed at NCGRP are shared with other researchers and genebanks and our expertise is used worldwide.”  “Seeds are evaluated for viability (tested for germination or dormancy) before and during storage”.

They recently sent seed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which “included a wild Russian strawberry that an expeditionary team braved bears and volcanoes to collect.”

Field collection of seeds can be a very adventurous scientific career.  Collecting seed from your own garden is usually less exciting — but equally important.  I hope you saved some from last year for use in your garden this year.  Please subscribe to this blog for continuing stories about seeds.