By Annie St. Francis
It’s spring and time to sprout those spring garden starts! The risk of frost will soon pass for most of America, and you’ll want to make the most of this year’s growing season. Experienced gardeners are already busy tending to this year’s gardens. If you’re new to home gardening, we have tips to share that will help you get started early.
Here are 8 tips to help you succeed as a beginning gardener!
1) Start your plants indoors. Choose an area that gets a lot of natural light, especially in the morning, and one that stays warm too. If you’re placing your starter trays near a window, consider night time low temperatures, and any drafts that might impair seed germination or endanger fledgling plants. Seed germination is most successful in warm soil.
2) Choose varieties likely to do well in your growing zone, and the conditions you can provide your plants whether you’ll be gardening in the open air, in raised beds, using vertical systems, or inside a greenhouse.
3) If you’re keeping spring garden starts in a windowless room, like a bathroom or basement area, there are now several options for comparatively affordable LED grow lights. LED technology uses much less electricity than light bulbs of the past, and LED lights are much less fragile than the fluorescent tubes of old.
When shopping for LED grow lights, be sure to check the system you’re considering for size, recommendations for placement in relation to your plants, and to ensure even distribution of lighting. In shopping for lights, you’ll discover that there are lots of options!
4) Watch the moisture level of your growing medium. Germinating seeds and plant starts shouldn’t be found swimming in water-saturated soil, nor should these be allowed to dry out. This is a critical time in the development of your garden plants. Watch over them closely.
5) Use a quality seed starting mix. A proper mix has good drainage properties, and some nutrient support. For experienced growers, or adventurous beginners, you can also make your own starter mix. A recipe you might consider is LINKED HERE.
6) Choose the size of your starter pots thoughtfully. As an example, onions can very easily be started in growing trays with 1” planting cells. The beauty of this is that most 10” x 20” trays hold 72 cells. Three or four of these create tremendous produce potential. Squash, on the other hand, are best started in larger 3” or 4” pots. The larger pots will support your plant starts for a longer period of time, and will require fewer moves. Whenever possible, and especially among beginning gardeners, make it your goal to transplant just once from the starting pot to the open air garden outdoors.
7) Make plans to transplant your starts from pots or planters to their garden homes as soon as possible after the last chance of frost. But! Be careful and be ready for a surprise cold snap. Watch the weather. If it looks like temperatures near freezing are on the way, take steps to protect your plants. How much protection? This will depend on the conditions you’re expecting, and the cold hardiness of your varieties.
One strategy used in our family garden is to cover our plants with empty pots or buckets (large enough to protect all the leaves), and then to place a tarp over those buckets. Weights around tarp will help hold it in place, and prevent wind from lifting and moving it. Remember that wind often accompanies cold fronts!
8) When it’s time to deliver your starts to their outdoor garden homes, be sure you’re placing each plant in good quality soil which should be nutritious, and moist but balanced for proper drainage. Many plants will tolerate a range of conditions, but some are especially fussy. Invest yourself in learning about your plant’s preferences for nutrient balance, soil pH, and drainage. In doing so, you’ enjoy the celebration of lots of success, and be much more prepared to problem-solve for any challenges you might face along the way!
Gardening is a fun and healthy activity enjoyed by people of all ages, in all parts of the country, and across all growing zones. If you would like to learn more, and build your library in the process, we have some fabulous gardening, greenhouse and hydroponics books available. Whether you’re beginning with a few plants in the window sill, or preparing for a larger outdoor garden endeavor, we at The Repository Project are wishing you a wonderful experience and every success!