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We’re learning to save money at the gas pump and at the grocery store. We’re going to thrift shops for inexpensive treasures, and cutting back on some of those activities that we once thought were absolutely necessary, and it’s not so bad, huh? Most of us are finding out that being creative and inventive can be rewarding, too.
If we begin soon, we can save a ton of money in the garden by starting all kinds of seeds indoors. Seed packets tell us to plant the seeds 10 to 12 weeks before setting them out in the garden for slow growers like petunias, and 4 to 6 weeks before for fast growers like zinnias. Most seeds will germinate well at indoor temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees. If they don’t sprout well in 20 days, start over again with a new batch of seeds. Once germinated, they grow best in a cool sunroom or basement under fluorescent lights. By the way, we can usually count on a frost as late as early May, so try not to rush the season.
Seed packets will give you hints about flowers and vegetables that are difficult to transplant. Sow these directly into peat pots so the seedlings can be transplanted without being unpotted. Soak the pot and break the bottom third open when you transplant.
To plant in flats, fill the containers to within 1/4 inch of the top with moistened and sterilized commercial potting mix. Press the seeds into the mixture to a depth equal to their diameter. Sprinkle very small seeds over the surface and cover thinly with growing medium. Mist the surface after sowing and label the flats. Then, tent them with plastic and set them in strong, indirect light at temperatures between 60 to 75 degrees. Water from the bottom until you can see moisture rising to the top of the soil. Oh, and plant a few extra to give to a neighbor or friend. A neat gift is to plant directly in egg cartons. When it’s time to go, close the lid for protection and then reopen once you reach your destination.
When the seeds germinate, make small holes in the plastic for ventilation. After the second set of leaves appears, remove the plastic, reduce moisture, and place the flats in full sun. Turn the flats often to keep the stems growing straight. When the seedlings become crowded, transplant them to jiffy pots or those saved paper cups or tins or eggshells to allow room for the development of individual plants; just be sure the containers have adequate drainage. Before transplanting seedlings to the garden, harden them off for a week in a sheltered spot in bright shade. Always thought that was an odd expression, but it makes sense because you are toughening up the seedlings to survive the move to the outdoors.
It is generally safe to transplant the seedlings outdoors two weeks after the date of the last annual frost. Many annuals won’t start growing until the ground warms up in the spring, and transplanting too early just leaves them shivering and sulking. Remember as well that the little plants don’t like being moved to a new home any more than you would, so handle them with care. To minimize transplant shock, plan your course of action, have planting holes ready, and allow plenty of time. Try to keep as much soil around the roots as you can; plants will have an easier time taking up water and nutrients until they’re reestablished in their new surroundings.
When digging up a new plant, take care not to injure the roots. Mist the roots or wrap them in damp paper towels to keep them moist while the plant is out of the soil. Try to transplant on a cool, overcast, even drizzly, day or late in the afternoon so plants don’t suffer in the heat and light. Keep new transplants shaded for the first week or so if it’s sunny.
Another way to save money in the garden is to encourage mature self-sowers so that they will naturalize. Self-sown seedlings are called, I’m sure you know, volunteers. Petunia, snapdraon, and some zinnia volunteers can be counted on to appear every year. To help them along, spread a one- or two-inch layer of soil around the crowns of the parent plants, dampen the soil, gather the seed as they ripen and scatter them over the soil. Or, wait until the seeds are dry and loose in their casings, then shake the flower heads vigorously over the soil.