'Seedy' secrets can extend your plant-growing season

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— It might be Heavenly Daze for Front Range gardeners right now, but for gardeners in the Steamboat Springs area, a little Voo Doo is needed to make things grow outdoors this month.

Unless you have lots of protection for your young plants, don't put them outside just yet. In Routt County, the danger of frost generally doesn't pass until mid-June. But, don't worry. We have a seedy little secret to help you get a jump on your gardening once frost danger does pass: Start your plants from seed indoors.

In some instances, starting a plant from seed is the only way to get a new or special variety of plant that is not readily available through garden centers. When you purchase your flower seeds, look for seeds that are hybrids. They give more uniform colors than open-pollinated seeds. Also, if purchasing from a retail outlet, look for seeds that have been protected from temperature, humidity and light fluctuations. Seeds sold in a rack by the front door are often exposed to drafts and disruptions that could compromise their quality. All seed packets are dated by law, so buy seeds packed for this year and only as many as you'll use this year.

Once you purchase your seeds, keep them cool and dry until they are sown. A good storage location would be an air-tight jar or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

In order to germinate, seeds must first be alive and then be given the appropriate growing conditions (moisture, temperature, oxygen and light).

In Routt County, seedlings should be started no sooner than four to eight weeks before the plant-out date. Starting your seeds too early results in spindly plants. As your seeds germinate, move them gradually (over two to three days) to brighter light. When they develop to the first or second true-leaf stage, thin them to one per container or to 1.5 to 2 inches apart in larger containers. When thinning, use tweezers to pinch off unwanted seedlings rather than pulling them out to avoid disturbing the remaining seedling.

One week prior to setting them outside, gradually expose the seedlings to longer periods outdoors each day, unless the temperature is below 50 degrees, and reduce the watering as long as the plants don't wilt. This helps your plants adjust to full outdoor exposure without undue shock.


Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.

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