Get a head start on the growing season

Seedy secrets for new garden plants this summer

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— With the deluge of gardening catalogues arriving daily, it's no wonder many gardeners are "pressing glass" to get started on their gardens.

Unless you have an amazingly tropical microclimate, it's too early to do much of anything outdoors. In Routt County, the danger of frost generally doesn't pass until mid-June. But here is a little secret to help you get a jump on your gardening once frost danger does pass. Start plants from seed indoors!

When purchasing seeds, look for hybrids as 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; buy seeds packed for 2002 and only as much as you'll use this year.

Here are four seed suppliers to consider: Western Native Seed (www.westernativeseed.com), Park Seed (www.parkseed.com), Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com), and Shepherd's Garden Seeds (www.shepherdseeds.com).

Once purchased, keep seeds cool and dry until they are sown. A good storage location would be an airtight jar or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

To germinate, seeds must first be alive and then be given the appropriate growing conditions (moisture, temperature, oxygen and light). Here's what to do:

1. Use a good sterile potting soil or germination medium, not garden soil.

2. Plant in containers that are sterile and have adequate drainage holes.

3. Plant 200 percent of the amount of seed for each pot. You'll thin out the seedlings later.

4. Cover with seed mix soil or vermiculite.

5. Set in water or spray with a fine mist; don't water from the top.

6. Keep moist.

7. As your seeds germinate, move them gradually (over 2 to 3 days) to brighter light.

8. Thin at first or second true leaf stage to one seedling every 2 inches; this stimulates root growth. (When thinning, use tweezers to pinch off unwanted seedlings rather than pulling them out to avoid disturbing the remaining seedling.)

9. When you plant outdoors, remove the container carefully from the seedling (even peat pots). Our climate is too dry and too short to properly decompose the container.

In Routt County, seedlings should be started no sooner than 6-12 weeks before the plant-out date. Starting your seeds too early results in spindly plants. 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. Products mentioned in this article are not endorsed by Master Gardener program but simply presented for informational purposes. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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