Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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Starting seeds indoors
■ Use a good, sterile potting soil or germination medium. Garden soil, especially our hard clay, is not an appropriate medium for starting seeds.
■ Plant in plastic cell packs, peat pellets, peat pots, expanded foam cubes or even cottage cheese containers, bottoms of milk cartons or bleach containers that are sterile and have adequate drainage holes.
■ Fill the container to within 3/4 inch of the top with moistened, clean soil. Spread evenly.
■ Plant 200 percent of the amount of seed for each pot. You’ll thin out the seedlings later.
■ Cover with seed mix soil or vermiculite.
■ Set in water or spray with a fine mist — don’t water from the top.
■ Mark or identify your plant.
■ Keep moist.
■ Transplant or thin at first or second true-leaf stage, to one seedling to a pot, to stimulates root growth.
■ When you plant outdoors, remove the container — even peat pots — carefully from the seedling. Our climate is too dry and too short to properly decompose the container.
Steamboat Springs With our short, 59-day growing season in the Steamboat Springs area, does it make sense to grow things from seed?
Will the seed sprout and have enough time to establish itself during our average frost-free period, between June 15 and Aug. 15?
In some instances, starting a plant from seed is the only way to obtain 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 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 this year and buy only as much as you’ll use this year.
And if you are purchasing seeds to grow annuals or vegetables, check the packet for that all-important piece of information: days to maturity. If it’s longer than 60 days, you’ll need to take steps to give the seed a head start — probably indoors — and/or protection from frost toward the end of the summer.
Once you purchase your seeds, keep them cool and dry until they are sown. A good storage location would be an airtight jar or plastic bag in the refrigerator.
In order to germinate, seeds must first be alive and then be given the appropriate growing conditions, including moisture, temperature, oxygen and light.
If starting your seed indoors, you should plant seeds 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 — throughout 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 about two 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 before setting them outside, gradually expose the seedlings to longer periods outdoors each day, as long as the temperature is warmer than 50 degrees. Also, reduce the watering as long as the plants don’t wilt. This helps your plants adjust to full outdoor exposure without undue shock.
So, think spring as you nurture your outdoor garden indoors, until the sun takes the chill off our valley sometime around mid-June.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.