Grow Your Own

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Nothing holds the promise of spring like a packet of seeds. If you have never grown plants from seed let this be the year you start. You do not need a greenhouse to grow healthy transplants and many varieties can easily be started indoors over the next month to transplant outside in spring, while other varieties can be sown directly in the garden.

What You Can Grow

Many summer vegetable and flower seed can be started indoors 4 to 8 weeks before the last average spring frost, which occurs around April 15th in inland areas, and April 1st right along the coast. Because they are easy to handle and grow quickly, large seeded flowers and vegetables are the easiest and best for beginners. These include cucumbers, zucchini, squash, melons, okra, cosmos, marigolds, nasturtium, zinnias, and sunflowers. To get a head start on the season, seeds of these varieties can be sown indoors in early to mid March to transplant outside after the threat of frost. They can also be seeded outside directly in the garden in early to mid April.

Slower growing vegetable and flowers should be started indoors now so they are ready to set out in spring. These include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, impatiens, and gomphrena. Vegetables and herbs that like cool weather such as parsley, cilantro, broccoli, spinach and lettuce can also be started indoors now and transplanted outside in March, since they tolerate some frost. Other vegetables need to be sown directly in the garden because they do not transplant well. This is especially true for root crops like carrots, radish, beets, and turnips, which can be sown directly in the garden in early March.

Containers and Soil

You do not have to buy special pots to start seed indoors. Most any type of shallow, 3” – 4” deep container can be used as long as it has adequate drainage holes in the bottom. You can start seed in larger containers and then transplant the seedlings into individual pots, or sow seed directly into individual pots such as 6 packs or peat pots. Sowing in individual containers works particularly well for large seed.

Seed should be started in a fine textured potting soil such as a seed starting mix. Lightly moisten the soil before putting it into your pots. You can sow seed in rows or broadcast across the surface, but be careful not to sow too thickly – that will just make thinning and transplanting more difficult. Most seed are sown twice as deep as they are thick, so larger seed are planted deeper. Some seed, like lettuce, need light to germinate and are only sown on the soil surface – check the seed package to find out if the seeds you are sowing have any special requirements.

Growing On

After sowing your seeds, settle them in with a gentle watering. Place clear covers over your seeds or put containers in plastic bags to keep humidity high and speed up germination. When covered, seed will usually not need to be watered again until after they have germinated. Most vegetables and flowers germinate best around 75 degrees and usually come up within five to seven days.

Check your seeds daily. Once seedlings come up, remove humidity covers and place them in a bright, well-lit area or under fluorescent lights. You do not need to buy special grow lights to grow good seedlings. A fluorescent fixture containing a warm and a cool bulb can supply all the light seedlings need until they are ready to plant outside. The important thing to remember is seedlings must be very close to the bulbs, less than 6” away for best results. If you grow seedlings on a windowsill remember to rotate them daily so they don’t stretch toward the light.

You can begin fertilizing seedlings when they are a few weeks old with a weak fertilizer solution each time you water — emphasis on weak as seedlings are easily burned by too much fertilizer. Keep plants moist but not soaking wet and never leave them sitting in a saucer of standing water. A week before you plan to transplant your seedlings into the garden, start placing them outside a few hours each day so they can adapt to outdoor conditions.

Learn More

To learn much more about growing flowers and vegetables from seed attend one of the hands on ‘Growing Seeds’ workshops offered by Pender Cooperative Extension, call Pender Extension at 910-259-1235.

Seed catalogs are a lot of fun to look through and can be very information! Here are some of my favorites:

If you have gardening questions contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Pender County call 259-1235, Mon – Fri, 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., or visit us online anytime at //