By: Lisa Briggs | January 30th, 2020
The forecast for the next couple of weekends is pretty mild, making them perfect for crossing a few mid-winter gardening chores off our lists. We hope that you’ll have a chance to get out and do a little pruning and clean-up. And now that Groundhog’s Day is upon us, the days are noticeably lengthening, though the morning light is still in the orange tones of winter rather than the golds of summer. It looks like it may be sunny on Sunday but it doesn’t matter whether Jimmy sees his shadow or not. The Spring Equinox is a mere fifty-one days away.
The seed racks at the Garden Center are full of choices with over 1800 distinct varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowering annuals, and perennials. We want to try so many things that it makes us dizzy. Fortunately, all you really need besides your seeds are clean flats and seed-starting mix. And remember that many seeds, like beans, peas, lettuce and greens, zinnias and cosmos, will perform better when directly sown into the garden, so no equipment necessary.
Warming mats will help speed things along. Your seeds will sprout with a bit of heat under the trays. A clear dome is also a handy piece of equipment. They really help to keep humidity high and moisture levels even. Once the seeds have emerged, take the dome off so that air can circulate freely around the seedlings. Stagnant air can cause fungal diseases, which will kill seedlings quickly. There are two words to remember when watering, gentle and often. A spray bottle of room temperature water works great for wetting the seed-starting medium. It won’t cause the flood that may wash your seeds right out of the flat. Try to keep the soil slightly moist all the time.
You can start geraniums, lisianthus, and pansies now. Slow veggies like hot peppers, artichokes, bulbing onions and leeks, and cool weather veg such as broccoli and other Brassica family members can also be planted. Many flowering perennials can be started as well. If you are re-using flats from previous years, be sure to clean them with a little bleach and hot water and use sterile seed-starting soil mixes.
It’s also time to start begonias, caladiums, and elephant ears. The Garden Center is expecting them to arrive next week. Summer flowering bulbs tend to sprout slowly, especially if your house is cool. Be careful with watering at this early stage. A good rule of thumb is to water thoroughly after potting, and then wait until you see some growth before watering again. Bulbs are water storage organs and can easily rot if kept too wet.
And don’t forget one of our favorite signs of the warmer weather ahead. The Garden and Landscape Expo is next weekend at the Alliant Energy Center. If you have spring fever, this is the place to be. It is difficult to imagine any other event with more concentrated gardening information. So, take a day to get inspired! The Expo runs February 7th, 8th, and 9th and single-day tickets are $10 at the door. Or you can stop in at our Plant Information Desk and save by purchasing your tickets in advance. Two- and three-day passes are also available. Check the show’s website at www.wigardenexpo.com for more information.