Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Reap what you sow

Reap what you sow!

Plants of many annual flowers and vegetables may be started from seeds indoors. Vigorous plants started indoors flower sooner and produce an earlier harvest. Growing plants from seeds is a rewarding hobby.

Time is needed for seeding indoors. The proper time for sowing seeds depends upon when the plants may normally be moved outdoors. This period may range from four to ten weeks, depending on the speed with which the seedling grows. The average date of the last killing frost in the Billings area is May 15. This is the safest, earliest date to plant outside. However, many of us can't wait until then to "get our hands dirty". Many experienced gardeners of the area wait until Memorial Day to be safe. As Montanans know, our weather is unpredictable.

A way to get started without fear of the weather is to begin your garden plants and annual flowers from seed indoors. For best results, buy quality seed from a reliable dealer. Seeds sold in packages should show crop, variety, germination, percentage and chemical seed treatments, if any. Keep seeds dry and cool to insure good germination at planting. Keep paper packets in tightly closed jars until seeds are planted.

Store any unused seed packets in a tightly closed jar kept in a refrigerator or other dry, cool area. Do not allow the seeds to freeze.

Many new vegetable and flower seeds are hybrids. Hybrids usually have increased vigor, better uniformity and production, and sometimes specific disease resistance or other unique cultural characteristics. Heirloom seeds are also available. They contain no genetically-modified genes.

The beginner should start out with a few easily-grown-from-seed plants such as marigolds or tomatoes. Growing these plants from seed will give you basic seed-starting skills. In the following years, you can increase your expertise by planting a larger variety of seeds that have increased difficulty levels.

Containers for starting seeds should be clean, sturdy and fit into the space available for growing plants in the home. The proper container helps get seedlings off to a good start and may save work in later stages of development. Remember to punch holes for drainage in any container that will hold water.

Plastic pots can be cleaned and reused and provide excellent growth for transplants. If larger numbers of seeds are going to be started, use traditional plastic growing flats. They are a standard in horticulture, so many types of inserts and pots will fit the tray.

Coco Coir pots are popular pots made from coconut fiber. They are porous and provide excellent drainage and air movement. The entire pot can be planted, so there is minimum root disturbance at planting time.

Compressed peat pellets are expandable and when placed in water swell to form a cylindrical container filled with peat moss, ready for seeding or transplanting. They may be planted directly into the garden. Place the pellets in watertight trays so they are easily watered and held upright.

The medium used for staring seeds should be loose, well-drained and fine-textured. Garden centers carry a variety of such mediums — look for labels that say "seed starter mix" or natural organic coconut cork fiber. Prepared mixtures are ready to use immediately. Your objective is a soil that will drain easily, yet still retain moisture.

The beginning step which is very important is to sterilize containers. To guard against plant diseases carried in garden soil and on used plastic containers, cleanliness and sterilization of materials are important.

Wash containers thoroughly in soapy water to remove all debris. Sterilize container by rinsing them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to ten parts water. Follow with a rinse with water and let dry before filling with the seedling or coconut coir potting mix.

Gardening can be complex and intimidating. Don't let that stop you from trying. It is very rewarding whether starting from seed or by purchasing starter plants to experience the the joy gardening can bring. In between our last few snow falls, it is a great time to begin cleaning out garden spaces from fall debris and to begin amending the soil.

Jim Gainan is President of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings