Starting plants from seed can be very rewarding, provide a greater variety of plants than usually available at garden centers, and cost much less than purchasing individual plants.
It can be frustrating, as not all seeds are alike. Some annuals are cold hardy and others very tender. Some germinate within days while others seem to take forever, and others have hard arils (shells) that need soaking overnight or nicking to germinate. Knowing their characteristics will ensure a greater success rate.
Easiest annuals to start from seed include Calendula, cosmos, hyacinth bean, marigold, nasturtium, sunflower and zinnia. The larger the seed, the easier it is to plant in individual containers or directly in the ground. Scatter small seeds on a tray and when the seeds produce their true leaves, gently pry apart and transplant into larger containers. True leaves are characteristic of the particular plant.
Start indoors slow-growing impatiens, lobelia, petunia, snapdragon, strawflower, verbena and other slow-growing plants. Seed successive plantings to provide longer bloom time and just in case the transplants are nipped by a late freeze. Fast-growing seeds such as bachelor button, calendula, nasturtium, sunflower and zinnia are planted close to the last frost date or direct sown.
Cold-hardy plants can be sown as soon as the ground makes it workable. They include cleome, dianthus, California and Shirley poppies, baby's breath and sweet pea. Once germinated, half-hardy will tolerate cold to 25 degrees. They may need a protective cover if the temperature remains low for more than a few days. Wait to plant tender annuals celosia, coleus, and cosmos for a week after all chance of frost.
Of course, when starting indoors always use sterile seed starter mix, containers and trays; and keep mix damp but not wet. Water with warm to prevent shock to the root system. Seeds grow faster when warm but not hot. The top of a refrigerator, or on a heating pad covered with plastic will provide needed warmth.
Things to do
• 15 Minute Gardening - Save coffee pods to reuse to start seed in. Removing the lid while still warm is much easier than later. The bottom already has a hole for drainage. When planting, use moistened sterile starter mix.
• Trees and shrubs - Plant trees and shrubs through March. Remove one of a pair of crossed branches that are rubbing each other. Pick storm debris and check branch bark for cracking. Look for signs of borers, insect nests, fungus and scale. Apply dormant oils when the temperature is over 40 degrees and no rain is predicted for three days. Plant Heller holly is a good, small space filler without the characteristic spiny holly foliage. The spring foliage of the compact mounded 2 feet tall emerges bright lime green.
• Vegetables - Wait until the soil is dry enough to work before planting. Make a ball of soil in your fist. If it crumbles, it's ready to work. Plant peas before Washington's birthday on the 22nd. Protect the peas seedlings from mice by scattering holly cuttings around the plants. Sow beets (Southern Giant), cauliflower and eggplant; and cabbage, lettuce, and mustard until the end of the month. Cut fruit-bearing canes this month or March.
Plant fruit trees on the northeast side of the garden to reduce disease.
Apply 10-10-10 at the drip line of fruit trees. The drip line is defined as the outermost circumference of a tree's branches.
• Pests - Not all insects are destructive; some are beneficial, including moths. Do not remove their cocoons. For more information and picture IDs of yard pests, go to: gardenplanner.almanac.com, Pests and Diseases, and Beneficial.
• Feb. 27-March 1, "Gardens in Focus," Nashville Lawn and Garden Show, Nashville Fairgrounds, nashvillelawnandgardenshow.com. Demonstrations, children's gardens, lectures, floral designs, plant giveaways, vendors and floral designs. At the end of the show, display plants are sold at a discount.
Contact Carolyn Roof, the Sun's gardening columnist, at email@example.com