Seedlings deliver the promise of spring

By: Linda Shepard | C&G Newspapers | Published March 5, 2014

Starting plants like marigolds and tomatoes indoors from seeds helps beat the winter blues.

“It is nice to see things grow,” said Joni Makowski, store manager of Allemon’s Landscape Center in Detroit. “It is a good activity for the family. The longer the winter, everybody thinks about it. I have four kids. We always plant different seeds in eggshells.”

Allemon’s sells seed starting kits that include planting medium, domed trays and special lightbulbs. Makowski said seedlings should be started indoors approximately four to eight weeks before transplanting outside.

“If March is cold, you might want to start seeds in April,” she said. “If you start them too soon, they become leggy.”

This winter’s cold temperatures have put planting schedules behind.

“Normally, the middle of February, we have customers buying seeds. But this year, people are too busy chopping ice,” she said.

Makowski also recommends planting herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme in seed starting kits, then keeping the fresh, growing herbs near a kitchen window for easy additions to soups and stews.

Master Gardener Leslie Cunningham, of Oakland Township, said she usually grows petunias, geraniums and zinnias from seeds indoors during late winter.

“Wave petunias are expensive, so you get a lot of bang for your buck” by starting them from seeds, she said.

Cunningham said a grow light makes a big difference in seed starting.

“Put the light on a timer for 16 hours a day,” she said. Perennials that come back in the garden every year, like daisies, also do well by seed starting indoors, she said.

Gardening experts recommend hardening seedlings for transplanting outdoors by putting seedling trays outside for just a few hours every day for a week before moving the tiny plants into the garden. Cunningham said she has devised her own method of hardening, placing seedling trays in her garage for a few days when the weather warms up and outside in the shade for a few more days before transplanting.

Planting seedlings is “a very fun thing to do in winter,” Cunningham said. “You get to see green, and it gives you something to do in the dirt.”

Jim Moylan, greenhouse manager of Ray Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb Township, said vegetable gardeners frequently start their tomato, cucumber and pepper plants from seeds indoors. Light and the proper amount of water are the most important elements of successful seed starting, he said.

“It is interesting to watch them grow,” he said. “It saves money and gives you more unusual varieties.”

Flower seedlings like “marigolds and petunias are sure things,” he said.

“Most annual flowers are pretty easy to grow. Perennials take longer and take more work. Their germination is longer; they take longer to bloom and bulk up into a good-sized plant, depending on the perennial.”

Moylan said he has seen seed starting decline in recent years.

“People don’t buy seeds as much as they used to,” he said. “It is more work. Older people don’t mind, but younger people just want to put a plant in the ground.”