Expert gardening tips | Daily News

Expert gardening tips

There’s a whole lot to love about living with a garden. There’s the Zen-like therapy of weeding, the sublime contentment of looking back over a freshly mulched bed, the smug satisfaction of a well-pruned tree. And, of course, the best bonus of all — the bringing in of the day’s harvest for the night’s meal. And for the vegetable gardener, most of that starts with a seed.

The most common plants to grow from seed in the home garden are annual flowers, vegetables and a few herbs. Most are quick germinators, require relatively unsophisticated setup and are inexpensive to purchase. If you’re organized enough and have the interest, you can save even more money by saving your own seed for the next crop.

Be realistic

Don’t bite off more than you can chew — literally! A small packet of seed can make way too many seedlings. Better to take good care of a smaller number of seedlings than to grow five times as many poor quality plants.

Don’t hoard seeds

When in doubt, throw them out. Some seed can remain viable for many years. Most seed doesn’t. If you have a generous friend who offers you a large and dusty manila envelope full of seed packets with no date, might be best to pass. Fresh seed will germinate faster and more uniformly and the seedlings will have better vigor.

Don’t skip the artificial light tray

Your house is way darker than you can possibly imagine. Sure, most houses have a sunny, south-facing window, but even there light can quickly become a limiting growth factor. The low sun angle means the sun’s intensity is not what it is in June. Plus, the low angle means the front row of seedlings will cast a whole lot of shade on the back rows. The best way to get good and even growth from your seedlings is to use an artificial light tray.

Pick the correct grow lights

All light sources are not created equal. Incandescent lights don’t provide enough light energy to grow quality plants. Plus they use a great deal of energy per unit of light delivered. Compact fluorescents can produce nice plants but they are less efficient than modern LEDs. In addition, compact fluorescents contain mercury vapor that can be problematic when it comes to recycling or that occasional stumble into the plant cart after tripping over the kids’ Big Wheel stored in the basement. Modern LED bulbs are the most efficient in terms of energy usage, they produce a reasonable light spectrum for your plants and they don’t contain mercury gas. They are a bit more expensive to purchase but earn their keep in the long run.

sometimes, dark is best

Sometimes light isn’t the answer. Many flower and vegetable seeds can germinate in the light; sprinkled on the surface of a moist growing medium. But there are some out there that require dark. Tomatoes, peppers, melons and many in the cabbage family require dark conditions in order to germinate.

Keep it humid, but not too humid

A little humidity goes a long way. Whether through the use of those clear plastic domes or some occasional mist, seed germination is enhanced with high humidity. But as soon as the seeds show the first sign of pushing up through the mix, it’s time to cut back the moisture. While the humidity is good at promoting germination, it’s also great for promoting fungal growth. Once the seeds start to move, lose the domes and be sure to let the surface of the growing medium dry out between waterings.

But of course, the best advice is to stop the hand wringing and just get started. There’s nothing like a little trial and error to turn you from a beginner to an expert. The biggest difference between the beginner and the expert in the garden is that the expert has killed way more plants!


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