Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

It's nearly time....


Courtesy of Chris Heath

Mike Heath works with his seedlings.

Time for what, you may ask. Well, the first day of spring is March 20th and that means it's nearly time to start those new plants, so they'll be ready to set out once the weather warms up. In fact, it's time now to start thinking about what seeds you're going to buy and where are you going to plant them when they are ready. As you go through this process, you'll need to answer a few questions. To begin with, you'll need to know where you want to put plants. Are the areas sunny, shady or maybe partly both? Most plants have a definite preference and you'll want to put the plants in the right spot, so they can grow and thrive. Where you are going to plant your new seedlings will help you buy the right seeds. Soil, too, is a major consideration. What is the pH of the soil? Does it lean more toward acid or alkaline? What is the natural nutrient content of the soil? Now would be a good time to have a soil test done. Colorado State University is the closest laboratory that provides this test. The test is $35 per sample and the test bottles can either be ordered from the lab, 970-491-5061, or can be picked up from the county horticulturalist, Catherine Wissner. Her office is on the 4th floor of the Pathfinder Building at LCCC.

Once you get your soil test, then you can start amending your soil. Sorry, technical term. What that means is to add the nutrients that your soil lacks to make it more productive. The good thing about a soil test from CSU is that the report you get back will tell you exactly what you need to do to your soil to get it ready for your plants. You'll have plenty of time to work with the soil while your baby plants are growing and getting ready to set out later in the spring.

Now we can get down to the part of this process that I particularly enjoy, planting. Hopefully you've already bought your seed. If not, it's time. The best way to buy seed is through a seed catalog or a nursery, not a box store, although I must admit, when I'm in a hurry, I do sometimes go to the box stores. The nursery staff or the catalogs can give you the information you need to provide a better chance of success with your plants. Box stores don't necessarily buy the right seeds, or plants for that matter, for this area. Major considerations here include soil type, sunlight, and the length of the growing season. For example, if you are going to grow tomatoes, you want to pick a variety that will bear ripe fruit in as short a time frame as possible. The difference in harvest time for tomatoes can be as much as 30 days. That's a full month and can be the difference in enjoying a bountiful harvest of delicious fruit or the devastation of an early frost that kills everything. Short ripening times are best for this area.

To start your own plants from seed you'll need potting soil, pots, trays to put the pots in, and a cover for the trays. The Laramie County Master Gardeners sells commercial potting soil at a discount to the general public about this time of year. After you have everything ready to start planting, the next thing you'll need to do is read the information, all the information, on the back of your seed packet. It will tell you when to start your seeds, planting depth and temperature requirements. For planting time, back up the number of days to start the seed from the date of the last anticipated frost date. I know that it's only a guess, this is Wyoming after all, but we can expect to be safe to plant after June 1st. Most seeds require 6-8 weeks before they are ready to set out but check your seed packet for the correct time for your seeds. Make sure to pack the soil firmly around the seed when you put it in the pot. When there is soil all around the seed it will be less likely to rot and more likely to sprout. I normally start with a 2" pot then replant into a larger pot as required by the plant's growth. That way I can get more plants in a tray. Water the pots, cover the trays then set them in a place with good warmth and light. 70 to 80 degrees is required to good germination and growth. If you keep your house cooler, like I do, you can use a heat lamp or a heat mat.

It should take about ten days for your seeds to germinate. While you're waiting, you'll need to set up your lighting. Some people, but very few, can get by with rearing their new plants in a window with a good southerly exposure. New plants need a different kind of light than what is left after the sunlight is filtered by the window though. A fluorescent shop light works very well for new plants and shop lights are inexpensive. The light should be set up so it's about two inches from the plants but can be raised as they grow. This provides the light right down at the plant level where it's most useful. Keep the light on the plants until the day you take them outside. If you don't have good light and keep it close, you're likely to have damping off disease in your plants. You can recognize it by tall spindly plants that will eventually get a spot on the stem that looks like it has been pinched. The plant is putting all its energy into trying to reach the light and very little is going into making a good strong stem. Strong stems are an indication of a healthy plant that will stand up when it is finally set out.

Finally, about a week before you set the plants into the flower bed or the garden, they need to be hardened off. Each day, weather permitting, take the plants outside so they can get used to the environment they'll be growing in. But don't make the mistake I did last year and forget to bring them in. That's the one night we had a slight freeze and I lost a lot of plants. When you take them out just make sure they are protected so the wind doesn't undo all the hard work you've put in. Once the hardening off period is over then you're ready to put your plants into their final location.

While all this may seem like a lot of work, it is really just a time to unwind and relax. Working with plants and digging in soil is a great stress reliever. Think of it as therapy that you'll be able to enjoy all summer. If you have any questions, call a Master Gardener. It's what we do.

Mike Heath clones rose geraniums for planting in June. The plants will be harvested for essential oil later this summer.


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