March 25: more seeds, more snow

We got another doozie of a snow. I think it was probably 8 inches, but I don’t know for sure.

morning after snow
More snow!

I forged ahead anyway. I’m pretending this is the final snow, and I planted more seeds indoors today:

  • Sage (10)
  • Kale (8)
  • Purple basil (6)
  • More Scabiosa (10)

I cleared out all the pots that hadn’t sprouted yet to make room for these new seeds. Only 4 of the original 12 Scabiosa seeds emerged from the March 4 planting, so I started some more. The ones that sprouted look healthy, so here’s to hoping at least some of these new ones will come up.

I had planned to take this week off to garden, but was fortunately able to push it out one more week. I don’t really want to garden in the snow. Hopefully next week it will be a little warmer for digging around in the beds.

March 18: lots of transplants, ripped out mint and bee balm

I was supposed to sow seeds today. In order to do that, I needed to move a bunch of plants to open up the spots where the seeds would go. After nearly 6 hours of ripping out mint, digging holes, unearthing plants, hauling them up hills, reburying them, and watering them in, I am pooped. And I didn’t start any seeds.

Here’s what I did do. Everything is still dormant, so I’m hopeful they’ll get established in their new spots and continue growing unstunted:

  • Sprayed weeds and grass that didn’t get killed the first go round.
  • Ripped out the mint under the stairs — two wheelbarrows full! I’m shocked by how much it spread. It was like an infestation.
  • Moved pink hydrangea spot vacated by mint.
  • Scooted white hydrangea closer to driveway.
  • Divided yarrow: moved one division next to white hydrangea, moved one to bed 9 out back, moved a small offshoot next to bee balm on side of house.
  • Moved 2 milkweeds (and a 3rd tiny one?) to bed 3 out back.
  • Moved 3 echinacea to bed 3 out back.
  • Moved 3 clumps of bee balm to bed 9.
  • Ripped out the remaining bee balm from front bed.
  • Moved 4 baby echinacea to fenced veggie patch so they can be protected from bunnies while they get a little bigger.
  • Moved 3 rudbeckia from herb bed out front to bed at top of hill out back.
  • Planted 5 liatris corms in butterfuly bush bed.
  • Moved Shasta daisy to it’s correct place in the butterfly bush bed.

I’ve got a to-do list at least as long as the one above to get to before I can actually plant the seeds. I’m bummed I couldn’t get more done today since we’re about to have 2 days of rain (and possibly sleet and snow). I guess we’ll have more rain in April, so everything can get watered in then. And this week I’ll try to chip away at my list :-).

March 11: tomato, Mex SF, and Scabiosa seeds sprouting

We planted these seeds on March 4, 7 days ago. The Mexican sunflowers and tomatoes started sprouting on March 9. They are growing under a shop light, I think it’s this 2.8 ft LED one.

Feb 24: tester transplants and outdoor seeds

Spring is near! It’s been in the 70s most of this week, and today, before a few days of rain set in, I did the following:

Transplants

  • Transplanted 5 mums from out front to out back
  • Moved bottlebrush
  • Transplanted the only rosemary that still looks alive to out back by the birdfeeder. I’ll be surprised if this survives> I think I brok off some of its taproot, and the hole I dug for it wasn’t deep enough for its root. The shovel kept hitting gravel, making it difficult to dig any deeper. It also had very little root system, and no dirt clung to its roots when I moved it.
  • Transplanted a rue to the hill. Even after cutting it back, the rue was massive — probably a 2′ diameter disc of soil and roots
  • Consolidated 5 scattered creeping phloxes into a clump next to taller phlox out front.

Seeds

Last night I scraped each blue bonnet seed across an emery board to rough up the surface, then soaked the seeds in boiling water over night. After moving the mums and rue out of the way where I wanted to plant the blue bonnets, I smoothed the dirt as much as possible and drew a pattern in the soil for where I wanted to plant each seed type.

blue bonnet bed at sowing time annotated
Bluebonnet bed out front

I sowed chamomile, feverfew, and blue bonnet seeds and sprayed them in. Coreopsis seeds need to be sowed when it’s warmer. I can expect the seeds to sprout anywhere from 10-25 days from now, depending on the weather. It may take longer, but I think now that they’re out there they can make their choice about when to emerge.

Colder weather is coming — it will still be warm during the day but will drop below freezing at night, so we’ll see how everything does. Here are some photos of what the garden looks like in late February:

And planning diagrams/seed packet instructions:

 

Feb 18: tulips emerging! Viola seeds sprouting!

I happened to check my viola seeds yesterday, and they sprouted! After a week in the fridge, and then a week out of the fridge but still in darkness, I opened the egg carton lid and saw these little yellow sprouts, trying to find some light:

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My first sprouts! 🌱#violas

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We hadn’t set up a light for them yet, so my husband hung the shoplight while I figured out the timer, and after one day under lights, our little sprouts are greening up. They’re the only seedlings under the light right now — the bluestem and purple vervain seeds are still in the refrigerator — but soon they’ll have company.

violas under shop light.jpg
Violas under shop light

We had a run of above freezing temperatures last week (highs in the 50s and 60s, lows ranging from 29 to 55), and today is bright and warm. There may be some new grass growing — I see green out there where there was only brown last week. I strolled the garden, comfortable in a long sleeved shirt and vest, and saw that tulips are pushing up down by the mailbox:

And the tulips my husband gave me for Valentine’s day will start blooming any minute:

Spring is finally in sight!

February 2: started Bluestem and Viola seeds

I’m finally able to start gardening! I took a flex day on midwinter day (also known as Imbolc, Candlemas, and most familiarly, Groundhog day), and since the kids also had a snow day, my daughter and I drove to Lowes and Home Depot to pick up seed trays, seedling-starting soil, and a shop light for when the seedlings emerge and need light. I bought a large rectangular Gladware container that will eventually be good for storing cupcakes, but for now I am using it to hold the seed pots so I can refrigerate them. I also ordered more seeds 😬.

After making some midwinter cutout cookies with the kids, I started the first round of seeds, which need to be started indoors 10-12 weeks before our average last frost date (April 29 in our area).

Little Bluestem grass

  • Poured dry soil into the Gladware container, then wet it using the sink sprayer. Stirred it until the soil was evenly damp, then spooned the moist soil into plantable pots.
  • Sowed 4 seeds in each of 12 plantable pots that came with our seed starter tray: dropped 1 seed in each corner of each pot, then poked them in with a cake pop stick.
poking bluestem seeds into soil
Poking Little Bluestem seeds into damp soil with a cake pop stick
  • Pressed soil down to make sure seeds were not in air pockets and were in contact with damp soil
  • Squirted the top of each pot  with a spray bottle
  • Placed in large rectangular plastic container and snapped all but one corner of the lid to keep moisture in but not make it air-tight.
  • Put container in fridge.
  • Need to stay in fridge 3-6 weeks, and must remain moist.

Violas (Johnny Jump-up) Inside

  • Used the damp soil mixture from above and a six-pack recycled paper board egg carton (hopefully plantable) to plant seeds.
  • I used the egg carton, with the carton lid, to provide the seeds with darkness, which they need to germinate.
  • Viola seeds were tiny. I scattered them over damp soil in the egg carton, probably 5-7 seeds per pot.
  • Tamped soil, sprayed with water to make sure soil was wet through with no air pockets around the seeds, then closed the carton lid and placed them in the plastic container with the Bluestem seeds.

Violas (Johnny Jump-up) Outside

  • We’ve got snow and rain due tomorrow, and since these are early spring bloomers that need cold before sprouting, I figured I’d go ahead and scatter the rest of the seeds outside where I want them to grow (under the tree at the top of the back hill) and see if they emerge in spring.
  • The ground is not frozen, at least at the surface, and I loosened the top 1/2 inch of soil in about seven 8″ patches.
  • I sprinkled 5-7 seeds in each disk, then covered them with soil and tamped it down. The soil was moist.
  • I did not water the seeds in. It’s supposed to snow, then rain, then freeze tomorrow, so we’ll see if this works.
  • Seedlings are supposed to emerge in 12-25 days at 65℉, then bloom 90-100 days later.
viola seed packet
Viola planting instructions

Planning first round of seeds: little bluestem and viola

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

little bluestem seed packetI read on Botanical Interests‘ site, the place I bought my seeds, that I should start little bluestem indoors 10-12 weeks before the last frost (April 29 in our area):

When to sow outside: 2 to 4 weeks before average last frost. Can be sown in the early fall so plants get established before winter and get an early start on spring.

When to start inside: 10 to 12 weeks before average last frost.

Special germination instructions: Germination may improve if seed receives a cold treatment. See inside of packet for detailed information.

When I opened the packet for more information, I read that the seeds need stratification when started indoors in the spring:

When starting seed indoors in spring, sow the seed into a container of moistened seed starting mix, cover with clear plastic wrap and leave the container in a refrigerator for three to six weeks, then remove to a warm location. Always keep soil evenly moist.

little bluestem instructions
inside Little Bluestem seed packet

I’m not sure how many to plant, though — if I want the grass to take up 1.5 feet in diameter, how many seeds do I plant and in how many pots?

Oh wait, on the packet it says:

Seed depth: 1/8″ – 1/4″
Seed spacing: a group of 4-6 seeds every 1′-2′
Thinning: when 2″ tall, thin to 1 every 1′-2′

So if I want 10 1′ clumps, I should probably start 12 small pots, each with 4 seeds. Okay, I think I’m good for bluestem.

Viola Johnny-Jump-Up

We don’t have a lot of shade on our property, which I love — more sun means more flowers. We do have a shady spot up on the hill though, and I thought it’d be fun to put some violets up there. Instructions for how to start Johnny-Jump-Up seeds are all over the place — some say they need stratification like mentioned above, some say to start them in a warm place — so I’m not sure what the best approach is. Since they are an early spring bloomer, I’m going to go with the cold treatment.

The seeds I bought are Burpee seeds, so I looked at Burpee’s instructions which read:

  • Sow indoors 8-12 weeks before the last heavy frost using a seed starting kit. Violas can take a light frost. They may also be started late summer for fall blooming.

  • Sow seeds thinly and evenly in seed starting formula. Cover completely as seeds need darkness to germinate; firm lightly and keep evenly moist.

  • Seedlings emerge in 10-14 days

  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.

  • Thin to one seedling per cell when they have two sets of leaves.

  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.

  • Transplant hardened-off seedlings to the garden after the heavy frost.

  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

My seeds arrived!

I’ve cleared another 1000 square feet of our property for flower beds instead of lawn, and since it’s on a steep hill and I want it to be relatively low maintenance, I’m trying to find drought tolerant plants that attract butterflies and birds, that will hold the hill in place, and that won’t cost us a fortune to establish.

I also have about a million plants I want to try because I keep seeing them in books and magazines and I love them (globe thistle), or I hear they’re a must have for butterflies and hummingbirds (anise hyssop), or because we had a few come up from the wildflower mix last year and I want more of them (bachelor’s buttons).

Since buying everything I want as fully grown plants would cost almost as much as a used car, I researched what I could start on my own and bought seeds. I’ve been waiting a week for them to get here, and they finally arrived!

seed packets and cat paws
Mostly flowers, but we bought some herb and veggie seeds too

I cleared out some of the brush last weekend — old seed heads from Sedum, dried stems from mums — to prepare for the coming planting season. I probably should have done that in October or November, as the garden looks much tidier now. I wanted to leave the seeds for birds, though, so I was torn between having neat beds and providing food for winter friends. I think it might look more depressing without the dried plants than it did with them still intact, as it’s now very bare, so I’m not sure which I like better.

Either way, I think it might be good that I didn’t cut everything back in the fall: the remaining stems collected dry leaves and created an insulating blanket for their roots in these cold temperatures. I’ve read it’s good to mulch perennials in the fall to protect the roots, and since we didn’t do that, maybe my autumn neglect turned out to be a good thing.

clearing out dead stuff
Clearing out the dead, dry stuff

That’s about the extent of what I could do outside in December and January, so over the past few weeks I”ve spent a lot of time inside thinking about the garden, poring over gardening books and magazines, popping outside to measure, drawing plans, and then browsing catalogs.

Now that I have these beautiful seed packets, I’m even antsier for spring to come so I can start planting. I keep trying to visualize what the beds will look like when plants come in, and I’ve got a calendar for when to plant what and where. I’ll be able to start some seeds indoors in just a couple of weeks.

blues and yellows for front garden
Blues and yellows for in front of the house
pinks and purples for front garden
Pinks and purples for front and back

My biggest questions right now, besides how to make the time go faster, are what kind of seed starter to use — peat pellets or pots with soil? — and whether to buy a grow light. I read something about seedlings needing 14 hours of light, which they won’t get in my basement office, so I think I still have a bit of research to do.

That should kill an hour or two in the zillion hours between now and April when I can get outside and start gardening.

Dreaming of seeds, but — cats.

The seed catalogs arrived! As soon as we brought them in from the mail box, I started poring over them. Our intention is to plant a flower garden out front, but the catalogs begin with tomatoes.

Bright red, juicy tomatoes whose slices drip with the warmth and sunshine of summer. I can’t imagine one of those fist-sized Burger Boys in the afternoon, when the fruit is warm, slicing it into slabs on the sunny porch, sprinkling it with salt, and eating it with a fork. My God.

We don’t have space for a vegetable garden. Well, I should say we don’t have usable space for a vegetable garden. Our yard is large, but consists pretty much of a giant steep hill that’s treacherous to even walk up, much less plant a garden on. Everything would wash away. So, no tomatoes this year. Sadly.

And then I got to the flower and herbs section of the catalog. Emerald sweet basil, spring green lemon balm, silvery lavendar. Happy yellow sunflowers, powder blue hydrangea, purple bee balm. They made me want to buy grow lights and start planting right away.

Which brings me to my dilemma. I’d love to start plants from seed indoors, but I’m not sure how to accomplish it without an extravagent setup: stringing grow lights from the ceiling, scrounging up a large table for flats, and most importantly, finding a place to put the seedlings where the cats won’t destroy them.

I can imagine spending $200-$300 on lights, pots, seeds, and soil, only to come downstairs one morning to a seedling massacre on the floor of the basement. I would spend weeks waiting for sprouts to emerge, then as soon as the green finally arrives, I’d go to bed one night and wake to find pots and dirt and mutliated baby plants scattered on the basement floor, while a cat looks at me with big, “What?” eyes and then licks her paw.

So my guess is that I won’t be planting seeds ahead of time. It would likely be more cost effective, and I’m antsy to get started on the garden, but I’m just not sure how to make it work.