By Andrea Justus, Properties on the Potomac Realtor
It’s that time of year: the time to plan your garden and start seeds. Vegetable gardening is easy and fun and the prep starts eight weeks prior to planting time. In Northern Virginia, planting time is generally the weekend of Mother’s Day. Although beautiful Spring days are tempting, I have “early planted” and lost a garden or two due to late season snow and cold snaps. I now am a firm advocate of Mother’s Day planting.
Seeds can be planted directly into the ground for items like spinach, radishes, beets and herbs, as long as the ground is 50 degrees. For non-leafy vegetables, it’s important to start your plants early to get a jump on the growing season. I start tomatoes, eggplant, okra, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins in early March so that by early May the plants are large and healthy enough to withstand weather and insects and flourish. (For pumpkins, you can also sow the seeds in the ground in June for pumpkins in Fall.) March is also a good time to start flowers like Astilbe, Dahlias, and Croscomia. By starting in March, the flowers will bloom early and throughout summer.
What is the best method for starting seeds? There are many approaches, from dirt in a cup to seed-starting trays with heating pads and overhead lights. I make my own seed-starting blend with a Miracle Grow soil, worm castings, vermiculite and peat moss mixture. The mix is approximately 5 parts soil, two parts worm castings, one part vermiculite and a handful of peat moss. This gives the seeds an airy and nutritious start. You can use seed-starting trays or mini pots available at most gardening stores. Solo cups in trays also work well. I start mine in the basement next to the door so they get natural light. I use solar blankets on the ground and behind the seed table to capture any warmth and sunlight available.
Once the seed starts come up, I transfer them to larger cups and plant them deeper. Sometimes more than one transplant is needed. Water lightly every other day so that the soil is slightly damp, not wet. A gentle hand is critical to transferring the seed starts. Plan on starting more seeds than you need plants so that it’s not a crisis if you break a tender shoot. About 2 weeks before planting, start hardening off the plants by putting them outside. Start with an hour or two and gradually increase the time outside. You can also cover the plants while they are outside with burlap to keep them from being wind and sun burned. Once the plants are hardened, get ready to plant your garden in early May. I like to plant and fertilize with Abernethy and Spencer’s TLC. It gets healthy plants off to a roaring start!
I enjoy gardening and sharing the fruits of my labor with others! If you know me, you know I’m a plant person. Happy Gardening!
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