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The Plant Doctor: Feel winter depression? Try indoor herb garden

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I think the pre-season winter depression is finally settling in.

The compost bin is full, the leaves have been raked up, and some of the more sensitive shrubs have been protected from the cold weather. Bulb beds prepared several months ago are covered with mulch and await the warm weather.

Best idea is to get busy putting together an indoor herb garden.

Cooking aficionados appreciate the use of fresh herbs in their favorite recipe. Frozen and dried herbs are a make-do addition, but nothing compares with the freshly picked variety. So now we have two good reasons to start the herb garden ....enjoy winter planting, and have a great meal.

I prefer planting annual herbs rather than perennial. Perennials need a period of dormancy, and while they can be grown indoors they grow slowly, and don't seem to appreciate the lack of a dormancy period . Annuals, however, are grown by seed , and if provided with the correct conditions do remarkably well indoors.

Some common annuals that grow well indoors include: basil, cilantro, dill, parsley and fennel . The problem is to find a nursery that still has packets left over from the spring, since they won't receive a fresh supply until March or April.

The soil mix I use for this project is very light...much lighter than traditional potting mix packaged in bags . A commercial brand called Pro-Mix seems to have just the right consistency of peat, vermiculite perlite and some nutrients .

Plastic or clay containers, your preference, will serve as our winter planting domain. Remember, clay containers are more porous than plastic, permitting the soil to dry rapidly. If you think that you will not remember to water the plants, then use plastic.

Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil , cover with a thin layer of soil , and moisten thoroughly. Pat the seeds down with your hand to ensure contact with the soil.

Once you have watered the seeds, place the pot in a clear plastic bag and close the bag. This will keep in the moisture and allow the seeds to germinate undisturbed.

Place the pots in a warm location. Bottom warming is best. The top of a refrigerator is a good location . ...you want to keep the pot at a temperature that is at or slightly above 70 degrees.

After about three days, the seeds will germinate. Remove the plastic bag and place the germinated seeds in a warm, lighted area , but away from direct sun.

Wait seven to 10 more days, and then move the plants into a sunny location. The more sun they receive the better they will grow.

With the exception of basil and parsley, you really do not have to thin out the herb . Basil and parsley need a bit more space and do best when thinned out or transplanted to pots containing two to three plants.

Plant Tips

The common garden geranium is usually grown as an annual , but is actually a perennial. Bring geranium plants indoors, preferably before the first frost. Allow them to remain in soil until the soil is completely dried out. Brush the soil from the roots of the plant, and place the plant in a brown paper bag. Close the top of the bag with a string or rubber band. Leave the bags in an area that is reasonably cool but has a high humidity . Check the plants periodically...if the stems appear to be shriveled, then moisten the plant.

As spring approaches,. remove the plants from the bags and cut back to green tissue. Place in good potting soil and transplant out of doors as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

Questions or comments on gardening and plant care can be addressed to : The Plant Doctor, c/o Queens Publishing Company, 41-02 Bell Blvd. Bayside, N.Y. 11361. Or e-mail Plant.doctor@prodigy.net

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