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The Plant Doctor: Indoor planting keeps winter blues in check

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Let’s think spring!

A visit to your local nursery is probably not going to help — the delivery of spring plants is several weeks away, and walking past the evergreens is far too depressing .

But the trip to the nursery is not a total waste. Pick up several pots, seed trays, some potting soil and your favorite selection of seed. Seed packets should be arriving about this time of the year, and the variety is more than ample for the most demanding gardener.

The seed packets generally contain growing instructions, including suitability for the area in which they are being grown. Information on germination time, space, and location will help you make the right selection.

Seeds selected. Now let's work on the pots. An alternative to pots are seed trays. Seed trays are useful because they allow you to sow many seeds in a relatively small area, while providing for easy observation, watering and thinning. If you intend to use last year’s pots, be sure to wash them thoroughly. A weak solution of bleach and water will effectively disinfect the pots. Clay pots should be soaked overnight, so that they can become more porous. Drain holes or gravel beds are necessary in both trays and pots. Seeds should be kept moist, but will easily decay in standing water or soggy soil.

A peat-based soil mixture is ideal for seed planting. The mixture should be light, sterile and consistent in texture. There are several companies that produce seed and cutting mixtures that are specifically designed for this propose.

Place the soil in the pot or tray , tap down gently, and moisten. The soil should be moist, not wet, before you plant the seeds. Indeed, it is advisable to prepare the soil the day before you do the planting .

There are two simple methods that can be used once the seeds have been placed in the soil. One is to simply place a glass plate over the container, then place a piece of brown paper over the glass. Keep the seed containers in an area that maintains a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Wipe the glass daily.

The second method is to use your window sill. Place a transparent polyethylene bag over the pot and secure with a rubber band. Select a warm location — one that is relatively free of drafts, and where the temperature can be maintained at 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

As soon as the seeds germinate, remove the brown paper from the glass covering . Remove the polyethylene bag from the window sill planting , and move that plant to a location that receives indirect light. In both instances, direct sunlight initially will do more harm that good. Keep the compost moist, not wet.

As soon as the first true leaves develop, the plants should be carefully removed and placed into trays or pots filled with potting compost. Carefully remove the plants, handling them by the leaves, not the stems. Keep the repotted plants in a shaded area for a day or so, then move them into indirect and gradually into direct sunlight.

When the seedlings have recovered from the repotting procedure, we then move on to a hardening process. This will let the seedling acclimate to life out of doors. Progressively expose the seedling to increased ventilation and cooler temperatures. If the day is warm and sunny, move the plants out of doors, but take them back in at night. After about two weeks, they should be left out of doors all the time. A week after growing out of doors, you can safely transplant the seedlings to your garden.

The key to the hardening process, is to select a period of time when the possibility for frost has past. In our growing area that may be mid April to early May .

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

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