The days are getting longer and sunnier. There's a hint of spring in the air. It's almost here: decision time!
Before the gardening season begins, you'll need to choose which annuals and vegetables you want to plant and how many new perennials you'll add. After you make your selections, there's one more decision to make: whether to start some plants from seeds.
Why start from seed
Starting seeds indoors saves money and helps you get a head start on the growing season. Even better, it allows you to choose from an almost limitless number of flower and vegetable selections -- from newly resurrected heirloom varieties to the latest hybrids and everything in between.
Nurseries and garden centers have to limit the number of varieties they offer. They add new plants every year, of course, but they tend to rely on tried-and-true varieties because they know customers will be looking for them. But if you start tomatoes from seed, for example, you can choose from several hundred varieties rather than the dozen or so you might find at a well-stocked garden center. You also can select unusual annuals such as "love lies bleeding" and "kiss me over the garden gate." And you can start a host of herbs, wildflowers and flowering perennials from seed, too.
What it takes
If you just plant seeds in containers and put them in a bright window, you'll probably end up with thin, spindly seedlings. But if you put a little more effort into it, you're likely to be pleased by the results.
If you're new to seed starting, invest in some start-up equipment: fluorescent lights and fixtures, an automatic timer for the lights and (ideally) a heating mat or two. (Setting a heating mat under the trays of seeds will allow for faster, more uniform germination.)
You'll also have to buy seeds, containers and potting media and pay for the extra electricity needed to keep the lights burning between 12 and 16 hours a day. But those costs will be offset by the money you save by raising your own bedding plants.
With few exceptions, most plants can be grown from seed for quite a bit less than what you'd pay at garden centers or through mail-order nurseries. Of course, starting from seed is a bargain only if your seedlings are sturdy enough to make the transition into your garden.
Care and feeding
Starting seeds indoors will also cost you some time. Young seedlings must be watered and fertilized regularly. As they grow, they need to be repotted into containers that allow adequate space for their roots to develop. If time is an issue, it's much more convenient to go to a local garden center and buy bedding plants. But if you love nurturing plants, starting from seed can be a whole lot of fun. If you haven't done it, why not give it a try this spring?
Deb Brown is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Yard and Garden Line. For help with garden, plant and insect questions, call the Yard and Garden Line at 612-624-4771.