This week's gardening tips from the Savvygardener.

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Seeds Indoors
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January 24, 2007

Fun in The Sun (and Snow)...
The good news is that the sun is brightly shining and the snow is slowly melting. The only people I know who seem to be bothered by the melting are our two sons. You would think that they had never seen snow before. They want to be in it, on top of it, covered with it and, I certainly can't leave out, throwing it. Kevin and I stood inside and watched from the window as the two of them, Noah and Jake, hurled what seemed to be an endless amount of snowballs at one another. Of course you know how that goes. Everything seems to be going just fine - they are having a great time and then BAM, someone is hit in the face and it's time to come inside. If was fun watching the two of them having so much fun and I loved the idea of them being outside together. It brought back fond memories of my childhood and doing the same thing with my sisters.

Since there seems to be plenty of snow on the ground and a chance of more on the way, keep your eyes on the faster melting areas. This will show you where you are getting more sun and will guide you with plant placement and selection in the spring. Weather can tell you so much about your garden. Stop, look and listen. Make notes and keep track of what you are seeing. You will reward yourself in the end with a garden that is forever changing with the seasons.

~ Shelly  

Minimize Lawn Damage...
Lawns and shrubs can be damaged by the various chemicals and salts we use to melt ice and snow. Savvygardeners can minimize the risk of damage by following a few simple steps when de-icing walks and driveways:

  1. Use an ice melting substitute or calcium chloride that is gentler on the landscape than salt.
  2. Before applying such a product, shovel off as much snow as possible.
  3. Apply the de-icing product down the middle of your sidewalk or driveway.
  4. Shovel any treated snow or ice into the street or driveway.  Any place but your lawn.


White Water...
While it generally takes 8 -10 inches of snow to equal just one-inch of rain you can maximize the irrigating effects of last weekend's snow with a little extra work.  When you're shoveling the walks and driveway simply transfer that (untreated) snow to your garden beds.  As it melts your gardens will benefit from the extra moisture.

A Gentler Approach To Houseplant Pests...
Insects on houseplants are a major pain.  Not only are they hurting your plants but control measures using chemicals are pretty undesirable to a lot of homeowners.  Here are three control approaches that minimize risk to you and your housemates.

  • Physically pick-off caterpillars, slugs, and other larger pests.
  • Swab pests with a small brush or cotton swab moistened with rubbing alcohol. This method is feasible when plants are small and infestations very light. It is tedious and must be done once a week over a period of time.
  • Plants can also be washed in a diluted mixture of water and insecticidal soap, or gently spray-washed with lukewarm water.  Repeated washings over a period of time are necessary to gradually reduce infestations.  

If the infestation is severe, it may be preferable to discard the plant and replace it rather than attempt chemical control.



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Tipping The Scale...
Now is a great time to inspect your trees and shrubs for scale insects. With the leaves off the trees, inspecting the stems and bark crevices is much easier. Go slowly and look carefully, since many types of scale look like a part of the branch or otherwise blend in well with the host plant. Plan an application of horticultural oil if scale populations are above tolerable levels. Horticultural oil can be applied at any time of year, but temperatures should be at 40F or higher for 24 hours after an application. Be sure to read and follow all directions on the label.


Viability Verification...
So, you're getting ready to start some seeds indoors and don't know if last year's leftovers are still good.  Well, you can start by checking the typical viability of 20 popular vegetable seeds in the table below:

Vegetable Viability
Vegetable Viability
Beans 3 Muskmelons 4-5
Broccoli 3-5 Peas 3
Brussels Sprouts 3-5 Peppers 2-3
Cabbage 3-4 Pumpkin 4-5
Carrots 3 Radish 5
Cauliflower 3-5 Spinach 5
Corn, Sweet 2 Squash, Summer 3-4
Cucumbers 5 Squash, Winter 4
Lettuce 5-6 Tomato 3-4
Lima Beans 3 Turnip 4-5

To be absolutely sure here's a trick we use to determine if seeds are still good:

  • Take ten seeds from the package and place them on a paper towel that you have moistened with warm water. 
  • Fold the paper towel over to cover the seeds.
  • Keep the towel moist and warm (on top of the fridge usually works for warmth) until they start to germinate. 
  • If less than six seeds (60%) germinate you might as well throw the rest away. 
  • If six or more germinate it will be worthwhile to plant the rest. 
  • Don't waste your test seeds!  The ones that germinate should be carefully moved to your preferred seedling container and cared for until ready for transplanting outdoors.


Seed Scarification...
The coat of certain seed is extremely tough and must be penetrated by special means.  Particularly hard seed may be scarified.  Scarification involves breaking, scratching or softening the seed coat to allow moisture penetration.  Two methods of scarification commonly used by the home gardener are mechanical and hot water.  

  • Mechanical scarification involves breaking or weakening the seed coat with a file, sandpaper or hammer. 
  • Hot water scarification involves placing seeds in water that is 170 to 210 F. After the water cools, seeds should continue to soak for 12 to 24 hours. 

Then they are planted. Specific instructions for scarification are usually mentioned on the seed packet or in the seed catalog.


All Set For Onions...
Onions are one of the earliest crops that can be planted in the garden - late March in most of eastern and central Kansas.  As they usually require 6 to 8 weeks of growing time before transplanting they should be started indoors now.  Plant onion seeds fairly close together - to inches apart in a pot or flat filled with commercial seed starting mix.  (A lot of onion plants can be grown in a small area.)  Place the container in a warm (75 to 80 F) location until the seedlings emerge.  When the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, move them to a cooler (60 to 65 F) location with plenty of natural or artificial light.   After the onion seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, apply a soluble fertilizer with each or alternate waterings.  When they are 4 to 5 inches tall "give them a haircut" by trimming the ends of the leaves to produce a shorter, stockier plant.  In early March, move the plants to an outdoor, protected location for a few weeks prior to actual transplanting.

"Exclusiveness in a garden is a mistake as great as it is in society."

~ Alfred Austin

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