Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in both French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This article was originally published in April 1988 in Canadian Garden News.
Oh no! March has slipped by. April is well along and you still haven’t got your annuals and vegetables started for the summer garden? All across the country, gardeners awake with the lengthening days of April to discover that their seed trays are still gathering dust down in the basement and that they got around to picking out their seeds yet. Is it too late? Should they resign themselves to having to pick up all their summer plants from a
garden centre? Not yet! Here are a few tips and tricks r getting off to a late start., and still not missing the garden parade.
When to start seedlings?
First of all. let’s take an honest look at how long ahead of time seedlings should really be started indoors. I find that most dates given in books are highly exaggerated. I’m not saying that they are incorrect, but they have been tested under optimal conditions, which the average avid gardener simply doesn’t have. For example, you’ll often read “start your tomatoes indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date.” Who’s kidding who? Eight weeks may be fine in a greenhouse, where cooler temperatures produce those nice stocky plants that nobody could grow in a home, if I started tomatoes on my apartment window ledge eight weeks early, I’d have weak, pale green plants half way to the ceiling by planting out date. If your conditions are not perfect, always choose the lesser of the two dates. What’s more, even four weeks early will do in a pinch. Simply choose early tomatoes (which is what most of us do anyway) and start them in late April or even early May You may not be the first on the block to be eating fresh tomatoes this year, but you’ll still get in a great harvest.
If ever you are late with any seedlings, remember there are ways to speed up their growth. Top on the list is artificial lighting. The vast majority of seeds will germinate faster under lights because light stimulates germination (even if the seeds are theoretically covered with soil) and because the lamps give off enough heat to keep the soil warm, another plus. After germination, the lamps can be left on 16 or even 18 hours a day to stimulate faster growth. At this rate, you can easily recuperate a week or two of lost time.
Sow Indoors for Early Flowering
And what about all those plants which really don’t need much preparation indoors? Zinnias*, for example, could actually be sown directly in the garden and still bloom by mid-summer, so a four week head start (or even less) will still give you nice young transplants not too far from flowering. The same is true of Ageratum, Annual Phlox, Balsam, Batchelor’s Button*. Calendula. California Poppy*, Castor Bean*. Celosia. Cleome. Cosmos. Dahlia. Four O’clock, Gazania. Joseph’s Coat, Kochia, Lavatera*, Marigolds. Morning Glories, Sanvitalia, Scabiosa, Strawflower and Sweet Alyssum. Many vegetables also fall into the category of plants that like to be started early indoors… but not too early. This includes most crucifers (cabbage, cauliflower, etc). You could start them indoors three weeks or so ahead of time, but then, how would you supply the cool temperatures they need. On the other hand, a few weeks of warmth speeds germination and yet still lets you plant them outside when it’s still cool, a real plus when you have hot summers. Cucumbers too like a few weeks head start, just enough to get them past germination and into their first few leaves. Sow them directly into peat pots, though, as the roots of young plants are easily damaged by transplanting. The same thing – a 2 to 4 week head start in peat pots – goes for other cucurbits: gourds, squashes, melons, etc. And you can even give the latter treatment to sweet corn for the earliest com on the block.
So, aren’t you glad you procrastinated? It’s almost never too late to garden!
* These plants prefer to be sown into peat pots, as they don’t transplant well.
Excellent advice. I divide my seeds up into seeding weeks: 8-10, 6-8, 4-6 and direct. Except for perennials if I have any issues with germination I still have time to reseed.