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You can get a running start for April by sowing seeds now.

You can get a running start for April by sowing seeds now

Odd as it seems, January is the perfect month for sowing your earliest seeds. Germinated now, they'll be ready for April or May planting and will bloom early.

The seed-starting system outlined here is used by Roy Peterson, who has an outstanding flower garden in Seattle.

Getting started

Begin with a soil mix containing about half peat, half vermiculite. Put the mix in small tubs or containers and water until the soil is damp but not sodden.

To test moistened soil, Mr. Peterson balls some of it up in his hand and drops it from 8 inches. Too-wet soil stays intact when it hits; too-dry soil disintegrates; just-right soil fractures into small clods.

Plant large seeds in rows, at intervals given on the seed package. When seeds are too small to handle (as are begonias and petunias), mix each packet with a tablespoon of sand and sprinkle it over the soil surface. Then label each container (one kind of seed per tub), and either place in a plastic bag or wrap loosely with a sheet of clear plastic. You shouldn't have to water again until after seedlings germinate.

Mr. Peterson starts many of his seedlings in a basement, supplying light with a fourtube, 4-foot fluorescent fixture that hangs about 12 inches above the seedling flats. It stays on 12 to 13 hours per day.

Heat comes from a rubber pad under the flat (pictured above; greenhouse suppliers sell a comparable mat for about $60; the thermostat is about $30). For a cheaper alternative, put a heating cable in the bottom of each flat ($5 to $10 from garden centers).

The important thing is to have bottom heat, which greatly speeds germination.

Once seedlings are up . . .

After the seeds germinate, permanently remove the plastic wrap from the seedlings and check soil daily. When it starts to dry out, water from the bottom: set tubs in a container (such as a plastic flat with no drain holes) until the soil surface is moist. Unless top watering is very gentle, it tends to knock down seedlings.

Then put seedlings back under the lights. Never let them dry out. From this point on, add half-strength liquid fertilizer to the water every time you irrigate.

When seedlings develop two sets of true leaves, transplant into a flat or small pots.

Seed-sowing order

Of the common bedding plants, tuberous begonias take longest to grow from seed. Sow them in early January. Fibrous begonias, dusty miller, and verbena are second; sow these at midmonth. Everything else can go in from late January through February.

Plants sown on this schedule will be ready to plant out in the garden by mid-April. If you usually plant later than that, sow your seeds later.

Photo: Scatter large seeds on a flat surface before sowing: it makes them easier to pick up and put in rows. These are marigolds

Photo: Cover tubs with plastic bag to keep moisture levels high while seeds germinate. Don't forget to label tubs after planting

Photo: Heat from rubber pad below and light from fixture given new seedlings a strong start. Light is about 12 inches above. Move it a little closer if plants become leggy
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1988
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