A couple of winters ago, I wrote a column called “Winter Blues and Blahs.” I don’t want to fudge and just repeat the column, but the condition is an annual one.
These dreary days reduce me to a shivering lump, devoid of ambition and inspiration. We don’t have up-north cold, but it’s still damp, depressing and uncomfortable. Our gardens, too, except for the lifesaving blooms of Camellias, are hunkering down in survival mode and have little to offer.
So yes, as I advocated in my earlier column, do visit the houseplant department at your local box store to get your “green fix,” but it’s the time of year when seed and bulb kiosks are springing up and you need to linger there, too.
Of course, we have a wonderfully long growing season, but I like to help Mother Nature along and get a head start. I’m talking about seeds. Many successful gardeners I know have never planted a single seed. I’d bet money that some of you who are reading this, fall into that category. Well, listen up. I’m sure you’ve noticed how the cost of plants has skyrocketed (along with everything else), and how the selection of plants gets narrower and narrower. I’m here to give you an easy and inexpensive way to counteract the high cost of growing.
You don’t need much in the way of materials, but I like to use ‘bought’ seed starting mix because it’s much easier than trying to dig up friable soil from my garden and the mix won’t have weed seeds.
The clear plastic clam-shells in which bakery goods and produce are sold are perfect for starting seeds. Just put a moist paper towel in the bottom of the clam to keep the soil from falling out, and fill it with damp seed starting mix. Follow the planting directions on the seed packet. I do have a couple of seed heat mats to give bottom heat, but I also use a very old heating pad covered with a couple of terry towels! Bottom heat seems to give most seeds a boost to their germination time.
I have a fluorescent light propagator since I start LOTS of seeds, but all you really need is a sunny window sill.
Some of the very best garden flowers are simply unavailable as plants, and even if you could find them, your garden piggy bank would be empty long before your garden is fuil.
These are a few of my must-have garden annuals. I save seeds each year so once you buy a packet, you’ll never have to buy another.
Tithonia or Mexican Sunflower I took a photo of a stand of mine that had a butterfly on every single blossom. The species can and does get so tall it will flop over. I usually just leave it alone and let it do what it wants, but I was thrilled to find a dwarf selection of this great pollinator plant, ‘Fiesta del Sol’, which is said to get only two or three feet high. You may have to order it on line. I found it at Park Seeds. They will self-sow, but won’t emerge until both the soil and the weather are quite warm, so I start them inside in January or February for earlier blossoms.
Moon Flower vine. This is always a show stopper and so easy from seeds. The seeds have a pointy end which I nip off with nail clippers, and soak them overnight before planting them. They will germinate in only a few days, so you don’t have to start them until March. Don’t set them out until nights are reliably over 50 degrees, though. They are quite cold sensitive. I gave several started plants to my friend, Kathleen Grewenig, to cover the chain link fence at her new Pigeon Point home. She said that people would stop and tell her how magnificent her fence looked! She definitely saved seeds and is a convert.
Zinnias. These come in so many different colors, shapes and sizes it’s hard to choose. Sometimes these will actually over-winter! You can start them inside, too, but these are great ‘throw and sow’ seeds. Wait until it starts to warm up in April and just throw the seeds outside onto well prepared soil. Rake them in or tromp on them to make good contact with the soil. We’ll usually have enough rain to germinate them, but a sprinkle now than then from your hose won’t hurt.
Fresh dill is hard to find and expensive, too. However, it’s easy to direct sow seeds into pots to keep outside near your kitchen. If your harvest is bountiful, just put the fronds into a freezer bag and break off a piece whenever you need it. So much better than the dried stuff in little spice bottles. My mama always put a handful of fresh dill into her chicken soup. Um Um Good.
Cosmos, marigolds, nasturtiums, porterweeds, and cornflowers are just a few more I plant every year. Since they all are annuals, they will bloom the first year. Some perennials that will bloom the first year from seeds are 4’clocks, coneflowers, foxgloves, single dahlias and hardy phlox. Chances are pretty good that I’ll have some of them to give as door prizes at the Port Royal Farmers’ Market ‘Lunch and Learn’ series starting in April. ‘
Tending to these little seedlings until they’re ready to plant outside is one of my most treasured winter activities. I talk and even sing to them. I think they grow fast just so they can escape my winter serenades. I realize that I sound like Maria Callas only in my mind. Audibly, it’s more like Janis Joplin. On a bad day.
Thankfully, you don’t have to listen to me sing, but do pay attention to my advice and start some seeds this year. Surely you have a sunny window sill. You’ll be singing, too.