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"Indoor Seed Starting for Beginners to Experts"

Even though it's still winter outdoors, the new growing season is beginning indoors in the form of seed starting. This is the time of the year to start many different flower, vegetable, and herb seeds which will become transplants for this year's outdoor gardens. It's a yearly ritual for me and many gardeners that signals the start of the new growing season.

It's easy to start seeds indoors and there are many reasons for starting your own seeds including being able to grow an unusual, hard-to-find, or new variety or plant, saving money, starting seeds that need to be started indoors early to get a head start, and having fun in the process.

One of the keys to successful indoor seed starting is using the right equipment and knowing how to use it.

You'll need a seed-starting setup which is comprised of a light source, a timer for the light source, a propagation mat, sterile seed pots and cell packs, and special seed-starting mix for germinating seeds that also must be sterile. Soilless mix for transplants is used when it comes time to transplant the seedlings into cell packs.

I start all of my own flower, vegetable, and herb transplants. Every winter I start several thousand seeds for my garden and home landscape, so I have, by necessity, developed a seed-starting timetable of each and every plant. Each plant has its own proper seed-starting time and it varies, depending on the plant, from 12 weeks (which we're near now) to two weeks before the time the plant should be planted out in the garden. My list is based on the average last frost date of May 31. I start by counting backwards (measured in weeks) from that date.

I've learned over the years that each type of seed has its own ideal seed-starting method and may require special treatment. Oftentimes if you don't have success with a certain type of seed, it probably requires special attention. For each plant I have notes on soil temperature for best germination, to cover, cover lightly, or not to cover seeds, any special formulation of seed-starting mix to use, any seed pretreatments needed before sowing the seeds, whether to direct sow into peat pots, exclude light for germination or not, and any other valuable information I've discovered or learned on how best to start the particular seeds. Knowing what a particular type of seed needs for best germination makes all the difference in the world.

Because each plant is different each step along the way is also different from sowing the seeds in seed pots to transplanting the seedlings to cell packs to getting the seedlings acclimated to the outdoors by "hardening off."

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Gardenia Needs Warm Temps., High Humidity"

Q. My husband gave me a gardenia as a gift recently. I love the fragrance of its flowers. Unfortunately, I don't know a thing about how to grow it. Can you tell me how to grow this plant? Thanks for any information you can give me.

A. Gardenia is a popular gift plant. It has glossy green leaves topped with waxy, creamy-white flowers. The flowers are highly fragrant and can be up to five inches across. Here in western Massachusetts, gardenia is grown as a house plant, but in the South and West, gardenia is often grown as an evergreen, landscape shrub reaching six feet tall or more.

From talking with other people who grow gardenias, it seems they either do well or they don't. I've experienced troubles growing gardenia myself. It tends to be a very fussy plant.

Gardenia needs bright light with at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. During winter, place it in the sunniest window you have. In spring and summer, it can be placed outdoors in a partially shaded location.

Warm daytime temperatures and cool night temperatures are necessary for continual flowering. Temperatures of 68 to 75 degrees during the day and 60 to 65 degrees at night are ideal. Night temperatures above 65 degrees can prevent it from forming flower buds. Be careful not to place gardenia in an area that is drafty such as near an outside door or directly over a heating or air conditioning vent. It can drop its leaves and buds in these situations.

Often, flower buds that are on the plant when it is purchased will drop once it gets home. This is a result of a sudden change in temperature or humidity. High humidity is necessary for gardenia to grow and flower well. That's often difficult to achieve, especially during winter when the air inside our homes can be very dry because of wintertime heating. Place the pot on a tray of moistened pebbles. Be sure to check the pebbles regularly and add water as needed to keep them moist.

Gardenia should never be allowed to dry out. Keep the soil consistently moist, but don't let it stand in water. Water when the top surface of the soil starts to feel dry to the touch. Over- or underwatering causes gardenia to drop its lower leaves as well as flower buds.

Gardenia is a heavy feeder and should be fertilized every few weeks. Gardenias not fertilized regularly develop yellow leaves and don't flower well.

Although gardenia is a fussy plant and often difficult to grow, there is a relative of gardenia, called African gardenia, that is very easy to grow. It blooms all year long and grows well in just about every condition - bright light, low light, warm temperatures, low temperatures, high humidity, low humidity. This is the gardenia I prefer to grow.

Click here to read more about African Gardenia and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store

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