February marks the halfway point of winter in the northern part of the world. With spring arriving soon, many people are dreaming of working in their gardens on warm, sunny days.
Some gardeners like to start the growing season early. They can do this by growing plants from seed inside their home.
It is important to know when to start growing your seeds indoors. The answer depends on where you live. Gardeners use the average last frost date in their area to help them know when to begin growing seeds. Frost is a thin layer of ice that forms on the ground when the air is cold.
Some places have special groups that can provide such information. But there are also good online calculators that can tell you about frost dates, too.
The small packets that seeds come in usually advise you to start seeds a given number of weeks before the last frost. The recommendation will differ depending on the seed type.
After finding your start date, it is important to respect it. If you start too soon, plants likely will grow weak and struggle to do well. If you start too late, your harvest will be delayed.
While you are waiting, find and prepare your growing containers. You can use things like recycled yogurt or egg containers. Each container should have a hole in the bottom for water to flow through. If you still have containers you used last year, make sure to disinfect them with a strong cleaning solution.
Fill each container with a clean, moist, soilless seed-starting mix. Place one to four seeds in each cell, depending on the seed kind and size. Water the seeds as needed to keep the mix from drying out.
Cover the seed containers tightly. Put them in a warm place out of direct sunlight. Heating mats placed under the trays will help the seeds develop more quickly.
Be on the lookout for “damping off,” a fungal disease that happens in cool, wet, dark areas. If you see a white layer on the soil’s surface, remove it carefully and let the soil dry completely between watering again.
One way to help avoid damping off is to direct the wind of a small fan toward the soil. The wind from the fan can help train young seedlings to withstand wind outside. The seedlings will become stronger as a result.
When seedlings first appear, remove the covering and put containers by a sunny window.
You can also put them under special lighting devices called grow lamps for 14 hours a day. Costly lamps are not necessary. Ordinary lights will work. Keep the light source no more than 5 to 10 centimeters above the plants, changing its height as the seedlings grow.
If several seedlings sprout in each container, cut the weakest at the soil line using small scissors. The aim is to keep only one strong-looking plant per container section. If you let more than one seedling remain, the roots may become mixed together. The young plants might not survive.
A week before the last frost date, begin to “harden off” plants by placing them outside for longer periods of time each day. Place them in a shady area protected from wind. Leave them there for one hour and then bring them back inside. Repeat the next day, but leave them out for two hours. Continue adding one hour of outdoor time each day for one week. By the end of the week, your plants will be prepared to survive and grow in your garden outside.
I’m Ashley Thompson.
Jessica Damiano wrote this story for The Associated Press. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
garden - n. an area of ground where plants (such as flowers or vegetables) are grown
calculator - n. a small electronic device that is used for adding, subtracting, etc.
packet - n. a small, thin package
moist - adj. slightly or barely wet : not completely dry
damp - adj. somewhat or slightly wet
fungal - adj. relating to or caused by a fungus (fungus - n. any one of a group of living things (such as molds, mushrooms, or yeasts) that often look like plants but have no flowers and that live on dead or decaying things)
fan - n. a machine or device that is used to move the air and make people or things cooler:
sprout - v. to produce new leaves, buds, etc.