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Start your seeds now for a green spring

Organizing your seeds and starting many, pruning young leeks, and forcing shrub branches into bloom indoors, are some of the gardening activities you can enjoy during the transition month of March here in Vermont.

Organize seed packets by planting time. Some seeds are generally sown directly in the garden so should be set aside into one group. These include ones such as corn, beans, and carrots. A few flowers are often sown directly into the soil, including sweet peas and nasturtium.

We like to sow most of seeds, even ones such as squash that can be sown directly, into peat pots or cell packs prior to get a slight jump on our usually short growing season.

Group seeds to be started indoors, then arrange them by planting time. For example, start with seeds that should be planted indoors 8 weeks before the average last frost, followed by those to be planted 6 weeks before, and so on. If you haven't tracked, or aren't sure of, your average last frost date, figure on perhaps mid-May in USDA zone 5, late May in zone 4, and early June or later in zone 3. This date of course varies with your own more specific climate and year.

Some of the flowers you may want to start about 8 weeks from setting out include ageratum, coleus, dianthus, geranium, impatiens, ornamental millet, petunia, salvia, and annual vinca. Wait until later to start most vegetables, although parsley might be started 8 weeks prior to planting out. Many end up starting tomatoes too early, ending up with spindly and leggy plants. Aim for about 6 weeks prior to planting for these.

More details on sowing dates can be found online at:

perrysperennials.info/pubs/oh89sowf.html and oh90sowv.html

By starting your own plants, you'll save money and be able to grow unusual varieties not readily available in nurseries. Start seeds in flats filled with moistened seed-starting mix. Once the seeds germinate, place the plants under tube lights or grow lights (14 hours a day, 6 to 8 inches above seedlings), and keep soil moist.

If you started leeks indoors already, they are probably getting pretty tall by now. Trim them back to about 2 inches in height, so they don't get spindly and fall over. Like grasses, leeks grow from near the soil line rather than from the top, so you won't harm the growing point by trimming them back.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known Vermont horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach. Dr. Leonard Perry is extension professor at UVM.

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