The Cranky Gardener

The Cranky Gardener by Karin Bylander Woltjer Well, hello again. Although this greeting is decidedly much too friendly-sounding for a cranky gardener, I am in spring mode again after the surprise spring snow squall on the Ides of March, March 15, and Easter Sunday's snow showers.

Because we are in the first half of April, there are a couple of tasks that you will need to work through NOW. The first is start those seeds and bulbs if you have not already done so. I admit it � I am late in getting seeds started.

I have packages of the "spider flower" ( cleome spinosa) because they are so-o-o-o pretty, dill bouquet (anethum graveolens) to attract butterflies, sunflower (Sunspot) to attract birds and blue poppy (meconopsis betonicifolia) purchased at The Butchart Gardens several years ago.

Although it is a moot point, I checked the germination time on the seed packet: 10-20 days for the dill, 7-21 days for the sunflower and no clue for either the cleome or the poppy. I note the range as well as today's start date in my garden journal.

Pre-wet a germination mix in a plastic pail by adding hot water, stir (sounds like mud pie) and allow it to rest for 24 hours. The mix should have consistency of sugar; if not, add more mix or water.

Before beginning, I want you to keep two words in mind: 'cleanliness' and 'attentiveness.' Promoting cleanliness prevents introducing pathogens into the seed sowing process by using only sterile germination mix and sanitizing pots with a 10 percent bleach solution. Once germinated, seeds are sensitive; be attentive in monitoring daily for shoots and moisture.

Gather plastic pots using anything that is wide and shallow like a recycled milk carton with a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage or a 6-ounce plastic raspberry container. Fill with soil, and tap on the table to settle. Space the seeds on top of the soil (no crowding, please).

If the seed requires semi-darkness like the poppy, cover the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite which helps retain moisture. Label the pot with the plant name and date.

Settle the seeds with a gentle water mist, and set the pots in either a clean nursery flat with no holes or a cookie tray in indirect light in a spare room. If the mix is light in color and weight, water from the bottom up rather than on the top of the soil by placing tepid water in the bottom of the tray. After the water has been absorbed, note the difference in pot weight and color.

Dome the tray with clear plastic using a flat cover or a clear plastic storage box to create the greenhouse effect for maintaining humidity and moisture. The poppy seeds germinate at 60� F; the rest germinate readily with a 65� to 75�F soil temperature. Since I keep my house on the cool side, I am using a heat mat to maintain that higher range.

Keep your green thumbs crossed because germination should occur in 2 to 21+ days.

When the shoots appear, remove the pot from the heat mat and greenhouse, and place 2" from a grow light while they are babies. For the next steps in the care and feeding of seedlings, i.e. fertilizing, transplanting and outdoor transitioning, reference Making More Plants by Ken Druse or http://www.taunton. com/finegardening for "10 Seed-Starting Tips" with pictures on the Internet .

Do-it-yourselfers: start your engines (mower engines, that is). For those of you who have your hands poised on the spreader to fertilize your lawn, keep this guideline in mind for the S.D. cool climate grasses: cut your grass twice before applying fertilizer or weed 'n feed. Things are looking shaggy at my house so I started mowing for the first time on Saturday but will have to finish the job this week.

Because I am a recycler and prefer to use natural products from renewable resources, I am going to try organic fertilizer and weed control this year. The hot topic last year in Chicago gardening news was corn gluten meal as pre-emergence weed control. During a weekend trip, I walked into a northwest side nursery and purchased the only size available, 10#, for approximately $12.

Now, I have other sources on the Web for more economical purchases; for instance, planetnatural.com, has a 50# bag for $29.95.

Attend the May 1 morning plant sale of the Clay County Master Gardeners and Vermillion Garden Club at the Fairgrounds. Plants are healthy and economical.

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