Treat the itch to start gardening too early

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Are you one of those gardeners who always gets the “itch” to start gardening too early each year? Don’t worry. There are some preventative steps to take to delay the early onset of Gardenitis:

  • Start by taking deep breaths and think back on all the good things that happened last year in your garden and forget about the bad stuff. 
  • Next, check your temperature by looking at the indoor/outdoor thermometer (or using an app on your smartphone) and be sure it is still reading way too cold to start anything indoors. 
  • Finally, drink in lots of sunshine on the brighter, longer days we now are having, and keep an eye on our calendar of when to plant outside.

Having taken all the above steps, gardeners can then consider starting their vegetable and flower seeds in a timely, controlled manner:

  • Read the seed packet to find out the best time to plant outside in your area, normally just a few weeks before the average frost-free date, and sow the seeds indoors based on that. The outdoor date will vary, depending the crop, where you live, and if you are planning for that early garden, the summer garden, or fall plantings.
  • Gardeners should start seeds at home that they can’t find as transplants or start seeds at home for those specific flowers or vegetables that you can only ever find in the seed catalogs.

This recipe will help minimize symptoms of Gardenitis:

  • Ingredients for success include using fresh vegetable and flower seeds, brand new or very clean and sanitized seed starting flats, and a bag of brand new soilless growing media.
  • If the seed starting media is dry, add enough water to provide moisture for the seeds to start their germination process. 
  • Next, fold the soil into the starting flats or cell packs, being sure to adequately fill with clean hands or sanitized garden tools.
  • Once that is finished, you are ready to actually sow your seeds.  If you are using individual cell packs, place one or two seeds per cell at the depth recommended on the seed packet. If you are sowing in rows, place your seeds accordingly so later you can transplant them easily.
  • Add the clear, plastic top or take plastic wrap from the kitchen and lightly cover the seed flat to retain even moisture during the germination process.

Time to take that temperature again. This time for the seeds:

  • Some prefer warmer soil temperatures to germinate, others cooler. Because of this, be sure to sow like seeds in the same flat.  
  • Once your seeds are in the flats and covered, place them in an appropriate location to warm up the soil or to keep the soil cool.

A few more tips as you plant your seeds for this year’s garden (and treat your Gardenitis):

  • The seed packet will tell you when you can expect to see the seedlings emerge and if any thinning will need to be done.
  • If thinning is necessary, use a small pair of scissors to cut the unwanted seedling off. Do not pull it out as you will damage the seedling you want to keep. 
  • As your seedlings continue to grow, move the flats into brighter light to keep them from reaching for the sun and getting to leggy and thin.
  • The best conditions will be good sunlight during the day and cooler night temperatures to create the best transplant possible.
  • Remember, too much water can cause seedling diseases and later root rots of your young vegetable and flower plants. When watering, water the soil only, not the foliage, which also can promote disease. 

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.