Exceptionally cold, wet spring challenges gardeners

April 20, 2011 10:30 am

Because our soil is still so cold, even if the ground is completely thawed, most seeds will not germinate on their own.


Peas and sweet peas are an exception, although they will both take an unusually longer period of time to sprout if planted this early.

An easy way to get the jump on our gardening season if you’d like early peas but don’t have a greenhouse, is to simply take two pieces of paper towel, lay one down on a plate, place your seeds on it, in rows or scattered, lay the other piece on top of the seeds and water. Your seeds will sprout in less than a week, then you can transplant them to pots for going into the ground later. Remember to keep the paper towels wet and once the seeds have sprouted you can let the seeds grow between the towels for awhile. There is no need to pull each sprouted seed off the paper towel, merely plant them as they are growing on the bottom towel, the roots will grow down through the paper towel once they are placed in dirt.

This is a good lesson to do with children. Peas grow quickly and children are not so easily bored with all the waiting when they see such near-instant results. I have sweet peas more than 2 inches tall that I sprouted this way.

With the exceptionally long wet spring we have had, your hardy perennials may be suffering from lack of nutrients. While you are doing your spring inspections, if you notice plants that are normally dark green yet now they seem to be more yellow, or chlorotic (lacking the normal green pigment), this is probably a sign of nutritional deficiency.

Just remember any fertilizing you do in early spring should be at no more than half strength if using a fertilizer that is mixed with water. You need to encourage gentle but strong growth. A mulch of soil and dried manure is an excellent choice for spring growth. Just place the mulch around the perimeter of your plants and let the rain push the nutrients in, or lightly water if you need to. We are all, of course, hoping for some drier days ahead.

Brassica crops like kale, broccoli and cabbage, are a good bet to get started early, as well.

Don’t forget, if you plan on starting tomatoes from seed, you have almost lost the window of opportunity for having enough time to get them big enough for setting out and getting fruit from. Tomatoes normally take two full months from seed to be big enough to plant out. Greenhouse-grown tomatoes will do well, however, if planted this late.

If you are tired of trying to plant small seeds individually in rows, a nice tip is to take the seed, place it in a small container or baggie with vermiculite and scatter that along the row. Your seed will usually come out more evenly spaced. Some suggest a light misting with water of the vermiculite/seed mix prior to sowing.

Other suggestions include saving plastic spice shakers with medium sized holes and using the same vermiculite/seed mix, or using spice shakers with smaller holes and no vermiculite. Using the spice shakers also makes it easier to sow directly into the ground during windy days.

Let’s hope the days ahead are filled with warmth and sunshine and just enough rain to make things grow.

Until next time, go plant some seeds!

Jennie Lu Hagen is a La Grande gardener.