GARDEN GUIDE: The big problem with my perennials

By Jennie Hagen March 24, 2014 08:00 am

Have you found yourself indulging in late fall sales of perennials only to discover winter arrived before you were able to get them planted? In previous years, I have enjoyed tremendous success over-wintering plants in their store-bought plastic pots, labels and all.

Trim them back the next spring, trim any pot-bound roots, and into the ground they go, new growth arriving daily. Until this year, that is. Something was terribly wrong. 

For years I’ve taken the late fall arrivals and placed them next to the foundation of the house, all tucked together to provide shelter to each other.  It’s amazingly simple and survival was never an issue.

This past fall I changed my routine, however, and disaster certainly unfolded. Instead of sitting them on the gravel back-fill around the foundation, I left them in those handy little two inch tall cardboard flats that you carry them home in. This ensured the water wouldn’t drain out and the plants decayed where they sat, stagnant smelling soil and rotted tops were all that was left.

I estimate 70 percent have died, a costly mistake, indeed. I’ll be certain to set any new arrivals this fall on gravel, only. I certainly hope you have had better success.

There are numerous seeds you can sow outside now, even with our currently chilly days.

Spinach will sprout as will mustard greens (yes, some people actually do like them!), and peas can usually handle cold soil, even this early. Just don’t expect warm weather growth.

Beans, if planted outside now, will simply rot in the soil, and many other warm soil lovers will just sit and wait. If you don’t have access to season extenders, such as cold frames or a greenhouse, many vegetable seeds can be planted later.

I heard of one local gardener who was a bit anxious to get a jump on the growing season and started watermelon seeds in January. The poor little leggy things are destined for failure, I’m afraid.

One of the best sources for seed-starting information can usually be located on the seed packet itself. If you don’t have personal access to the Internet, county Extension offices and our local libraries have a wealth of information available for anyone wanting to grow their own food.

Typically, years of research has been a factor in developing seed varieties and germination information regarding days to eating from when the seed was sown. Most of us in the tri-county area garden in USDA zones 4 and 5.  A few areas are zones higher, but that’s our general rule. It also allows us to grow incredible fruit varieties as most fruit need a certain amount of cold to yield a crop.

The two key phrases to note when starting seeds are “days to maturity from transplanting” and “days to maturity from when sown”.  

For most vegetable seeds needing a head start, you can estimate about eight weeks in advance of when you’ll transplant them into the ground. For direct sowing, check to see if your seeds need warm soil or not, this allows you to decide, for your certain area, when would be the best time to get the seeds in the ground.

Until next time, have fun playing in the dirt. Don’t forget to stretch first!