In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
January, 2005
Regional Report

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Start with sturdy seedlings this year for a better garden.

New Year, New Garden

There's no time like January to begin taking steps to make a better garden, and often that means changing your ways. Start by growing some seedlings, or doing it better than you have before.

Better Starts
Start with a new lightbulb(s) in the lamp you'll use to light the seeds. (When was the last time you did that? If it's more than two years old, you're losing power.) Two new fluorescent bulbs -- one cool white and one daylight -- will provide the entire spectrum your plants need. Or you can purchase a plant light bulb for an old aquarium fixture, or change the bulb in a table lamp.

Take another bold step toward better seedlings by adding a source of bottom heat under the seed flats or pots. Heating cables work well, but heating mats are easier to use. They work much better than putting the flats on top of your refrigerator.

Keep At It
Once the seeds sprout, it takes daily attention to grow them to their best. Make a resolution now to keep water and fertilizer always available, preferably by using a water reservoir under the flats. Never used a reservoir? Try one this year, and you'll have sturdier, cleaner seedlings. Keep the light just a few inches above the seedlings, and remember to raise it as the plants grow.

Steps to Success
In the past if your seedlings have turned into masses of green that grew up so skinny that thinning just displayed their wimpiness, try a new method: thin sooner. Instead of pulling the extras out, use fingernail scissors to clip them so the ones you leave are less disturbed.

Once the seedlings have opened their first seed leaves and then their first true leaves, it's time to remove the bottom heat source. Keep the flats or pots under the lights until they are 4 to 6 inches tall, and/or have four sets of true leaves. About a week before transplanting to the garden, take one more step: harden them off by leaving the seedlings outdoors to ease the transition.


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