The February gardener is a restless soul, with weather teasing the planter's spirit. One day it's chilly; the next it's solicitously springlike. Then, without a conscience, cool weather sneaks back. One way to soothe the psyche is the simple task of starting seeds.
If cold weather is still a possibility in your part of the South, check the calendar and plan to plant about six weeks before your last frost date. Seedlings grow rapidly within this time frame and soon reach the right stage for moving into the garden. Check out seed displays in stores, and spend time perusing catalogs for the selections you want to try. The seasoned gardener might look for an exciting new introduction, while the novice can have grand success with something simple, such as morning glories or tomatoes. I always grow a moonflower crop for garden gifting--another reason to start seeds indoors.
In a Jiffy
An easy, neat, and tidy way to start seeds is in Jiffy Pellets. These Oreo cookie-size, dehydrated brown wafers are a gardening marvel. Place them in a shallow dish, sides not touching, and moisten each one. Within 30 minutes they'll grow into soft, moist planting containers ready to harbor treasured seeds. If you require instant success, growing the Jiffy Pellets provides immediate confidence.
Gently push one or two seeds into each container, within the preformed planting hole. Nudge the seeds just below the soil's surface, using your fingertip or a dull pencil. Water them lightly, and cover the dish with plastic wrap to retain moisture.
Place the dish in bright light, out of direct sun. Germination time varies with each type of seed. Consult the package for information on when to expect signs of life. As the first nodding heads emerge, remove the plastic wrap to increase air circulation. If only a portion of the seedlings have sprouted, fold back the wrapper, continuing to cover the late arrivals.
Without the wrap, Jiffy Pellets dry out quickly. Check moisture daily, keeping the seedlings slightly damp. Put the dish in morning sun, turning it occasionally so stems grow straight.
Up and Out
As each plant matures, roots emerge from the pellet's bottom. Gather small clay or plastic pots, no larger than 4 inches across, and moist potting mix. Fill each container half full with soil, place a seedling in each, and then surround the Jiffy Pellet with additional potting medium. If you've started a climber, such as a moonflower, push a small stake into the vessel for support. Place the pots in morning sun, and keep them damp. When frost danger has passed, transplant them into the garden.
To read about a garden nurtured by three generations of women, see "Labor of Love," beginning on page 64 of the February 2003 issue of Southern Living.