Weedling vs. Seedling – How to Tell the Difference

There comes a point in every gardener’s life when he or she is faced with one of life’s toughest questions: “Is that a weed or something I planted and forgot about?”

I forgot what i forgot - Dory | Meme Generator

If you’re like me, that question comes up more times than you care to admit. 

Spring is a tough season for plant identification because there are a lot of tiny plants growing and you usually only have a few seed leaves to base your ID on. But today, we’re going to attempt to sort out what’s a weed and what’s a seed.

 

The Importance of Weedling vs. Seedling Identification

I’ve heard it said that a weed is just a plant out of place. Before you bust out the Round-Up on what you think might be a weed, think about what role that weed might be performing for you in your home landscape. 

Weeds can be beautiful, functional, and do many of the things that purposely sown plants do. For instance, they can attract pollinators with their blooms, mine nutrients trapped in deeper levels of the soil (tap roots of dandelions), and sometimes even be eaten!

Henbit

Henbit – A beautiful, flowering weed! (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Weeds only become problematic when they are invasive, out-compete the things we intend to grow, or have a noxious or negative attribute (poisonous, attract pests, ugly). 

Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed – phototoxic (its sap prevents skin from being able to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in scarring and skin inflammation). Ironically, a member of the same family of plants as Carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace (Source: NY Times)

If a plant’s negative attributes outweigh the positive, I’m all for getting rid of it! In fact, if a plant is harmful to children or pets or can be easily confused with an edible plant, it’s best to get it out of there as early as possible so the weed doesn’t bear seed and breed a whole new generation of weeds. That’s where weedling vs. seedling identification comes in.

 

Questions to Ask

Here are a few things you can ask as you’re trying to determine if something is a weedling or seedling:

  1. LOCATION: Do you remember or have a record (planting diagram) of planting something in this space? Is it coming up in a uniform pattern (i.e. you spaced them 2 inches apart, etc) or is it random? Unless you scattered your seeds or a heavy rain washed the seeds away, random patterns usually indicate a weed.
  2. TIMING: When did you plant your seeds? How long is the germination period for those seeds? Germination typically takes a few days to a few weeks for things we intentionally plant. If it’s outside of that window, it could be a weed.
  3. SPREAD: How contained is this plant? Does it seem to be spreading? Choking out other plants? Those are usually signs that a plant is a weed.
  4. IDENTIFIABLE PLANT PARTS: Are there any true leaves on the plant? Is it flowering? Producing seeds? The larger a plant grows, the easier it is to identify.

 

Resources for Weedling vs. Seedling IDs

These days, it’s pretty easy to hop online and figure out what’s a weed and what’s a seed. 

My go-to resource is our State Extension’s website. One of the best pages I’ve found in their plethora of weed-related content is this one on turf weeds, since a lot of the weeds I encounter are probably blowing in from our lawn or other lawns in our neighborhood. Just like intentional plantings, weeds vary by location, so if you’re outside of North Carolina, check your own state’s extension website for what’s endemic to your area. 

There are also plant ID apps available. A friend just recommended LeafSnap to me, but I haven’t given it a good test run yet. I’ll report back in a future post once I’ve had time to review it.

LeafSnap

Your neighbors who garden are also a great resource, since they’re likely dealing with the same things you are. Everyone has that one neighbor who loves to complain about their crabgrass!

Another resource, though less convenient and accessible, are reference gardening books from your local library.

 

Examples

Let’s look at some weedling and seedling pictures from my garden to get a feel for what’s what!

 

ChickweedSwiss ChardLambs QuartersField Milk Thistle - Field Sow ThistleBeansRutabagaRedrooted PigweedTomato SeedlingBroadleaf Plantain & MaplePokeweedCorn

 

Have you been able to identify weeds and seeds in your garden this year? What are some of your favorite tips/tricks/apps for weedling vs. seedling IDs? I’d love to hear what has worked best for you – share in the comments below!

 

Coming up:

Sunday: 2021 Goal Check-In

Next Wednesday: Garden Update – The Bolt & The Beautiful

 

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Update and Pictures from Our Jubilee Garden

Well, we’re heading into prime gardening season. Here in NC, we’re just two weeks away from the average last frost date (Zone 7B is April 15th). Normally, I’d be prepping my planting beds and getting amped to make a trip or two to some of my favorite local nurseries, but this year, I’m preparing for a baby, instead.

It’s hard to not plant things! 

I went out into the garden today to get a feel for how things are going. With only minimal intervention (weeding, pruning, and one or two experiments) from me, there’s already so much that the garden is producing on its own and so much to be thankful for!

I hope you enjoy this early Spring tour of the Jubilee Garden! Scroll over pictures for the captions.

 

 

Coming up: 

 

Sunday: Happy Easter!

Next Wednesday: Top 5 Herbs You Should Be Growing This Year

 

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Square Foot Gardening Techniques

Have you heard of Square Foot Gardening before? No, it’s not about people who have really angular feet gardening. But for a minute, let’s just imagine someone with cartoonish, block-like feet attempting to garden – the mental picture is hilarious!

 

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is all about maxing out what you can grow in a square foot (12” x 12”) planting area. Most SFGs are no more than 4 ft wide (to allow for easy reaching into the bed without stepping into the planting area) and can be any length. If you don’t have a copy already, I highly recommend purchasing the creator, Mel Bartholmew’s, book. I use it as a reference every single growing season. This book never collects dust at my house.

(This is an Amazon Affiliate link. If you choose to purchase using this link, I’ll get the world’s tiniest commission ever). 

 

SFG: AN Answer to Inefficiency

SFG eliminates gardening inefficiencies that are carryovers from traditional row farming. Here are some of the issues with traditional row gardening/farming that SFG solves:

  1. Eliminates wasted space (i.e.  huge aisles and footpaths in farming or traditional row growing methods)
  2. Reduces weed competition by growing densely and shading out weeds
  3. Conserves water by utilizing a smaller planting area
  4. Reduces seed waste (no thinning seedlings)
  5. Spaces out harvests through succession planting and planting reasonable numbers of plants
  6. Starts with healthy soil – a soil recipe so light, airy, and nutrient-dense that plants have a healthy start from day 1

 

The late, great Mel Bartholomew invented this method of gardening in 1976, and with it, revolutionized home gardening. With the common-sense ideas listed above, can you guess what Mel’s background was prior to developing SFG? If you guessed engineer, you’re a winner! Mel was a civil engineer, specializing in eliminating inefficiencies in construction and manufacturing prior to his foray into gardening.

5 second T.O. (Time Out): Isn’t it amazing how our God-given gifts and talents can be utilized in such different and cool ways? I find that fascinating. Anyway, I digress.

Back on topic now. 

 

Here’s what I love about SFG:

  1. It’s accessible. The small size of square foot gardens (as small as 3×3 or 4×4 ft), makes it an approachable start for beginning gardeners. 
  2. It’s easy and efficient. Less weeding (plants in SFG grow so closely together that they effectively shade out most weeds), few tools needed, less hauling hoses around a gigantic garden, no digging, no fooling with trying to improve your native soil.
  3. It’s tidy and compact. You can fit a SFG just about anywhere. If you only have a tiny bit of land, you can still probably fit a 4×4 ft bed. Heck, you can even make SFG raised bed tables that can go on a deck or patio. 
  4. It’s adaptable. Building the beds can be a pain if you’re not confident with tools, but I’ve learned that you really don’t have to make a border if you don’t want to or it’s not in your budget. You could make a 4×4 ft patch of soil with no border (just watch out for erosion) or you could make a border out of large tree branches (hello pruning upcycling!), bricks, pavers, large rocks, cinder blocks, or whatever other random things you have lying around. You can also make the SFG any size you want, for any types of plants you want to grow. You can do all vegetables, all herbs, all flowers, all perennials, or a combination of any of those. The world is your oyster!
  5. It doesn’t require a ton of maintenance. Unlike row gardening, you don’t have to till the soil every year. You just top up the beds with a little bit of compost in the fall, and you’re good to go in the spring!

 

So how do you make a square foot garden?

 

Step 1: Decide on where you want your SFG to go.

Consider what areas of your property get the most light during the day (best for most vegetables) and how far you’ll have to haul water. Don’t forget to think about things that might cast a shadow on your planting area or cause a microclimate where things get too hot or cold (buildings, trees, fences).

 

Step 2: Determine the size of your SFG.

Start small! For your first year, I recommend going with one 4×4 ft bed or 4×8 ft bed if you’re feeling ambitious. 

Our first SFG bed

This was our first SFG bed, back in 2017. We made 2- 4×4 beds and put them side-by-side to make it 4×8. I ultimately didn’t like having a bed that long and 4 ft across was too wide for me. I’m glad we only made one bed that year so I could easily make changes to the layout.

 You can supplement with container gardening (pots) if you think you need more space, but it’s best to start small when you’re building any sort of garden structure. It gives you a growing season or two to decide if you like the orientation, make changes, and decide how you might like to expand (or if you even need to expand).

If you’re short like me, having one of the sides be 3 ft instead of 4 is helpful – it can be hard to reach all the way across a 4 ft bed without stepping in it if you’re small (and stepping in a SFG is a big no-no!).

SFG bed layout

An example of how you might lay out your SFG beds. This was back in 2019 when we added 2- 3×4 ft beds to our SFG setup.

 

Step 3: Choose your material.

You’ve got some options here:

      • Sloping edges on a mound of soil can work as an SFG! You’ll need to stay on top of weeding, but it can work. Check out Charles Dowding’s method.
      • If you’re using lumber, untreated or heat-treated pine is fine and cheap! Thicker stock is better (1 in is great). Some sites will say you need to use cedar, but it can get cost-prohibitive. We initially got 1/2in cedar boards and they warped and fell apart at the joints within 3 years, probably due to the thinness of the wood and the way we fastened the edges together. Thick pine should last you at least 5 years. Cedar has longevity (some claim 20 years), but think about the reality of whether you’ll even be living in the same place then. Thick cedar boards can also be difficult to source – the Home Depot and Lowes near us don’t carry them.
        • A note about wood/logs/natural edging for SFG beds: they attract roly polies, slugs, and other detrivore pests that make their living decomposing things for us. They’re just trying to do their job, but here’s your warning that using this material could introduce some pests to your garden that you weren’t counting on.
      • Bricks, pavers, and cinder blocks have the best longevity, but can be expensive and require some heavy-duty labor at the outset to move everything to the site and get things level. 
      • Pre-made SFG kits are available, but they’re mostly a rip-off.
      • Materials to avoid: rubber tires, railroad ties, chemically treated lumber, some types of cinder blocks that contain fly ash. Basically, avoid anything that could possibly leach harmful chemicals or heavy metals into the soil.

 

Step 4: Lay down plain cardboard to kill grass and weeds and assemble your bed edges.

 

Step 5: Add soil.

You want ⅓ certified organic compost (bulk or bagged), ⅓ perlite or vermiculite, and ⅓ peat moss or coconut coir. Don’t use your native garden soil for this.

Optional: Mark your beds so you have a square foot grid. You can use nails to hold some twine in place or create your own grid from rocks, bamboo canes, or anything that makes a straight line.

 

Step 6: Plant your seeds or transplants using the guide below.

  1.  

Here’s a list of the most common vegetables and their spacing in SFG method. If you’re planting something that isn’t listed here, use the “thin to” instructions on your seed packet as a guide and follow the simple calculation I outlined in All About Seeds Part 1: Deciphering Seed Packets.

Have you used the SFG method? What’s your experience been like? What thoughts or recommendations do you have for beginners trying out SFG? Share your wisdom in the comments below!

 

Coming up:

Sunday: Palm-Waving Groupies

Next Wednesday: Update and Pictures from Our Jubilee Garden

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Nitty Gritty – How to Prune

Pruning is both science and art. Last week we looked at the why, when, and what of pruning. Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty – how to prune. Here are some thoughts that can help guide your cutting.

 

Immediately Remove:

  • Anything diseased or damaged.
  • Adventitious growth. Look like suckers but are coming from an area that was improperly cut or damaged in a previous pruning session or storm.
  • Limbs that are criss-crossing or growing towards the center of the plant. The goal is for limbs to go OUT and AWAY from the center so the foliage can get more light for photosynthesis.
  • Suckers. These are shoots that come up from the base of the plant, trying to be new leaders (primary limbs). 

Suckers at the base of a shrub There's a sucker born every minute (PT Barnum)
All of these tiny shoots coming up near the base of the plant are suckers. PT Barnum would welcome them, but he’s no gardener.

 

Determine Desired Height

How tall do you want this to be once you’re done pruning? Choose a height to guide your cuts (ex. I aim for waist- or chest-high for shrubs since that’s easy to approximate). 

 

Shaping 

Look for little buds (AKA lateral meristem/axillary bud) on the limb in question. They might be clearly visible on a naked branch or they might be hidden right where a leaf attaches to the limb. The way these nodes are pointing indicates which way the plant could grow if you chopped right above that point. (Obviously if you chop below, the bud would be gone and couldn’t direct the growth).

Fun with Biology:

A meristem is a plant’s version of stem cells. Stem cells can differentiate into any type of cell that’s needed (sort of like our bone marrow and umbilical cord blood). An apical meristem is just plant stem cell tissue found at the apex, or top, of the plant. 

Lateral meristems are stem cells found near a bud or side shoot

Plant hormones from the apical meristem called auxins send chemical signals to the lateral meristems that inhibit lateral growth. Cytokinins (another plant hormone) allow for some lateral growth. For more on this, check out this cool article

Here’s the REALLY cool part: if you chop off the apical meristem (AKA  pruning), auxins can’t be delivered and whatever lateral meristem is closest to the top becomes the new apical meristem through cell differentiation. It’s crazy-amazing! Check it out:

Apical meristem is at the top of the limb, lateral meristems/buds are on the sides of the limb. Each bud shows the direction a new limb could grow if the top of the limb were pruned.Cutting above a lateral meristem/bud will turn that bud into the new apical meristem and the limb will grow in the direction of that bud.Here's what the new limb would look like if pruned (new growth going in the direction of the new bud with foliage at each lateral meristem/axillary bud.

 

Science and pruning are so cool!

 

Here’s an example of my pruning before & after, using the tips above. Subtle, but effective!

Shrub after pruning

 

Tree Limbs: 3-Cut Method

Growing a Greener World, one of my favorite gardening shows, has a great episode on pruning. I recommend watching the entire episode. If you just need to know how to best remove a tree limb, check this out:

 

A Note About Tree-Topping/Crape Murder

Ugh. I hate this so much. I hate that I have to tell people this AND I hate that tree service companies actually suggest this to their customers. Trees SHOULD NOT have their canopies removed. It’s atrociously ugly and it is usually fatal to the tree. At the very minimum it’s extremely damaging (to the tree’s health and to your property when the tree eventually fails and falls on something). Crape Myrtles are frequent victims of this treatment, hence the term “Crape Murder”. If a tree is overgrown, here are your best options:

  • Remove an entire limb from where it joins up with the trunk or a large branch using the 3-cut method
  • Cut down the entire tree – it will look better than topping AND prevent you from having a huge insurance claim after it falls down on your or your neighbor’s property
    • Bonus: this frees up space to plant something better (more appropriate size or native species)

A tree that's had it's canopy removed improperly using a topping method.

An improperly pruned tree. Tree topping is murder!

Results of tree topping - scraggly limbs, knots, and decay

For the love of Pete, don’t do this!!!! See how sickly the new growth is? The knots? The decay? It’s awful!

 

Additional Resources

Here are a few other resources if you have more questions about how to prune:

Now you know the why, what, when, and how of pruning! It’s not that hard once you understand the biology going on behind the scenes. 

I’d love to hear your stories about pruning (horror or otherwise)! Did you inadvertently kill a plant by pruning at the wrong time (guilty here!)? Have a bumper crop of flowers or fruits after a hard prune? What did you do with the harvest? Let me know in the comments!

Coming up:

Sunday: Good Soil

Next Wednesday: Square Foot Gardening Techniques

 

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Spring Forth!

Isaiah 43 is a deep passage. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of quotable verses come from it, including the ones I want to focus on today – Isaiah 43:18-19: 

Isaiah 43:18-19: “Remember not the former things,     nor consider the things of old. 19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;     now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness     and rivers in the desert.

Save as your phone wallpaper this week as a reminder that God is always doing something new!

 

What’s happening in Isaiah, generally? 

First, let’s take a look at the context – always a good place to start. The book of Isaiah records the prophecies of Isaiah, who lived around the time when Israel fell to the Assyrians. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are prophecies and events recorded during Isaiah’s lifetime (~700 B.C.), regarding the Assyrian invasion that’s about to come and the events that occur once it’s happened. This section is mostly about judgment for Israel’s and other nations’ sins. 

Chapters 40-66, which is the context for our passage today, are generally thought to be prophecies fulfilled around 500 B.C. during the Babylonian exile, PLUS messages of hope and comfort for the faithful remnant of Jews dispersed after the exile. Lots of hinting at Jesus Christ as the Messiah in this section. But we’ll cover that some other time. 

Fun fact: “Isaiah is the most cited prophetic book in the New Testament and rabbinic literature.” (Moody Bible Commentary, 2014, pg. 1009)

 

What’s happening in Chapter 43, specifically?

So let’s look at Chapter 43. I’ll let you take a minute to read through it yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Okay, read it? Great! Now, the purpose of this chapter is to give a message of comfort and assurance to the remnant of Israel that survives and returns from the exile. God will protect His people. We see callbacks to God’s provision for the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt (v. 2, 16-17). Then we get to our verses for today:

18 “Remember not the former things,

    nor consider the things of old.

19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;

    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

    and rivers in the desert.

The point of these verses is to not dwell on the past (AKA the Exodus and Exile), but to look at what God is doing now and what He will do

It’s easy to fall into the pattern of thinking that the Bible is our own little Magic 8 ball – that each and every verse holds some personal application. Yes, the Bible is alive (Hebrews 4:12) and the Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds of Jesus’ words (John 14:26), BUT the Bible isn’t all about us

No – it’s about who God is and what He has done.

 

Critical Thinking / Application

With that perspective in mind, here are some questions about this passage to get you thinking:

  1. What do today’s verses reveal about God’s character?
  2. …about God’s actions/what He has done?
  3. What would the original audience (Jews returning from exile) think/feel about these words? Would they take on a different meaning for them than they do for us?
  4. What do you think “it springs forth” means? What is the “it” referring to?
  5. What’s going on with the imagery in this chapter? Do you think it’s a physical representation of things to come? Symbolic? If symbolic, symbolic of what?
  6. Look at verses 22-28. This is God’s response to sin and disobedience. What does this section tell you about God’s nature?

I’m interested to hear your answers to these questions! Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

I’m praying for you this week! Leave me a message on the contact page or as a comment below if I can pray for you in specific ways. See you on Wednesday for more gardening goodness.

 

Coming up:

Wednesday: Nitty Gritty – How to Prune

Next Sunday: Good Soil

 

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Pruning Time!

John 15 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. The imagery is SO good:

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Before I got into gardening, I’d look at this passage and say, “Hold up a minute! Why are BOTH the unproductive AND productive parts of this plant [or me] getting cut off?!” 

But now that I’ve been in the garden and made those tough cuts on productive plants, I get it.

It’s super easy to remove a dead twig. You can usually just snap it off without using pruners. Dead wood breaks easily – it’s brittle. But cutting live, green growth seems counter-intuitive. However, if pruned correctly, the plant becomes even more productive. I’ve witnessed this myself, year after year. You should see our fig tree the summer after a hard prune… it’s so full of figs that we can’t give them away fast enough!


Pruning does a lot of great things for a plant:

  • It redirects growth, so limbs can be trained the way they should go
  • It rejuvenates the plant, triggering new growth
  • It strengthens the plant – poor structure can lead to cracks and limb or total plant loss when snow, ice, or wind do their thing
  • It produces more flowers and fruit – by cutting off branches, more energy is available for reproduction (AKA flowers and fruit!)

The pruned plant is one that is living its best life. 


Back to the spiritual side of things, how are you being pruned right now? 

Maybe you’ve been upset about the ways you’ve been “cut off” – changes in areas of your life that were once thriving and now just aren’t. 

Stop and consider the following:

  • How might this redirect my growth? Might the changes I’m experiencing draw me closer to Christ? Or at least point me towards Him?
  • Before this change happened, were things becoming kind of stale? Did I need a fresh start or rejuvenation?
  • Can I learn something from this experience that will make my faith stronger?
  • What unexpected fruits might come from this change?

The last part of the John 15 passage shows us how we can consistently and reliably produce this fruit:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (v.4)

Remain in Jesus! Even after the pruning is done (maybe especially after the pruning is done). 

I’m praying for you this week, that you would identify areas of pruning in your life and see them for the blessing they will become!

John 15:1-2: I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Use as your phone wallpaper or lock screen this week as a reminder that pruning leads to fruit!

 

Coming up:

Wednesday: We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for Pruning – It’s Not that Hard!

Next Sunday: Spring Forth

 

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Step-by-Step Planting Preparation Guide

This Step-by-Step Planting Preparation Guide will help you with all the planning you need to do in the coming weeks to get your garden off the ground. Here’s a quick run-down of what you’ll need to get your Spring garden going this year! 

  1. Know your last frost date. This dictates how much time you have left before you need to really get things going. You can find it by putting in your zip code here. The date the calculator spits out  is the average range of the last frost in your area (+/- 2 weeks). That’s a month long window, so it’s really an estimate. 

You can plant up to two weeks earlier than the official date, BUT you’ll need to watch the nighttime temperatures like a hawk. If it dips to below 32F, you’ll need to get ready to cover any tender seedlings. Some years you win the gamble of planting early, and sometimes you end up like Linus, covering your plants every night for three weeks. It’s up to you how much effort you want to put into it.

Linus covering Christmas Tree

2. Decide how you’ll start your plants. If you haven’t made your decision yet, check out last week’s post about the pros & cons of transplants vs. direct sowing vs. indoor seed-starting

Here’s my honest opinion on the matter:

IT IS OKAY to buy transplants from a local nursery. You can buy nursery plants and STILL GET THE SAME DELICIOUS PRODUCE! You are not a “lesser” gardener for buying transplants. Anyone who judges you for going with transplants over seeds is probably a little full of themselves and not someone you want to be taking gardening advice from anyway.

Want more of a challenge than buying transplants? Do you like to live dangerously? Well, danger is my middle name. If you’re really sold on seed starting, then I HIGHLY recommend direct sowing.

Austin Powers: Danger is My Middle Name

3. Make a plan for what you want to plant and where it’s going to go. 

Consider these three things:

SPACE: How much space do you have? Will you be planting in containers? A garden bed? Make a paper chart (or spreadsheet you can print) of where everything will go. And make sure it’s to scale. Take into account plant spacings using the Square Foot Gardening method (post coming in the next few weeks!) and/or underplanting for getting the most out of your space. Ignore traditional row spacings on seed packets unless you’re a farmer. 

SELECTION: Every gardening website in the history of the world will tell you “plant what your family eats”. I didn’t take this advice for the first six years I gardened, because I wanted to see what I could grow, how plants in different families grow, and maybe because I thought deep down that I would enjoy eating Malabar Spinach (reality: slimy, gross texture) and Nasturtium (reality: smells like wet dog). I was wrong. Look at what your family eats regularly and plant that. Think about things you get at the grocery store every week (or at least every week in the summertime). Eighty percent of your space should be dedicated to those things. For our family, those are things like potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and lettuce. Not Nasturtium (though this makes a great companion plant!).

FUN FACTOR: Growing plants is also about learning and having fun, so I recommend getting 2-3 plants that will bring you joy or be a challenge to grow. WARNING: DO NOT experiment with things like PUMPKIN, MELONS, GOURDS, or WINTER SQUASH. They require a huge amount of space, so unless you’re trellising them over a massive arch or have a patch of grass you really want to kill, don’t do it. 

4. If you’re sowing seed, order seed catalogs/peruse seed websites NOW. Most companies send them for free, though Baker Creek has a coffee-table like book you can also buy for $14 if you just want to drool over some botanical eye candy. You can also peruse their websites if you don’t want the clutter/temptation of seed catalogs in your house. My favorites are: – Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds & Seed Saver’s Exchange

**Special Note for 2021: There may be issues with seed shortages due to a boom in COVID gardening. You may have to get creative here… see step #6.

5. DO NOT PLANT ANYTHING OUTDOORS RIGHT NOW. Let me remind you that it is February, and unless you live in Zones 9 or 10 (think FL/south GA), we’ll be going through some menopausal weather from now until mid-April (at least here in NC). If you try to plant now, your seedlings will get tricked into thinking it’s Spring about eight times between now and then, it will freeze and those poor little babies will bite the dust. Control yourself! Spring is coming but it’s not here yet.

Winter is coming... no wait, warm again. Ok it's cold, winter is coming... nope, warm again.

6. Buy/source your seeds or transplants. ONLY do this once you’ve planned out your space. Get your order in as early as possible for seeds (February or early March at the latest). Have a back-up plan in case something you want is sold out. Share or swap seeds with a friend or neighbor to keep costs down. Many public libraries also have “seed libraries” where you can give/take seeds for free!

Example of a Seed Library: https://www.blounttn.org/1464/Seed-Library

7. Prep the planting area. Have you made your planting beds yet? If not, now’s the time. If you did step #3, you should know how big to make your beds or how many containers to source/buy. If you’re doing raised beds, get yourself a load of certified organic compost (make sure it’s certified, meaning they test for heavy metals & persistent herbicides!) from a local landscaping company (they’ll deliver by the truckload for cheap compared to getting bags) and spread it over your planting area (at least ⅛ in thick, but more is better). For my garden (2- 4’x4’ and 2- 3’x4’ raised beds, plus 4’ wide beds around most of the perimeter of my house), I get 5 cubic yards (the minimum the landscape company will deliver, since I don’t have a truck to pick it up myself). It costs ~$180. It’s a huge pile of compost, so I end up laying it on thick. It takes 2-3 full afternoons to wheelbarrow and spread it by myself, but it’s worth it – I rarely fertilize my plants because the compost does such a great job providing nutrients. A good mix for raised beds is 1/3 compost, 1/3 coconut coir/peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite/perlite. You can get a few bags of the coir/peat moss and vermiculite/perlite at Home Depot or Lowes.

Compost delivery

This is what 5 cubic yards of compost looks like.

8. When it’s time to plant, water the planting area BEFORE you direct sow OR after planting if using transplants. Why? Because tiny seeds will get washed away by a stream of water from a hose, whereas transplants need to “settle” into the soil by being watered in. Better yet, plant right before/after it rains and you can skip watering entirely! Note that for transplants, you’ll need to harden them off (acclimate them to being outside for gradually longer periods each day for about a week) before planting.

9. Plant your seeds/transplants. Bring a written diagram/chart outside with you so you know where everything goes. If you need to make adjustments when planting, write down your changes on that paper so you know what got planted where. Then, take a picture of it because YOU WILL LOSE THAT PAPER. You can also label with plant tags, but the diagram should be the source of truth. Seedlings all look VERY similar. A diagram helps you know what’s a weed and what’s something you planted when things start popping up! Pay attention to the proper plant spacing as outlined in the Square Foot Gardening Method or for underplanting. Seeds should be planted twice as deep as they are wide. A 1 cm seed would be planted 2 cm deep. 

Planting chart

My planting chart from last year with some edits.

10. Keep an eye on seedlings until they are established. This means not allowing them to dry out, protecting them from potential frosts, and shielding them from critters like birds, rodents, and insect pests that enjoy munching on the fresh new growth.

That’s it! Now go order some seed catalogs and curl up with a mug of hot chocolate. Enjoy this time of preparation and rest before the mad rush of planting in a few short weeks!

 

Coming up:

Sunday: Kingdom First

Next Wednesday: All About Seeds! Choosing Varieties and Deciphering Seed Packets

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