Snow is still here, but that does not mean people cannot start planning their gardens for when winter weather goes away.

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Snow is still here, but that does not mean people cannot start planning their gardens for when winter weather goes away.

Spring gardening is bound to come

Plan ahead when choosing what seeds to plant

— Although it may seem like the snow and cold will last forever this year, spring is bound to come.

But, even though it's still wintry, it isn't too early to start thinking about gardening, especially if you order seeds or start your own bedding plants.

If you order seeds by mail, you probably received a bundle of seed catalogs in January. Browsing the catalogs and daydreaming about what to plant in the summer garden can be a great form of entertainment on a blizzardy day.

It's always fascinating to check out the new varieties of seeds offered by the catalogs. This year, for example, new colors for plants seem to be burgundy and red.

Imagine a burgundy-colored asparagus or red brussels sprouts. And according to the seed's description, one type of bush bean produces royal burgundy string beans, but when they're blanched for two minutes, the pods turn green.

Carrots aren't just orange anymore. A special seed promises a "rainbow mix" of carrot colors, including red, white, yellow and purple. The purple variety has an orange flesh.

Yellow-orange is also the color of a type of cauliflower that looks like cheddar cheese. Also, it isn't unusual to grow white radishes, but a new seed produces white radishes with an inner red flesh - thus the name "Watermelon Radish."

Some seeds offer different sizes and shapes of fruit. One type of green bean plant produces green beans that promise to be 12 to 15 inches long. It wouldn't take many of these beans to make a meal.

And there's a cucumber that coils into snake-like shapes. Yikes. How would you like to hunt for these fruits in a "Serpent Cucumber" patch?

It's tempting to plant a type of seed that produces a plant that raises 18-pound fruits that ripen in early August.

And then there are the flower seeds. A 6-foot sunflower produces flowers that are 4 inches across and pollen-free. New mixes of flower seeds, like cosmos, daisies and marigolds, are packaged for bright color and to attract butterflies and birds.

Seed companies often send seeds according to planting dates (when the planting area is free from frost) so if you want to start your own bedding plants, let the company know when you need the seeds.

And no matter where you buy your garden seeds, Elisa Shackelton, Moffat County extension director, recommends buying those that have 60 to 65 days to maturity.

Few of us need to be reminded that frost can occur in Moffat County early in September.

Shackelton points out the advantage of starting bedding plants from seed. Gardeners can grow plants that can't be purchased locally.

"It extends the possibility of what you can grow," she said.

According to Shackelton, a mistake gardeners sometimes make is planting bedding plants too soon. Since June 15 is considered the frost-free date for Moffat County, seeds can be started in early- to mid-April and still be large enough for planting outdoors.

Seeds can be planted in Dixie cups, recycled butter or margarine dishes, or a wide variety of other containers. Shackelton says you can purchase potting containers, too, including peat pots that expand. But whatever you use, there should be good drainage.

Poke holes in the bottoms of recycled containers. When purchasing soil for germinating seeds, Shackelton suggests reading the labels on the soil bags. Soil should be light and fluffy - not a regular potting soil.

"People need to get what's available, what they're comfortable with, and what they can afford," Shackelton added.

Other tips Shackelton offers are soaking some of the small, hard seeds (like parsley) overnight so they'll germinate faster and the first watering, after planting the seeds, should be with warm to hot (not scalding) water to warm up the soil.

"When germinating seeds, the key is light and warmth," Shackelton said. "People make a mistake when putting seedlings in a window. Throughout the days, that tends to make the plants grow 'leggy.'"

She added that, "The best way to grow healthy seedlings is under a light that can be raised. Keep the light 2 inches above the top of the seedlings. As they grow, raise the light. This will promote 'nice stocky, thick-stem' growth."

Master gardener Iva Decker of Craig has received Grand and Reserve Champion awards at the county fair with her garden produce.

She credits a homemade hot house (that goes right out in the garden) with her success since she's able to get bedding plants out early.

Decker uses a special lightweight soil containing vermiculite to start her bedding plants. She puts the soil in butter tubs and other recycled containers, covers little seeds "hardly at all," waters them, and then sets the containers on a cookie sheet lined with foil.

The cookie sheet goes into her gas stove oven where the seeds are warmed only by the pilot light. Surprisingly, when Decker checked the temperature of the oven with her candy thermometer, she found it to be 90 degrees.

Decker checks the pots each day, and when they sprout (which is in a very short time), she puts them in the light. Later on, after they've grown, the plants go into the hot house.

Decker already has sprouted thyme, basil, celery and onions.

She will start other bedding plants in March because she's able to put them out early.

To get help with gardening questions, call the Moffat County Extension Office at 824-9180.

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