Have you noticed we have more daylight now than even a couple weeks ago?
I do have to say, it’s nice to be able to walk at 5 p.m. and have it still be light out. And where I live, I don’t walk after dark if I can help it. I never know where the moose, deer, and other wildlife is hiding.
With the longer daylight hours comes the desire to get the outdoor plants started, but don’t get too excited just yet. The dates ultimately depend on your temperate zone, which I’ll discuss shortly. I have made the mistake more than once, and my seedlings didn’t do well.
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What’s a temperate zone?
In a nutshell, the temperate zone is what the minimum temperatures can get to in any given area. Here in Canada we range from an area with the coldest temperature at -1.1 degree Celsius (9b) to -56.7 (0b). Now that is cold!
My area ranges from 3a to 2a, depending on the year. Oveall the average is 2b, which is from -40C to -42.8C. That’s just temperature alone; the windchill is not factored into these numbers.
When living in zones like this, it definitely cuts down on what a person can grow through the summer. Perennials have to tolerate frigid temperatures and annuals have to grow fairly quickly due to a relatively short growing season. It would be wonderful if we could all have heated greenhouses so we could enjoy more of a variety, including citrus trees.
When we were in Vancouver a few years ago I was surprised to see banana trees planted outside. I was told they could survive brief periods of below zero temperatures, but I personally wouldn’t be that brave. But then again, I don’t live there so can’t say for sure.
When you’re planning your garden you need to know the average first and last frost dates. It does range in comparison to what your temperate zone is, but in my part of Alberta we generally don’t plant anything outside until after May Long Weekend (Victoria Day). And depending on the year, we’re sometimes covering our tomatoes and other plants by the end of August.
When you’re deciding on your seed planting dates, there’s a simple formula to follow. On a normal year it should work out okay, but we all know Mother Nature has the final say.
When can I plant?
The rule of thumb is to start plants 6 to 8 weeks before you plan to put them outside. Since May Long is the earliest we can safely put plants out, I generally do not expect to start anything until the beginning of April. That gives me a little more than 6 weeks.
As some seeds take longer to germinate, it’s good practice to pay attention to the information on your seed packets. Also pay attention to the days to maturity, as each plant type is different. Some you won’t have to start inside, such as peas, beans, beets, carrots, as they don’t transplant well and grow quickly. Well, except for carrots; but they are below the surface so a light frost won’t hurt them anyway.
Other plants such as flowers, tomatoes, peppers, many herbs, broccoli, cauliflower, for example, do better when started indoors. They take longer to reach maturity, so depending on your zone, will benefit from being started indoors.
What about light?
All plants need light once they start to grow and giving your plants full sun is best. If you don’t have a south-facing window that gets direct sunlight, the next best thing is a grow light. They need at least the equivalent of 6 hours of full sun a day. I have to admit, my plants usually end up being leggy because they don’t get the proper light as I have limited south-facing window space.
This year I am going to put my seedlings under grow lights. In fact, I cleaned off the top shelf in a bookshelf for some plants. I invested in some small grow light bars and have them in place. So far my shorter house plants are under them, but as the daylight hours are longer I’ll be moving them closer to the window. (My office will soon be entirely over-run with plants.)
In addition to growing time and proper light you’ll need to make sure you monitor watering as well. A spray bottle is ideal for seeds and seedlings, or watering from the bottom to prevent them from being damaged or washed away. A mini greenhouse is ideal for starting most seedlings, but take care to allow for ventilation and be sure it doesn’t get too hot inside.
Planning your garden is exciting, whether it’s your first or 50th. Starting your own seedlings can bring a little bit of summer into your home early, and you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labour sooner as well.