What is the best way to start vegetables and annual flowers? Factors to consider include your available indoor space, your time, and the space and temperature requirements of the plants you want to grow.
Some crops, such as peas, resent moving, and it’s best to plant them where they’ll stay. This is also true of beans, as well as many plants we eat the roots of, such as beets, radishes, carrots, and turnips. Planting directly in to the garden is usually best for these.
Others are more flexible. If you’re impatient to get going and want to plant lettuce seeds indoors when the garden is still too wet to dig, you can start a small amount inside and grow them under cover until conditions outside are ready. You’ll be giving them a head start (no pun intended) and probably harvest sooner than if you’d put seed directly in the ground. Once the season is seriously underway, you can always seed lettuce directly into the garden – I do every few weeks to keep a steady supply of salad materials coming – and this is the best way to grow baby lettuces.
Because the northeastern growing season is too brief to accommodate their entire period of growth outdoors, it’s customary to start long season vegetables- like tomatoes and peppers- indoors at least six weeks before planting them outside. Once the seedlings develop true leaves, and begin to crowd each other in the flat, they are transplanted into containers that provide more growing space. Indoor transplants require excellent light – a greenhouse environment is ideal- and careful watering.
Some seeds-parsley is a good example-take awhile to germinate, so it’s best to soak them overnight, then plant a few into individual pots – if you have space indoors, this saves transplanting later.
Vegetable and flower transplants are readily available at garden centers and farmer’s market these days. If you lack the space, light, or inclination to grow your own seedlings, they’re a good option. Buying transplants is particularly convenient if you’re getting a late start. Avoid those that grow quickly from seed planted in the ground – string beans, squash, and zinnias are examples. When shopping, look for healthy plants that aren’t too tall or leggy. Fruit on the plant is not a good sign – choose stocky and less advanced plants over the two-foot tall tomatoes.
And enjoy this exciting season!