Q. When should I start growing my plants indoors?
A. Growing your own plants from seeds is an inexpensive way to start your summer garden and the variety of bedding and vegetable plants available to you from seed catalogs far exceeds anything you can find at local garden centers. For the cost of the seed packets and the supplies to germinate those seeds, you can grow a vast array of plants.
For best results, be sure to plant seeds at the right time and give them the conditions they need for germination, including proper temperature, moisture and light. Read the seed packet labels as they contain a wealth of information, such as how long the seeds take to germinate and how long the seedlings should grow before planting outdoors. Take a look at the calendar and backtrack the number of weeks in advance the seedlings should be grown from the recommended planting date.
Most annuals should be started six to eight weeks before the average last spring frost date in our area (typically May 15) but some need more time to develop before transplanting. Theses include begonias, coleus, dianthus, impatiens, geraniums, lobelia, pansy, petunia, salvia and snap dragon. Read the packet for the best advice on when to start these seeds.
Cold hardy crops such as beets, lettuces and greens, peas, onions, radishes, alyssum, dusty miller, pansies and snapdragons can be put outdoors four to six weeks before the average frost date; these plants can take the cold and survive light frosts.
The most tender annual plants cannot tolerate frosts or prolonged periods of just above freezing temperatures, and they require the soil to be warm in order to grow properly. This group includes cucumbers, melons, peppers, tomatoes, begonia, celosia, coleus, cosmos, portulaca, sunflower, verbena and zinnias. Plan to put these outdoors two to three weeks after the average frost date.
Plant your seeds at the right time, give them the proper conditions for germination and growth, and you will be rewarded with a bounty of plants for your garden and gardening friends.
-- Stephanie Kenny
• Provided by Master Gardeners through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 on Wednesdays or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit web.extension.illinois.edu/mg.