2010-09-02 / Editorial

Start spring flowers now

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

When you go into a store next spring and buy perennial plants costing several dollars for six plants, I hope you remember this column. This fall, you could easily start perennial seeds and have them ready to flower next spring.

If you have a warm greenhouse, you can also start hardy annuals now, but you run the risk that if you keep them too warm, they will burst into flower over the winter and their charm will be lost before next summer. However, should you grow them successfully, the plants will usually be larger and have more blooms than spring-sown plants.

All you need is a relatively warm spot for seed starting – a spot that will not freeze during the winter, but will experience low temperatures to fool the plant into thinking it has gone through an entire winter. If you start your seedlings now and put them into small pots or even a protected garden bed, you will get new perennial plants next spring that will flower in their first year.

Your first job is to get your seeds. Many seed sellers have sales at this time of year, so you can often buy seeds at one-half or even one-quarter of their normal costs. Jamestown Hardware has some seeds left. Outlets in Newport often have seeds at half-price as they try to get rid of this year’s stock.

If you buy this year’s seeds, they will last until next year. Some seeds last hundreds of years, so don’t be fooled into thinking that this year’s seeds are useless next year. Simply store them in a cool dry place until next season.

If you order online, however, make sure that you will get your seeds this year. One seed company that I ordered from took my money, then sent a note to say that about half of the seeds I ordered were backordered until next spring. That’s not much good when I want to start them now.

To start your seeds, put them in a seed flat in your growing space, cover with plastic wrap and wait for seedlings to appear. In the warm weather we’ve been having, that should take three to seven days. Remove the plastic as soon as you see signs of green shoots.

When the plants have two true leaves, move them into larger pots and put them in your winter growing location. The plants will grow slowly until around mid- December, then growth stops until spring. Do not fertilize this fall or over the winter. Water them sparingly until spring. As soon as the plants start growing in spring, hit them with a weak fertilizer mix.

In spring, the plants will start growing furiously and you will want to plant them out early.


If you do, you’ll find that the plants may not like the cold weather and will go back into winter dormancy, delaying your blooms. Be patient, and you will be rewarded with a bouquet of new flowers that will last for years.

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