Bring spring indoors by forcing branches and starting seeds

This winter has had an abundance of dreary snowy days. As all evidence of snow finally melts away, signs of new growth will be everywhere.

Keep an eye out for those buds that will start to swell in the warm sun. To get a head start on the season, cut a few tender branches, bring them inside and arrange them in a vase. In a week or so, spring will begin to sprout.

Deciduous shrubs and trees that bloom in the early spring are the best candidates for forcing; crabapple, cherry, serviceberry, honeysuckle, forsythia, flowering quince, magnolia, and pussy willow are natural choices.

Select branches that are the thickness of an index finger. Immediately plunge the whole branch in warm water. To remove any unwanted pests and to speed up the sprouting process, add a tablespoon of household bleach, sugar, and lemon juice.

The closer to the natural bloom time, the sooner the branches will force.

Red bark dogwood, mock orange, and lilac capture spring colour and fragrance that will make a welcome deterrent from cold days yet to come.

Another way to get the spring adrenaline flowing is to visit a local garden centre. Perhaps this year, starting plants from seed may be worth a try. This is an easy project, especially for children.

Kathy Granger’s article, Seedy Confessions of a Master Gardener is a good primer. It can be found on the Fergus Horticultural Society’s website

The information printed on seed packets is also invaluable. Seed companies list the number of days to maturation, indoor or outdoor sowing requirements, and growth characteristics. Always keep the empty packets for further reference during the growing season. Recording the actual date of sowing will also prove beneficial.

Planting seeds too deep prevents the warmth of the sun and water to immediately start the germination process.

Marjorie Harris, an avid gardener and author, stated that “a golden rule of thumb is to plant the seed four times its diameter.” Other sources claim that seeds should only be lightly covered to their size.

Never start seeds too early. Calculate using a calendar and information provided on the seed packet. Guesstimate the average last frost date for your area and count backwards. Always err on the later dates, as frost will devastate any new seedlings.

Starting seeds indoors too early will cause leggy plants that will go through much adjustment when they are transplanted outside. Six weeks before the last frost date is a general rule.

Maturation date is the number of days until harvest. This is one of the most important factors to keep in mind and is especially true for short growing seasons or successive plantings.

Successive plantings can be planned for gardeners who wish a steady supply of a short growing season for vegetables. Those gardeners must know within a few days, when to harvest and replant.

The definition of days to maturity on seed packs can be misunderstood. There is no absolute definition of days to maturity and it will vary among seed companies.

Another rule of thumb is that the maturity date is calculated the date the seed or seedling is planted in the garden. If the flower or vegetable seed is started indoors and then transplanted, (impatiens, marigolds, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers), then the days to maturity is determined from the time that they are transplanted.

On the other hand, if the seed is directly sowed into the garden, (beans, root vegetables), then days to maturity is usually calculated from the time the seed germinates.

Tomato seeds that mature in 55 days will need 4 to 6 additional weeks indoors to develop into healthy seedlings. The maximum of frost free days is less than the 55 plus 42 days.

Days to maturity reflects optimal weather conditions. Lack of rain or sun will alter harvest dates.

For a steady supply of vegetables or flowers, select fast maturing species such green onion, radish, lettuce, or annual flowers that are directly planted into the soil.

Wait for the previous sowing to germinate before making subsequent plantings.

As the days begin to grow longer, thoughts of a warm spring are anticipated. Naturally, there are still several weeks of winter weather with the potential for more snow and ice. Forcing a few branches and starting some seeds will make warm thoughts in the immediate future.

Ron Stevenson is a member of the Fergus Horticultural Society