BOISE - It may be spring, but it's still a little too early to start actually planting most of your garden outdoors. It is, however, the perfect time to work on your gardening plans.
If you're new to gardening, draw out your rough plans. Consider what to grow, how big a space you have, and the availability of sunlight and water. Are you planting flowers, vegetables or both? Are you planting in the ground, in raised beds or in containers?
It's not too late to order your vegetable and flower seeds from catalogues or online. Order them now and you'll get them in a few days. A couple of my favorite seed catalogues and online websites include Seed Savers Exchange and Tomato Growers. And since you'll probably get more seeds in a packet than you really need, consider sharing them with a friend.
In most cases, the extra seeds will last until next season, if you keep them cool and dry.
Local garden stores and home centers also have all of their seeds on display now, so you can start buying the varieties that you want. Pay special attention to the packaging date to get the freshest seeds. Options include organics, hybrids and heirlooms.
Heirlooms are from original plants, meaning you can save the seeds from the plant or vegetable and regrow an identical plant from them. That may not always be true of hybrids.
It's also not too late to start growing your flower and vegetable plants indoors from seed. Most of them will take from six to 10 weeks before they're ready to transplant outside, so starting them now means that they'll be ready to plant outdoors when the weather has warmed up.
You can start seeds in almost any kind of container, but seed-starting trays are the easiest option. Use a good planting medium. Peat pots are easy for almost certain success and are less messy. I also reuse plastic trays from plants I've bought previously at garden stores. Fill them with the planting medium and follow the instruction on the seed packet. Keep them slightly moist and in a warm place out of direct sunlight until the seeds sprout. Then put them in a sunny window or under a grow light, and keep them lightly watered.
Soon you'll see the beginnings of your garden sprouting up.
So what's the difference between seed-starting medium and regular growing soil? Seed-starting mixes typically do not contain any mineralized dirt like we find in the ground. It's mainly made up of peat moss and shredded bark or coconut husk fiber. It's usually sterile to prevent the growth of fungus or mold.
Seed-starting mixes are also specially processed to be finder and lighter, allowing the little sprouts to easily push through the surface of the soil. They don't typically contain any fertilizer because the seed itself provides the nutrients for the baby plant when it is first starting. But once the plant gets big enough to put out its first true leaves, it's a good idea to transplant it into some garden soil or mix that contains some fertilizer.
If you have some extra room, try growing something different that you've never grown before. If you have a pet cat, consider growing cat grass. It's quick and easy to grow and it's inexpensive. Cat grass is nothing more than common oats. there are lots of theories as to why cats love it - from helping digestion to dealing with hairballs to satisfying a cat's natural curiosity. Your cat will probably love to rub its face in the aromatic grass, nibble a few blades, and if the pot is big enough, even curl up in it.
At my house, Romie loves cat grass. You can keep reseeding it and keep it growing all the time, indoors or out. But if you don't want the neighbor's cat showing up, you'll probably want to keep it inside.
I start most of my garden plants from seed for several reasons. First, because I just can't wait to start growing something after a long winter. Second, because I can grow varieties that aren't always available in the garden stores. And third, I usually grow extra plants to give to my friends to grow in their gardens.
If you don't want to bother with starting your own plants from seed, you'll soon be able to buy flower and vegetable plants already big enough to set out in your garden.