Spring arrives officially on March 20, so we are less than fifty days away! We have had some pleasant days during January, but hopefully it has not been warm enough long enough to bring plants out of dormancy. Snowdrops are blooming in some gardens by now, and the early Crocus chrysanthus blooms will be along shortly.
Now is the time to get your seed orders in, or to visit your favorite garden center's seed rack, in order to be assured of the best selection. All indications are that the hot items this year will be heirloom vegetables, especially tomatoes, and compact-growing varieties suitable for container or small space vegetable gardens. This is unsurprising given the trend toward home food gardening.
It is now time to start broccoli, cabbage and other brassicas for spring transplants. To spread out the harvest, start only one or two plants per week for the next several weeks. Wait a couple more weeks before starting lettuce, unless you are betting on an early spring, or can cover your transplants if frost arrives.
Hold off on starting any warm season plants, however. We are still roughly 80 days from the frost date. Despite the undeniable urge to get things growing, you will have more success if you wait until March 15 or after to start tomatoes. Bell and chili peppers should be started even later, around the first of April, and must be kept warm during their early development. Otherwise, they may not ever reach their full potential.
Now is a great time to start seeds indoors for cool season flowers. Calendula is an old favorite, and the petals are edible. Another edible flower, Dianthus or annual pinks, thrives in spring, but starts looking ratty after the weather really heats up.
For an early season pleasure that is definitely NOT edible, start seeds of sweet peas, Lathyrus, in small pots. They will need something to climb on if you cannot get them outside before they begin to climb. Start seeds around February 20 for transplant around March 20. This should give the sweet peas enough time to grow and bloom before the succumb to summer heat. The large, colorful, and exquisitely fragrant flowers are worth all the trouble, and they make good cut flowers, too.