The majority of seed packets I received for starting plants inside say to start them 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. For us in Southeastern and South Central Nebraska that means starting the seeds in March. Many of the other seeds have already been started as they are slow to germinate and/or slow to grow.  From a packet of Kong Coleus that contained ten seeds, I have eight little, brightly colored, 2 inch plants. Only one plant has appeared from a packet of Crambe.  If it continues it will have leaves 6 to 18 inches across that resemble rhubarb and a bloom stalk 8 to 10 feet high with dainty white blossoms at the top. Your seeds will germinate faster and better if you have warm soil.

          Nebraska’s seasons vary so much it is hard to know just when to plant the outside “early ones”, such as peas, parsnips, spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, and potatoes as well as flowers listed as half hardy. For this I have been watching the weather, checking on soil temperature, and how much moisture is in the soil. Some years I have planted very early and had good crops and others a failure. Sometimes I start part of the seeds early and another part later. We have had a very weird winter so far. My snowdrops started blooming on January 28th, the crocus was up an inch or so, and the Jonquils were peeking out of the ground. Therefore, I am not sure when the soil will be right to plant the early ones outside.

          Whatever, do not walk on your wet soil!!! You don’t want to squash all the air out and push the particles all tight together. If your soil went into winter in bad shape the freezing and thawing has mellowed it into working shape. However, if you have been adding compost for years it will be looser and less likely to compact. This soil can be worked much earlier than a poor clay soil type. March is when I bring my cannas, dahlias, tuberoses, and pineapple lilies out of their vermiculite.  They sometimes feel very dried up.  I sort out the hopeless ones and put the others in damp peat moss-usually in the basement or heated garage.  You can see them swell a little as they pick up moisture.  I have a number of the big drain pans that garages use under cars. If you don’t need too many, the drain pans found in the hardware store or a farm store will work. You can also use an old dishpan. This gives you a head start on having plants you know will grow slowly, such as some cannas that are sometimes very slow at starting. I have found that the fancier the leaf coloring, the more temperamental the plant! With dahlias you may find several plants starting, especially if you did not divide the clump in the fall.  I usually don’t, as they dry up very easily.

          The days are getting longer so by this time of year I have fertilized all my houseplants and even cut some of them back to get ready to go outside.  Some years the peonies will be peeking through by the end of the month, and if you had brown buds last year that dried up and fell off, I would put Bordeaux on the tips and the soil when they are just showing. Apply again when the plants are about 12 inches high.

          In Nebraska we tend to uncover things too early. We get anxious when we see green whether it has been a long winter or a mild one. The last frost date in Lincoln and Central Nebraska comes between the 10th and 15th of May The one thing you can uncover is where there are deep piles of leaves. The leaves can smother what is below, so part should be removed. If you can’t wait and must uncover your beds to see what is going on, be prepared to cover again in case the temperature goes below freezing overnight.

          The plants that normally come up in the spring can usually stand frost. Your mums may be well started this early, and if so, I divide, water well, and put a mulch around the whole plant (even a little on top). If you do not divide mums, all the new plants try to live on the old roots, which doesn’t work very well. Also when the mother plant dies, you have a bare spot in the middle. Spring is the best time to divide your mums.  

          Bird houses need to come down and be cleaned out now. Has anyone tried the ones being advertised for sleeping and protection in the winter, and then nesting in the summer? They say they are woven of grass and straw.  Has anyone tried “Stevia”? It is not hardy here but is supposed to be many times sweeter than sugar with no calories? I have seen plants advertised here but you would need new ones each year.

          How many have “Aloe Vera” on their windowsill?  Many skin creams and cosmetics contain the juice, and some people just break off a piece and put the thick juice on burns to remove pain and speed healing.  It is very easy to grow and reproduces quite rapidly. Every fall I divide mine and take a piece in the house. It grows at once and by spring is quite large and I put it outside in the sun in a dry spot.  Pliny in the first century A.D. said it would heal wounds, bruises, and an extract can be used as a laxative or a tonic.

Copyright Mar. 11, 2006