Shaniqua Davis

Shaniqua Davis

Have the recent warmer days given you the itch for spring gardening?

As much as I’ve enjoyed these recent days of mild temperatures and sunshine, I know that we are just over two months away from our expected last average frost.

Yet if you want to get started on gardening this spring, you can start with some vegetables now in the middle of January by sowing seeds indoors. For those who want a jump on garden transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and more, you can do so by growing your transplants from seed.

In fact, if you start now, you would be exactly at the eight-week head start that some of our vegetables need. Others that take less time can still be started and will give you early production before the hot summer arrives.

By starting plants early, you can get a huge advantage on almost any vegetable you can think of.

The investment can be very small. While it is possible to go a little wild on supplies, you should be able to get a few items to start hundreds of plants this year, next year and for years to come. And I guarantee that you can find everything you would need around your house and by visiting just a couple of local garden centers.

Consider the pros.

You’ll save money over time as seeds are cheaper than transplants.

You’ll get your vegetables earlier in the year. After that, your regularly planted garden seeds will provide the later, more typical harvests.

You can have a better variety of produce. No need to drive around looking for that particular pepper transplant; you can order an enormous number of varieties from seed.

You’ll have more control of germination in the garden rows. “Skips” from seeds in your rows could be eliminated as you transplant your starts after all danger of frost is over.

The proper time to sow seeds for transplants depends on when your specific plants can safely be moved into the garden. This period may range from two to three weeks to eight weeks before transplanting, depending on the speed of germination and rate of growth. Lettuce may only need two weeks of growth before moving into the garden as opposed to tomatoes, peppers and eggplant that should be kept up to eight weeks before transplanting.

One common mistake is to sow seeds too early and then try to hold the seedlings back under poor light or improper temperature ranges.

Plants held for too long inside can be thin stemmed and spindly. Typically, you should plant tomatoes about six to seven weeks before you expect to plant them into your garden. Done right, you should have stocky tomato transplants that are just right for the garden. If you think they are too tall, remember that you can lay them over in a trench with the vegetative ends turned up above the soil.

In other news, if you have a graduating high school senior, we have a scholarship opportunity waiting for you through the Gregg County Master Gardener Association. Applicants must be focusing on agriculture, horticulture or forestry majors. For more information, contact the Extension Office at (903) 236-8429.

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— Shaniqua Davis is the Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources for Gregg County. Email: Shaniqua.Davis@ag.tamu.edu .