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Tips to successfully start your own plants this year

Many of you out there consider New Year’s Day the first day of the year. However, there are others who consider it the start of the next gardening season. Don’t believe me?

You know you are a gardener when you hoard the seed catalogs, grab a Sharpie and start circling everything you want. (I believe this is some sort of childhood memory thing, harkening us back to the days of the preholiday circling of toys in the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs.)

You know you are a gardener when you ache for the days of cracked fingertips, calloused palms and dirt semi-permanently worn into your knees.

You know you are a gardener when, right about now, you start hoarding any plastic or wax container that could potentially be used for seedlings.

And that leads me to the last one: You know you are a gardener when you start clearing things off tables because they will soon be used to house all your seedlings and starts that you decide to grow.

Uh oh, I may not be a gardener. I don’t start my own seedlings. Even though I know that hunting the farmers markets, nurseries and school fundraisers for Sungold tomatoes, shishito peppers and basil plants can be an exercise in futility, I seem to do it every year.

But there are quite a few reasons why one should start their own vegetable and flower plants: selection; it’s cheaper; you can decide which ones will make the cut and get planted; and you can hold extra plants just in case the first ones die, freeze, are forgotten or wither from the heat and wind.

The vast majority of stores or markets will sell 10 to maybe 20 tomato varieties. Conversely, Johnny’s Seeds has 136 choices.

If you do want to try starting your own plants, here are some helpful hints (from someone who doesn’t start his own plants):

Start with a good germinating medium. Don’t skimp here. Buy the good stuff. It should have plenty of peat moss and vermiculite or perlite (or both). And don’t use leftover potting mix from last year. I know it’s tempting, but you don’t know what’s happened to it over the off-season.Clean your containers and pots. In a sink or bucket, make a mixture of water and household bleach (10:1). Submerge the containers in the sink and scrub out any residual soil. Rinse and dry.Choose a warm space for your seed near a sunny window. Bright light is crucial to many cultivars. Read the instructions on the seed pack. If you don’t have that warm window, then you may have to invest in some grow lights and heat mats. Don’t underestimate the value of the heat mat. Seeds germinate, and roots grow faster, in warm soil. It’s worth the investment.Find a seed-starting calculator online. Make sure you use one that has you enter your last spring frost date. While this isn’t an exact science since you don’t actually know the last frost date, I recommend (for the Durango area, but know that this can vary greatly) plugging in May 1 for the cold-season crops and June 1 for the warm-season ones (those that will die if the temperature reaches 32 degrees). Lastly, harden off your transplants before you put them in the garden. The week before planting, gradually increase the amount of time the plants stay outside but make sure you bring them in during the coldest hours of the night. And lastly, sorry, share your transplants with your local Extension agent.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.

Darrin Parmenter