Late-winter is the perfect time to begin preparing for a gorgeous garden come springtime, says Gilbertie's Herb Gardens owner Sal Gilbertie.
Seed-starting is the first step: Backtrack from your outdoor spring-planting schedule to determine when to start seeds indoors, or use our handy seed-starting worksheet to help you determine the proper time.
Each variety of seed started indoors should be ready for transplant at just about the time you want to set it in the garden. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, parsley, basil, and lettuce are just a few varieties of seeds that benefit from an indoor start.
When starting seeds indoors, growing location is equally important as it would be in an outside space. Adequate sunlight and proper temperatures are essential; windows with clear southern exposure are ideal but not required. Seeds and saplings should get a minimum of 8 hours of bright light per day; substitute 2 hours of fluorescent light for every hour of bright light the plant does not receive. Rotate every few days, and never place the delicate growth directly on radiators.
Different seedlings will grow at different rates: lettuce, approximately 3 weeks; basil, approximately 4 weeks; parsley, approximately 6 weeks; tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants; approximately 6 to 7 weeks. After germination, when the seedlings have reached 1 to 2 inches in height, they are ready for the "hardening-off period," designed to acclimate them from indoor to outdoor conditions. Place these seedlings in a cool window or sun porch; their roots will begin to grow much faster while their stems get thicker and heavier until they're ready to be planted.
Maximizing Small Spaces
If you are planting in a small area, like many urban gardeners, take heart: You have complete control over the soil medium used, and soil-borne diseases and insects are less like to afflict your plants. Be sure your gardening plot receives full sunlight, prepare the soil with compost and organic fertilizers, and be careful not to overcrowd seedlings. Take maximum advantage of the gardening space available to you with successive planting techniques; plant crops so that vegetables are ready to be harvested throughout the season.