Seeds to Sow in Early January

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20160101D.jpgThe New Year that has barely begun marks the beginning of a new gardening season too. Already the days in the Northern Hemisphere are a bit longer than in late December and soon plants will begin to respond to that change. And while we’re waiting for that, there are a few plants you might want to consider sowing right away for your summer garden.

Of course, don’t exaggerate: it is still far too early to start most seeds indoors. You won’t need to be thinking of sowing your tomatoes, peppers, petunias, etc. for 2 or 3 months yet. And let me warn beginning gardeners: starting seeds too early is far worse than being a bit late. If you follow this blog, I’ll let you know over the coming months when to sow all your favorite plants. For the moment, I only have two to suggest:

Cordyline

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Cordyline australis

This popular container plant is variously called dracaena, cabbage palm and even spike or spike dracaena, but I stick to cordyline to avoid confusion. Its true botanical name is Cordyline australis, but seed catalogs have a long tradition of calling this plant C. indivisa which is, in fact, the name of a different species much more rarely grown. C. australis actually becomes a small tree in warmer climates (and when used indoors as a houseplant), but is usually grown as an annual, used for its spiky grass-like foliage as a centerpiece for container gardens.

This is an incredibly slow growing plant and you have to sow it very, very early for it to be the least bit presentable by spring. In fact, early January is on the verge of being too late. No special treatment is necessary: just sow it like any other “annual”, in moist soil, barely covering the seed… and wait oh so patiently.

Or wait until spring and buy a plant already started. If you’re the slightest bit impatient, buying a cordyline plant is the way to go!

For First Year Strawberries

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Strawberries need an early start if you want to harvest them the first year.

If you want to sow strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa or F. x rosea) for a crop this spring, you’ll also have to get a move on. Of course, you can also wait until March and sow them in view of a harvest next year (like most perennial plants, the strawberry would not normally bloom in any abundance until its second year). But if you’re in a hurry…

Sow the seeds in a pot of moist potting mix, pressing them into the soil without covering them. Now seal the pot in a plastic bag and place it in the fridge, because strawberries need a cold treatment for good germination. After a month, remove the container from the refrigerator and expose it to light and heat: about 65 to 75˚F (16 to 24˚C). Germination is slow and can take up to a month.

When the seeds do germinate, it’s best to grow them under artificial lights (fluorescent or LED grow lights), at least until April. That’s because natural days are short when they first germinate and short days will slow growth down. With artificial lighting, you can offer 14-16 hours days and thus encourage plants to grow rapidly.

Place the seedlings about 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) below the lamp, raising it as the plants grow. Transplant them into individual pots when the third leaf appears. Finally, acclimate them to outdoor conditions early in the season and plant them out when temperatures are still cool, as this helps to stimulate bloom. Flowering and the first fruits will quickly follow.

Enjoy your first gardening activities of the New Year!

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