PRIMGHAR, Iowa — It’s January. I’m fond of this month. Yes, it’s cold and snowy but it’s because of the cold and snow that January gives leave for us to stay indoors, wrap up in a warm blanket and take a few beats to do something for ourselves. These winter days are great to catch up on some reading, watch an old movie or, in my case, relax with a big mug of cocoa and flip through the many (and I mean many) seed catalogs that land at my door.
As I go through the catalogs, I circle all the wonderful things that I’d like to grow. Never mind that I don’t have the room. I’ll just get a few more containers. I notice the geranium seeds and see they have a beautiful orange cultivar. Definitely need to get that one.
I have a tradition of always creating a couple of pots filled with geraniums. They are one of my favorite flowers. My mom grew them every summer when I was a kid. We had a large, brick planter in the front of our house. Every year it would be loaded with red and white geraniums.
Geraniums are an excellent choice for pots and flower beds. They not only offer pretty flowers but are easy to grow, manage well in summer heat, and bloom spring through the first fall frost. You do need to deadhead them to encourage new blooms and keep the plant looking its best but it’s an easy flower to groom.
Starting geraniums from seed is not difficult but since the seedlings are slow to grow, they have to be started soon, if you want spring blooms. It takes 12 to 15 weeks from sowing the seeds until it flowers.
Here are a few tips to secure success when starting seeds indoors:
- Use a mix designed for seed starting. Germination mediums are light weight and free from disease causing pathogens and weed seeds.
- Start seeds in containers that are clean and have good drainage. If you are reusing containers from a previous year, wash them with warm, soapy water and disinfect them using a weak bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water-remember to rinse well).
- Keep the growing medium moist, but not soggy. It’s easier to moisten the medium before sowing the seeds. That way they don’t float off as they tend to do if you pour water over them after planting. Covering the seed trays with plastic wrap helps keep the planting medium moist. Remove the wrap as soon as the plants sprout.
Geranium seeds germinate best when the temperature of the medium is about 70 degrees F. Keep the seed tray in a warm room or use a heat mat for seedlings. I invested in one when my seed starting area was in a chilly basement and had great results.
- Seedlings must receive bright light right after they germinate. When seedlings receive insufficient light they become tall and spindly or “leggy.” Light can be artificial or natural or a combination of both but for best results, place seedlings under artificial light. I use plant grow lights but fluorescent lights also work. The lights should be about four to six inches above the seedlings.
- Check the seedlings every day and water as needed being careful not to over water.
To learn more about sowing seeds indoors, join me for a seed starting workshop at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 27 at the Sibley Public Library. It’s free and open to the public. Participants can plant geranium seeds to take home.
— Margaret Murphy, Horticulture Educator and Regional Food Coordinator, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
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