Gardening | 12 January 2016Starting Annuals from Seeds: Spring into Spring Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Even though winter offers us (and our gardens) a needed rest and sense of expectation, the season can sometimes get a little… bleak. If the winter grays make you long for the lush greens and vitality of the growing seasons, it is never—we repeat, never—too early to begin dreaming and preparing for the colorful plants and flowers you’ll grow in the spring. That’s where the instant gratification of annuals comes in. As author John Cretti explains in his newest book, Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide, if you’re looking for a riot of color in a short amount of time, then annuals are your answer. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide Grow annuals in containers, in the ground, intermingled with vegetables, or tucked in among perennials. While perennials make up the framework for the flower garden, annuals act like weavers and binders, helping to tie plants together and bridging the gaps between seasons. Botanically speaking, annuals complete their life cycle (from seed to producing seeds) and die in a single season. Horticulturally, they can be true annuals or perennials that can’t survive the rigors of our winters and must be replanted each year. At season’s end, they often self-sow seeds that then overwinter in the ground and sprout the following spring, starting the cycle over again. You can extend their growing season and even a plant’s life by moving a few plants indoors for winter. Cuttings can be taken, whole plants can be potted and moved indoors, or some can be stored in a cool, dark location in a semi-dormant state. Cleome (left) / Petunia (right) Photo credit: Shawna Coronado / Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide Annuals can be started from seeds or purchased as transplants. When you buy annuals, look for healthy plants with dark green leaves that are neither too spindly nor too compact. Smaller plants that are not yet rootbound nor in bloom will suffer less transplant shock and will start to bloom quickly. Carefully remove the plants from their containers. If the roots have grown compacted, gently loosen or score the rootball with a pocketknife to encourage them to grow outwards into the prepared garden soil. Set the plants at the same level they were growing in their containers. Water thoroughly after planting and again whenever the soil begins to dry out 2 to 3 inches deep. An application of a granular 5-10-5 slow-release fertilizer will help get the transplants off to a good start. Sunflower (left) / Marigolds (right) Photo credit: Shawna Coronado / Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide Starting Annuals from Seed Starting seeds indoors gives you a greater selection of varieties including heirlooms that are not often available as transplants. Success with indoor seed starting requires proper light and careful attention toward the seedlings’ temperature, moisture, ventilation, and nutrient requirements. Start with clean, sterilized growing containers that have good drainage. Select a sterilized, quality seed-starting medium and moisten before filling containers. Read the seed packet for planting depth; some seeds are so small you won’t need to cover them with the mix, but just press them lightly on the mix. Water the surface with a gentle mist and cover with a plastic dome or sheet of clear plastic to maintain moisture. Salvia (left) / Morning glories (right) Photo credit: Shawna Coronado and Tim Eltzroth / Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide Some seeds germinate best with cool conditions, while others require warmth; check the seed packet for temperature requirements. If seeds need warmth, place containers near a heat vent or top of the refrigerator, or use an electric seed-starting heat mat underneath the containers. Watch daily for emerging seedlings and as soon as they appear, remove the cover and move to a sunny window or place under artificial light. At this point, most seedlings prefer cool growing temperatures around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep seedlings in good light and provide good air circulation to prevent seedling diseases. Lisianthus (left) / Zinnia (right) Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide When seedlings have grown their second set of leaves, they are ready to be transplanted to individual pots if they’re not already in single containers. You can start fertilizing lightly every two to three weeks with liquid plant food. Starting about two weeks before planting seedlings outdoors, prepare your plants for this transition. This process is called “hardening off.” Move the plants outdoors into partial shade during the day and allow the soil to get a little drier between watering, then reduce fertilizing. Return to the indoors at night. Gradually increase the amount of light the plants receive each day, and when outside night temperatures are above 45 degrees, allow them to spend the night outdoors. About Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide: Even beginner gardeners can select plants to create a stunning garden as unique as the Rocky Mountains – with expert help to ensure success! Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide is a plant selection guide, perfect for when you’re choosing plants and starting a garden in a climate that can be as challenging as it is beautiful. Choose the right plants and care for them properly with help from an expert. John Cretti, one of the Rockies’ most highly respected and experienced gardeners, shares his deep knowledge of the region, gardens, and plants in a lively, upbeat style. The author’s top picks for plants that will thrive in (or despite of) the Rockies’ fluctuating temperatures, altitude, dryness, rocky soil, and other unique growing conditions guarantee success for area gardeners and home landscapers. Plants are divided into easy-to-browse chapters, such as Annuals, Bulbs, Groundcovers, Ornamental Grasses, Perennials, Shrubs, Trees (deciduous and conifers), Lawns, and Vines. Each plant is highlighted in their respective chapter with a large full-color photograph and tips on how, when, and where to plant. Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide doesn’t stop at plant selection. Methods for preparing soil, watering, fertilizer application, and pest management are also covered in detail. Along with the “nitty-gritty” of tending your garden, John shares his inspiration for garden design, offers ways to incorporate your plants into the landscape, and names some favorite cultivars or species. His sound, practical advice is clothed in beautiful descriptions of each plant that will inspire you to get your hands dirty! About the Author: A regionally known gardening expert, radio and television host, author, columnist, and former horticulture specialist for Colorado State University Extension, John Cretti has more than 32 years of horticulture experience. John hosted the Gardening with an Altitude radio program for thirty years and has been an expert on Rocky Mountain Gardening for area TV and HGTV. His down-to-earth approach broadens the horizons of gardeners dealing with the unique and challenging climates of the region, where temperature fluctuations, wind, hail, unpredictable storms, difficult soils, and cunning critters are the norm. John has spent his life growing all kinds of plants, beginning as a child under the tutelage of his Italian grandmother, aunts, and uncle. This inspired his interest and passion for gardening while growing up in western Colorado. John is the author of several books for Cool Springs Press, including Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Guide and Month-by-Month Gardening in the Rocky Mountains. Learn more about him at his website: www.gardeningwithanaltitude.com. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.