So Many Garden Opportunities While We Shelter in Place
By Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Master Gardener
Like everyone in the country, gardeners are asked to be at home during the COVID 19 outbreak. This time can be a challenge, or a time of opportunity. Here are some thoughts on how to use your home isolation as an opportunity to keep busy as a gardener.
Many seed packages suggest a 4 to 6-week indoor start time. You can start them in a warm location in a sealed plastic bag for the first few days or use a warming mat which fits a plastic flat just right. Using a warming mat will speed up and help with consistent seed germination.
To start seeds, sterilize your starter pots by dunking in warm water with a little bleach, set aside to air dry. Moisten sterile seed starting mix by putting it in a bucket or large bowl, adding warm water, and stirring until the soil is consistently moist. Put moistened soil into dry clean pots, add seeds, and cover to the recommended planting depth on the package. You can cover seeds with dry starting mix and mist to moisten.
Place pots in larger trays and cover with a plastic lid, clear plastic wrap, or bag so that you can see when the seeds start sprouting. At this point, remove the cover.
Once the seeds sprout, they need to go into consistent warmth and light, preferably under a grow light set so you can raise the height of the light as the plants grow. A sunny west window can do the trick as long as you turn the pots if they start to lean toward the window, so that stems grow stronger and straighter.
Keep plants evenly moist as they grow. Transfer to larger pots in a few weeks if needed.
Before planting outside, plants need to be hardened off by increasing sun and outside exposure over a week or so. Start with a couple of hours outside and gradually add exposure to a full day.
If you have space, consider starting extra vegetable seeds! Plants will be ready to donate to your local food bank, neighbors, or care centers when they are able to receive them this growing season.
Seed starting CSUE fact sheet-
Sort and clean your pots and tools!
If you didn't get a chance in the Fall (we had a sudden mountain snowstorm in October), you could take inventory and decide if you still want all of the pots and tools that you have. Maybe some are past their prime or you want to give some away. You can wash pots in the shower or a work sink, sanitize with bleach water, let dry, and they'll be ready for Spring.
Tools can be sharpened, cleaned with steel wool to remove any rust, dipped in bleach water, then dried. You'll be able to grab them when spring and summer outdoor planting gets going.
They are always great for inspiration and dreaming. If you are not able to buy supplies, then you have time to get them on your wish list. It's a fun way to get some creative pot design and support ideas to try and replicate with materials you have at home. You can even brush up on your plant names and learn new ones. Surprise your friends next time you play Scrabble!
Order delivery or plan your shopping list!
If you have a gardening budget, most stores are offering pick-up or delivery during the Coronavirus reduced hours or closures. Some unique plants and tools are available on-line and not in local stores. Of course, supporting our local garden stores will be especially appreciated this year.
Plan your shopping list for when you are able to go out and shop. We all have our favorite local businesses we like to shop at for most of our garden supplies, pots, tools, plant starts, hanging containers and all the things that make us gardeners happy.
Plan your garden layout!
If you keep a garden journal, it's a great time to review it. What worked well? Did you miss any chances for succession planting? What can you do better or differently this year?
Draw a design and even color it by flower or plant color to help visualize what you want to do this summer. If you can't afford new plants, you can move things around in your own yard, or start asking your friends to trade or give you what you need to fill empty spaces in your plan.
Call your neighbors and talk gardening!
Not only is a call heartwarming for both people, the stories about our plans, successes, favorites, failures and dreams in our gardens are topics to stay connected. Many people are using Zoom, Facetime or Facebook to see others, meet and stay in touch.
Draw plant and flower theme cards and send them to friends or random people!
Who doesn't enjoy getting a note in the mail? If you aren't a painter or artist by nature, try making a design with cut out magazine and catalogue photos or stickers. These are equally cheerful. It can be a fun activity if you have children or other adults in your household who want to help create.
Watch webinars and read books!
There is so much to learn. Books and videos are great ways to escape for a while. Some very funny parodies or instructional videos are available to watch or listen to just for a laugh or inspiration. You could share them with friends via email or social media.
Try these Plant Talk Colorado resources:
Hope this gives you some ideas and optimism about things that we gardeners can do now for the upcoming gardening season. Please be well during this period of social distancing and taking precautions to protect our vulnerable community members.
If we need to social distance into summer, the yard and garden are great places to be!