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Garden Q&A: Time to source seeds

Alberta gardening expert Jim Hole offers insights on gardening, indoors and out.
As February approaches, it's time to source seeds for your garden. COVID-19 may cause a shortage of the most popular vegetable and flower seeds, says gardening expert Jim Hole. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

If January is a time to focus on indoor plants, then February is a reminder to start thinking of the outdoors. It may not look like it with snow and cold temperatures, but gardeners know that it's all about the prep and planning. Alberta gardening expert Jim Hole answers a few questions about what to do over the next month or so while waiting out winter.

Q: Once the holidays are over, and poinsettias have seen better days, what should we be thinking of garden-wise?

Hole: Enjoy the indoor plants (even poinsettias, which can live for months), and turn your thoughts to the seed catalogues and online seed companies--West Coast seeds etc.  It's time to think about what vegetables and flowers you want in your yard and garden this year, and order the seeds now. Because of COVID-19, there will be shortages, and some of your favourites may not be available when you go into the garden centre in the spring. Source and order your seeds starting in February.

Q: It's not too early?

Hole: It's too early to start seedlings indoors--don't do that. It's just time to gather supplies--the potting soil, trays, seeds, an inexpensive grow light--things you will need when you do start your seedlings indoors come March/April. Check garden centre websites--most have a chart that will tell you when you can put seeds into dirt.

It's possible to plant things now, of course. You can grow herbs on the windowsill, use them and replant over and again. If you grow basil, use it. If more grows in time for outdoor planting you can put it outside into a planter on the deck--don't be afraid to experiment. 

But there are some seeds to start fairly early--begonias (the tubers grow slowly), and if you want to have the double-flowering variety or range of colours, buy those seeds early. Other common garden bulbs for spring flowering, like flowering onions, get them ready too. Just line everything up for now.

Q: What seeds do you like to get?

Hole: I say grow what you love to eat, or flowers you love to look at. For me, nothing beats tomatoes. There are so many varieties and colours--purple, yellow, cherry, heirloom hybrids, early girl, big beefsteak. There are always rarer seeds and new varieties every year and I don't want to miss out.

Q: Can we use seeds from past years?

Hole: Sure, but have a backup plan. Try any seeds you've got, if they've been stored in cool, dry conditions. But just don't count on them in case they don't sprout.

Q: Can we can start any greens inside now?

Hole: People love to see things grow--it makes them happy. Microgreens are something you can start and harvest early. There are kits that make it easy to grow beet greens, spinach, lettuce, arugula. Put a simple grow light in a cool spot in the basement and you'll soon be harvesting greens for salad--without worry about bugs or fertilizer.