Ask-a-Gardener: Your Gardening Questions Answered
aliciawennet asks: I live in zone 7 and am wondering if there's any logic behind planting my perennial flower and vegetable seeds now (except maybe tomatoes and peppers) and letting them naturally stratify and go through "normal" overwintering and let them grow naturally, directly from the ground? As opposed to sowing indoors for weeks then hardening off etc. etc. Will the seeds "die" or not germinate if they are frozen for a period of time outside first? It just seems redundant or not necessary to put them through the refrigerator chilling then growing seedlings inside if they go through the same process outside in the ground? I am assuming that indoor sowing is helpful however to get the seedlings growing earlier so when they are ready to grow as per their own internal "calendar" outside they have a jumpstart. But I'd like to try it with direct sow seeds such as beans, peas, corn and perennial flowers like rudbeckia, coneflowers, lavender, chives and ornamental grasses like blue fescue.
Any ideas, opinions and/or experience would be very welcome!
Melody answers: Winter sowing is a great way to get a jump on your garden, but there are a number of plants that you'll want to wait and plant conventionally. For the most part, vegetable seeds need to either be started inside, or planted directly in the ground after danger of frost is past. Corn and beans should be direct sown after the soil warms in the spring and chances of frost are over. While the seeds may sprout, cold weather will quickly kill the seedlings. Peas are ok to plant early because they are a cool weather crop. Here in west KY, Valentine's Day is the traditional 'pea planting' day. Do not plant cowpeas (like blackeye peas) until after the soil has warmed. They are a hot weather plant. Green peas are the cool weather pea. Most perennial flowers and grasses winter sow with great success. Any seed that you put through a chill period will be fine as a winter-sown plant. Jill Nicolas wrote several wonderful aticles on winter sowing, here, here and here that have a great number of hints and tips.
WVGardener asks: Hello all. I live in Charles Town WV and all my sedum, tulips, siberian iris and more are growing as if it were spring time. Is there any way to stop this. I'm afraid they are going to try to bloom and than the freezing night temp are going to kill them. Heavy frost last night, going to 50 today and rhen rest of we 30 and below. I can really use your help. New to mid atlantic gardening, used to WA state. All replies will be greatly appreciated! Thank you
Melody answers: Most of us who live in this part of the country are used to seeing these plants make an early appearance. I've had daffodils blooming already and then it dropped into the teens. These hardy bulbs and plants are geared to withstand temperature fluctuations in late winter and early spring. You may have some blooms frozen, but the plant will survive. If your plants haven't bloomed, chances are the flowers will be fine. It takes some extended severe weather to freeze these hardy spring flowers back. If they are in bloom, 30's won't faze them but teens might cause some damage. There's really not any way to stop bulbs once they've decided to break dormancy but you might throw a blanket over the bed if the temps slide into the single digits. Regardless, your bulbs will be fine and will live to bloom next year.
lamarion asks: I need help understanding the growth cycle of the cone flowers.
Do they die down and disappear this time of year and come back in the spring???? I had great success growing them from seed. Proceeded to plant some in pots and a number in the bed. Now I don't see a single plant!!!!!!!!!
I know there are rabbits in the area and I fear the worse.
Melody answers: Coneflowers are perennial plants that go dormant in the winter. The top part of the plant will wither and die but your roots stay alive and comfortable under the soil. In most cases, everything on the surface disappears and there won't be any evidence that a plant lives below the surface. In the very early spring, you should see little shoots starting to poke throught the soil. My coneflowers emerge with little purple leaves and shoots, but quickly turn green as sunlight gets their photosynthesis factories going. The image at the left is one of my coneflowers emerging in mid February.
boogiesmom1985 asks: What type of fertilizer should I use if the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office said I need more Nitrogen and Less Phosphorus? I live in zone 9 and trying to get my soil ready for spring planting. I plant in above ground boxes. Thank you for your time.
Melody answers: All fertilizer packages have a code on them that tells you the percentages of the nutrients. This is sometimes known as the NPK. These letters stand for Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus, (P) and Potassium (K). The numbers on the bag tell you the percentage of each element. A bag that is marked 16-4-8 contains 16% Nitrogen, 4% Phosphorus and 8% Potassium. The rest of the percentage in the package is made up of inert material designed to help you spread the fertilizer evenly. Whether you use traditional or organic fertilizer, these numbers will be somewhere on the package, so if you've been advised to use more nitrogen, choose a package with a higher first number in relation to the others.
Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here.
Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.
A big thanks to Jill Nicolas for the use of her winter sowing image. It is used with her permission. The other images are my own.