By Peg Keenleyside
Between visits to the gym this month to work off some of those holiday calories, I also seem to manage to start thinking about a plan for the year’s gardening: Am I going to start any flowers or vegetables from seed? Do I want to put in some summer or fall blooming bulbs?
If your own answer to either of these questions is yes, January – surprisingly – is the month to start gathering the tools and resources you’ll need.
Start off by grabbing a 2018 calendar that you’ll use just for garden planning and mark the expected day of the last frost. If you’re starting seeds for tomatoes and other cool weather vegetables, you’ll notice that seed packs and catalogues will have directions like “start indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in your zone.”
So what’s the last frost date? It’s the most likely last date when overnight temperatures won’t drop below 0 degrees centigrade or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
My go-to source for this information has always been the Farmer’s Almanac; available just about everywhere including online. Online, look under the gardening tab on the home page menu bar at almanac.com. Spoiler alert: for 2018, the last frost date for our zone 7 is expected in April.
Since you need 6-8 weeks lead time from the last frost date to get many vegetables and flower seeds started indoors, this month is the time to get sourcing what you want to grow. Much of the reliable, quality seed now is only available through mail order, so it’s also good to get your seed order done in time for the seed to arrive in early February.
Locally, you can find great non-GMO seed at West Coast Seeds in Ladner. US -based online sites I recommend are Territorial Seeds (territorialseed.com) and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com).
For indoor seed starting, you not only need a source of full spectrum lamp light – since the winter days are still so short – but will also need a source of heat. Tomato seed starter trays, for example, need to be set on a heat mat in order for the soil to be warm enough for the seed to germinate.
Tomatoes I like to grow from seed are the smaller, shorter-time-to-harvest/maturity varieties. Try out some ‘Indigo Rose,’ a plum-sized dark burgundy with pink flesh that pairs well with any of the yellow or orange varieties on the summer salad plate. Examples include the cherry-sized ‘Sungold’ from West Coast Seeds or the 60-day ‘Nova’ orange grape tomatoes from Johnny’s Seed.
For those who are hard pressed to give up online shopping so soon after Christmas, shopping for seeds and seed start equipment online could have you back in the pink this month. There are a ton of great sites to go meandering around in. There’s also great equipment to be had at a variety of garden stores throughout the Lower Mainland.
Late summer and fall bulbs, (and these are different from spring blooming bulbs like daffodils and tulips that get planted out in the fall), are an easy way to bring some fascinating plants into your beds and pots without a whole lot of work.
Huge dinner plate-sized Dahlias, for example, start from tubers that, again, you mail order away for in January/February and plant out in March/April.
Other easy-to-grow bulbs include Astrantia and Crocosmia. Astrantia, with its airy stalks comes in a range of subtle light and deeper pink flowers and really holds up well in drier conditions. Crocosmia, with its almost neon colors of orange red or yellow are a shot in the arm for a tired looking fall garden.
I like to plant my summer bulbs in old nursery pots, watering and fertilizing until their growth shows, and put them out in the early summer when spring blooms are faded.
For fall bulb mail order sites, try Vesey’s at veseys.com or Van Engelen at vanengelen.com.