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Masterful Gardener: Tips for becoming a frugal gardener

Have you ever looked at your landscape and decided the displays of herbaceous perennials should be larger and the borders should contain mass displays of annuals?
Then you looked at the balance in your checkbook, sighed and accepted the status quo. Don’t despair. A little energy, a little patience, a little ingenuity and resources already at hand can make your landscape more like you believe it ought to be. I will leave the quest for patience, energy and ingenuity to you and discuss the sources of plants available.

Annuals from seed

Growing annuals from seed is inexpensive and easy. A packet of seeds costs less than a single potted plant from a nursery or garden center. Once upon a time, packets of seeds cost 25 cents, and the packet contained a generous quantity of seeds. Seed prices have risen, and the quantity in the packet has shrunk. There are good reasons for the increase and decrease. However, seeds are still a bargain.

A single packet of seeds will generally provide all the plants of the chosen variety you will need for your project. The quantities of seed in some packets may seem disappointedly small. The packet of hybrid geraniums I use in containers contains only five seeds and cost approximately a dollar a piece. There are less expensive varieties of geraniums available. A packet of cosmos seeds contained more seeds than I could count and provided plants for three seasons. It cost $1.25. The seed count is usually printed on the seed packet and is part of catalog descriptions. Check them, and you won’t be unpleasantly surprised.

Another plus for propagation from seeds is the large variety of plants available. The number of plant varieties available in a garden center is limited because potted plants take up a lot of space, they require daily maintenance and they are perishable. Varieties available in seed racks and seed catalogs number in the hundreds. One of the catalogs I receive each spring claims it lists approximately 2,000 varieties. I have never counted.

Starting plants from seed can be accomplished with a minimum of equipment. Required are adequate light, potting mix, seed flats and a reasonably warm environment. A south facing window sill provides adequate space for small number of plants. Florescent lights provide light for a larger area. A shop light fixture is adequate for a beginning project. Makeshift flats and pots can be a nuisance. Purchase items made for the purpose. They are inexpensive and make the experience more pleasurable.

Seeds for plants like geraniums, which require a substantial period of growth before they bloom, should be started as early as January. You will find information about growth periods on the seed packet, along with other important instructions. Read the instructions. Seedlings must be hardened off before setting them into the garden. That is garden-speak for gradually moving them outside.

Some seeds may be planted where they are to grow after the soil warms. Marigolds, cosmos and zinnia are examples of these plants. This information is printed on the packet and is part of the catalog description.

Many annuals will reseed themselves. Most of these volunteers may be easily and successful transplanted. If you grow heirloom or open pollinated varieties you can save seed for planting next year.

Herbaceous perennials from seed

Herbaceous perennials are slightly more difficult to propagate from seed than annuals. To compensate for that, they can be started in midsummer, eliminating the need for plant lights and a heated environment. Herbaceous perennials from seed usually do not bloom the first season.

Herbaceous perennials from divisions

Division of herbaceous perennials is usually done in late summer or early spring. Perennials, like day lilies, are best divided in September so they can develop new roots before the ground freezes. Grasses should be divided in the spring. Divide a perennial by digging up the entire clump. Using two garden forks inserted into the clump back-to-back, pry the plant into sections. Discard weak or dead sections and replant the new divisions.

Masterful Gardening, a weekly
column written by master
gardeners with the Penn State
York County Cooperative
Extension, appears Sundays in
Home Source. Frank Sommer can
be reached at 840-7408 or

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