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You are here: Month to Month Tips > February
The mild weather we've seen for much of this month has some of us raring to start working in our gardens. Enjoy those warm February afternoons, but resist the urge to equate them with spring. It's a good time for cleanup chores (especially the cleanups we would have done in the fall if we'd had time). And it's a great time to start planning your garden for the spring and summer. But it's best to hold off on most outdoor gardening tasks until the danger of cold weather is farther off.
In Your Garden
If you'd like to start vegetables or flowers from seed, buy the seed now. Different flowers and vegetables vary widely in their requirements. Some seeds need to be started inside several months early, while others do better if planted directly into the ground. In general, you will need a good source of light to grow plants inside, such as a really sunny windowsill, or grow lights. Here are some tips for starting plants from seed:

Read the information on the seed packet. Most will tell you whether it's better to start the plants inside or to plant directly into the ground. For example, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are best started inside ahead of time. Carrots, beans and radishes do better planted directly into the ground. Likewise, some flowers are easy to start in the garden, while others need a head start.

Don't start seeds too early. Plants grown inside for a long time tend to get "leggy" unless you have a really good system of grow lights, so don't start seeds inside any earlier than recommended on the package. The package will probably tell you to sow seeds a certain number of weeks before the last expected frost, or before the ground really warms in spring. The average last frost date in the Anytown area varies from around April 15 in the city, through about May 10 in some areas outside the Beltway.

Start seeds inside in a sterile mixture such as vermiculite or a light potting soil or seed starting mix. Don't use garden soil: it's too heavy and may contain diseases that kill off young seedlings. You can plant in seed starting trays or pots (we sell a variety of good ones), old pots that have been cleaned with a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, or even egg cartons (one or two seeds per indentation) or milk cartons cut down to pot size.

Place soil in pots and moisten first. Sprinkle seeds on top, and then cover seeds to the depth listed on the seed packet. (Some small seeds shouldn't be covered at all, just lightly pressed into the soil. Put a plastic cover or plastic wrap over the trays to help keep them moist.)

When seedlings start to come up, remove plastic cover and place in good light - either a very sunny window sill or grow lights.

Continue to water gently so that plants never dry out completely, but are not soggy either. When the second set of true leaves grows, start fertilizing with a mild liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or Miracle Gro.

When plants are ready to be planted out, and the ground and outdoor temperatures have warmed enough to receive them, accustom them to begin outside before you actually plant them in the ground. This process is called "hardening off." You can do this by putting them outside in a somewhat shady, protected area, for a few hours the first day, then for longer periods over the course of a week, until they're used to being outside.

When you plant them, minimize transplant shock by using plant starter.

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