Why Wednesday #1

Last week, we solicited some of your growing questions, issues and wonderings! This week, we’re out to set the record straight. Below are the answers to the questions asked last year, and common gardening questions we are asked regularly!

My seedlings suddenly withered and died. What happened?

If you’ve been tending your seedlings with care and then, all of a sudden, one by one they just lean over and die, it can be quite a shock.

However, most gardeners have been there at one time or another. This is what our friends at University of Saskatchewan Gardenline have to say:

Damping off affects seedling germination and seedling growth. Symptoms include poor germination or germinated seedlings whose stem narrows and turns brown at the soil level resulting in collapsed seedlings. It tends to move in a circular spreading pattern moving from one plant outwards to infect the rest, often wiping out a whole tray of seedlings very shortly after appearing.

To prevent this disease:

  • grow seedlings in warm soil/media and warm air;
  • use clean seed;
  • remove the plastic cover from your seedling trays immediately after seeds germinate;
  • provide adequate air movement around transplants and plants in the garden;
  • do not overwater and avoid watering in the evening or at night.
How long should you ‘harden-off’ your seedlings?

As with most things in the garden, there are no set rules. If you garden enough, you’re bound to come across different, or sometimes even conflicting garden information. You might adjust your length of time to harden your seedlings, but it is important that you do! “Hardening off” is the process of moving plants outdoors for a portion of the day to gradually introduce them to the direct sunlight, dry air, and cold nights. It’s an important step to get your seedlings prepared for the outdoors.

We suggest a period of 7-10 days for hardening off. You want to harden off gradually, so that seedlings become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights and less-frequent watering. Start on a mild day, placing seedlings outside for 2-3 hours of sun in a sheltered location. Increase the exposure to sunlight by a few hours each day, keeping an eye on the weather and the cold. Avoid fertilizing while hardening off. After transplanting to the garden, use a weak fertilizer solution to get transplants growing again and water transplanted seedlings well!

Do you have any ideas for saving money on your garden?

Frugal gardeners, don’t fret! There are plenty of ways to stretch a dollar in the garden. These are some of our tips to make your green go further for your green:

  • Plant from seed. Seeds will be far less expensive than buying seedlings at the greenhouse, and many seeds can be planted directly into the garden. This includes many varieties of herbs, annual flowers, vegetables, and even some perennials too! Share seeds with neighbours and friends, as a seed packet will often be more seeds than you need for an urban garden.
  • Don’t get swayed by the latest garden gadgets. There is a tool for everything, but most garden tasks can be completed by hand. We suggest a good shovel, set of pruners and hose. Most other garden tools, though very helpful, are not required.
  • Make your own compost. Start a vermi-compost (worm compost) over the winter for your household scraps and have your own nutrients to add to the garden in the spring!
  • Buy perennials at the end of the season
  • Try cuttings or dividing perennials from friends or families. You can cut perennials in the fall and root them in water over the winter. Try cuttings of geraniums, high-quality impatiens, dragon-wing begonias, sweet potato vine, coleus, bloodleaf (Iresine).

Do you have any tips for growing watermelon on the prairies?

Watermelons are tricky to grow in the short-season prairies, so don’t despair! Most melons are heat loving crops that often take a long time to grow and ripen, sometimes up to 130 days. You will want to start your seeds indoors to give plenty of time for the plants to mature, and be sure to select watermelon varieties that can ripen in a shorter period. There are some great suggestions for mini-watermelons here.

Here are a few tips for getting your watermelon harvest in the prairies:

  • LOCATION: Pick the location of your garden with the most sun, and consider raised beds, which have higher soil temperatures in the spring.
  • GREENHOUSE or HOOP TUNNEL: If you have the means, a greenhouse is the perfect location to grow your melons. You can also construct a simple hoop tunnel to keep melons warm. A hoop tunnel can be constructed with some PVC tubing and thick poly plastic. You can clip the plastic for the hoop tunnel by using cut pieces of your PVC tubes.
  • WATER DEEP! Watermelon plants have moderately deep roots. Water deeply when you do and remember to mulch. Use dried leaves or straw and mulch to a depth of 4 inches.
What are easy veggies for kids to grow?

Try vegetables! These are our favorite varieties for kids:

  • Scarlet Runner Beans. Besides the seeds being spotted purple, and a magic sight for even adults, scarlet runner beans are voracious growers sure to excite kids! These beans have beautiful scarlet blossoms and can grow up to a few stories high if they have the means. Harvest the beans young, while they are tender and tasty!
  • Radishes. These fast growers can be ready to eat in a month. Try an Easter-egg blend with pinks, whites and purples. 
  • Pumpkins. Pumpkins need some space to grow, but they can be enchanting! Try growing your own Halloween pumpkin.
  • Sunflowers. Another fast grower, sunflowers can outgrow your kids in height before the end of a season. Try planting your sunflowers in a spiral, or a maze if you have enough room.
Will left over seeds grow next year?

Most seeds, if stored properly, can last for years! Ensure seeds are kept in a cool dry place over the winter. Humidity and freezing temperatures will be the death of seeds. There is no hard-and-fast answer on how long leftover seeds last, but you can try a simple germination test to check the viability of your left-over seeds before planting in the garden. Here’s a simple test to try.

Join our mailing list!

Subscribe to receive inspiration, free resources and gardening tips straight to your inbox!

For a limited time, you'll receive a digital copy of AITC-Canada's newest illustrated children's book, Blossom's Big Job - available in French or English! Link to book downloads will be sent after subscribing.

Thanks for joining, talk soon!