Suppressing Spring Fever

It is March in Zone 6a and peak gardening season is still far away. I was hoping to stave off any interest in gardening until at least April when there will only be a few weeks left of frost-prone weather. But the snow is melting and the sun is out. The forecast has the next few weeks teetering above freezing. All signs of spring in my mind, but nothing can be done about it yet.

Newly germinated petunia seedlings. 2015.

Tiny, newly germinated petunia seedlings. February 2015.

My first round of seedlings have been started. I think I will share with you something new I’ve tried this year: petunias.

I started them from seed mid-January as I’ve read they can be slow growers. If you haven’t tried them, you should as they are extremely easy to grow. I had 90 percent germination (and the extras transplanted well… I was too excited to pinch them).

They are about five weeks old now and looking very healthy. By May I expect they will look like the plants sold at garden centers (or larger). Other growing notes: they were started on a heat mat as we keep the house cool in the winter (60 degrees F); grown under fluorescent lights (they’ve been rotated between T5s and T8s from 12-16 hour days due to our lack of room); fertilized once with a balanced fertilizer.

 

Below are the seedlings at two weeks since germination. This was taken just before transplanting. Ideally, these should have been separated sooner as their roots were a bit tangled. They didn’t seem to mind the disturbance though.

Petunia, Double Cascade Orchid Mist. Seedlings at two weeks since germination. This was taken just before transplanting. Ideally, these should have been separated sooner as their roots were a bit tangled. They didn't seem to mind the disturbance though.

Petunia seedlings at two weeks.

I ordered these seeds off of eBay so I’m not sure if they will grow true to variety (Double Cascade Orchid Mist; a double, lilac/pink flowering variety with a trailing habit), but it was a chance I was willing to take for the low price. I am usually nervous to spend much more on seeds when it is a plant I’ve never grown. And if they were open-pollinated there may be some nice colors. Either way, I will know to spend more next year.

Plants are beginning to branch at the base.

Plants are beginning to branch at the base without any pinching at five weeks. The smaller and darker green plants in the bottom right are cuttings from  Calibrachoa.

No flowers yet as they are still small, but I will keep you updated! Below are a few flowers if you are in withdrawal:

A light pink petunia that I overwintered. It is just beginning to flower. The color was difficult for me to find last year so I hated to part with it!

A light pink petunia that I overwintered. It is just beginning to flower as are a few other varieties. The color was difficult for me to find last year so I would have hated to part with it! Not sure on the variety, but it may be Easy Wave Shell Pink.

Petunias are also easy to save from cuttings (as are Calibrachoa). I’ve found that the cuttings do not like humidity so I planted them in an open container with moist perlite. I am trying another set of callies in regular potting mix and it seems to be working even better… probably because it is easier for me to tell when they need some water. Ideally you want a cutting from the new growth as the woody stems are much harder to start (and slower to grow). I used rooting hormone, but I doubt it is necessary if you have a nice young stem. In the two weeks since I’ve planted the most recent callies, four of my six cuttings are well rooted.

This beautiful purple Calibrachoa refused to flower all summer.  I'm not sure why it was so stubborn then (too much fertilizer?), but it has been showing off indoors.

This beautiful purple Calibrachoa refused to flower all summer. I’m not sure why it was so stubborn then (too much fertilizer?), but it has been showing off indoors. This is the variety Minifamous Compact Purple.

The petunias and callies are currently making very lovely houseplants and will be planted out in containers, hanging baskets, and window boxes this spring. It is a very nice way to multiply plants you purchase (I have a habit of wanting at least one plant of every variety which becomes expensive with plants that cost 3-5 dollars a piece) and to keep them year after year (because who knows if they will be available next year).

See? They make lovely houseplants. This one has an especially nice, bushy habit. Please excuse the masking tape label, we are always short on plant tags!

See? They make lovely houseplants. This one has an especially nice, bushy habit. Please excuse the masking tape label, we are always short on plant tags!