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Ready for spring

04/17/03 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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I am more than ready for spring. Late snows, rainy days and soggy soil have kept me out of the garden. I'd like to be outside now cleaning things up, but I know that walking on water-logged soil will compact it, doing damage to the roots of the lawn and flowers, so I've stayed out of the garden as much as possible.

I've started lots of vegetables from seed indoors, and they help me to stay chipper. I use fluorescent lights to keep them from languishing despondently on gray days. I suspend the lights from the ceiling, and keep them six inches from the plants. As my tomatoes get taller, I raise the lights. If you don't have fluorescent fixtures, a sunny windowsill will work for awhile, but your plants will probably get long and leggy, and their color will be a pale green instead of a deep rich green. The lights are worth the money, if you ask me.

It's important to get plants off to a good start, so I made a rich growing medium by blending equal parts of commercial potting mix and sterile compost- the kind that comes in a bag. And although that mix has good nutrition for the seedlings, I water them with a dilute solution of fish fertilizer after they get growing. I like fish fertilizer because anything from the sea has the full compliment of minerals that plants need. Chemical fertilizers only provide the 3 most needed elements- nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium- ignoring things like calcium, magnesium and the trace minerals. That lovely blue liquid so many people use really is white bread compared to the seven course dinner I provide my plants.

What else can a gardener do now? Well, this is a good time to repot houseplants. Longer days and stronger rays of sun have sent them the signal to start their annual growth cycle. Tip your pots over to see if your plants are sending out scouts through the hole in the bottom, looking for new soil. If they are, it's time to repot or root prune them. If you've never repotted a houseplant, don't worry- most plants will love you for trying, even if you're not an expert. But don't try to "supersize" the pots, get pots just an inch or two larger than the existing ones. Trim the roots a little if they've encircled the pot. Use a kitchen fork to tease roots loose and fluff up the soil a bit, too.

I know that spring is just around the corner: redwinged blackbirds and robins are singing, and pussy willows are in their full glory. And before long, things will dry out and I'll be where I belong- back in the garden.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is an author, columnist and the Vermont Associate Editor of People, Places and Plants magazine.

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