Ready, Set, Plant!

Southern Denton County hugs the edges of USDA hardiness zones 7b and 8a which means winter cold averages from +20 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some years we don’t get much cold; others we rival the North Pole.  If that is not enough, vegetable gardeners are caught in a spring planting crapshoot because the first of Texas’ two growing seasons stretches from mid-February through mid-May.

Cold weather seeds and seedlings do not care about temperature, but warm weather plants like tomatoes and cucumbers react like dying swans.  The Texas A&M Extension Service suggests the following springtime vegetable planting plan for us.

•    Irish potato pieces, onion sets, green onion, lettuce, beet, and pea seeds go in the ground February 10-March 1.  You have until March 5 for parsley, and March 10 for rhubarb.

•    Leek seeds have a short planting window of February 10-25.

•    Asparagus crowns, broccoli and cauliflower transplants; cabbage, carrot, and spinach seeds go in the ground February 15-March 1.

•    Tomato starts go in the ground from March 15-April 15.  Remember: tomato starts need to be in flower by April 15 if you want fruit before the 100 degree weather hits in early July.

•    Sweet corn and cucumber seeds go in the ground March 20-May 1.  Corn has a wide planting window from March 20-May 1.  Bean seeds go in the ground March 20-April 20.

•    Watermelon seeds go in the ground March 25-April 15.  The planting window for squash and zucchini seeds is March 25-May 1.

•    Halloween pumpkin, salad pepper, cantaloupe and eggplant seeds go in the ground April 1-May 1.

•    Sweet potato slips go in the ground April 15-May 15.

Seeds and plants are living organisms with individual reactions to their environments.  Having been stung by unexpected late frosts I put my warm weather seedlings in the ground around April 15.

When/How To Germinate Seeds

In Texas, February is the time to germinate warm- weather vegetable seeds indoors.  Warm weather seedlings go in the ground April 15 or later.

You need (a) a south-facing window (I-35E goes south from Denton to Dallas), (b) a windowsill-high table, (c) several table lamps, (d) a bag of commercial potting soil, (e) 3” wide containers with holes in the bottoms, and (f) warm-weather vegetable seeds.

Get the soil sopping wet in a large bowl then fill each container half way.  Depress a pencil eraser into the soil to make a well for the seeds.  Drop in 3-6 seeds then scrape soil over them.

Cut heavy rags to lay flat in the bottom of pie tins or cake sheets or similar trays.  Pour water in each tray to drench its rag(s) then add the germination containers.  Flood the rags daily with water.  The potting soil should be able to wick water UP to the seeds.  Tape sandwich wrap over the germination containers until the seedlings put out a second set of leaves.

Place the trays of germination containers directly under the lamps for about 12 hours daily until the seedlings grow even with the tops of their containers.  (This has never affected my electric bill.)  Turn off the lamps on sunny warm days.  Nights and cold cloudy days draw the drapes to block the cold, and use the lamps.

After germination, in each container pull out all seedlings BUT one you like best.  To prevent leggy seedlings use the lamps, and add potting soil around each seedling’s stem until its germination pot is full with a plant on top.  The stems will sprout roots as the level of the soil increases.

When a seedling is about 6” taller than its germination container transplant it into an old 1 gallon container, and keep the soil damp until you transplant the seedling into the ground outside.


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