Author: Katherine Laughlin

Sowing a Wildflower Meadow Garden

There are an astonishing number of wildflower species that grow across this country. Every region seems to have a favorite, like the bluebonnets of Texas or California poppies.

 

 

Many wildflowers are at their showiest in the spring and summer, visible along roadsides and meadows. But now, during the late summer and early fall, is the best time to sow the seeds. The key to success is to make sure that your plants have enough time to germinate and establish themselves before the first hard frost. That’s usually about 8 weeks. And if you don’t have rain, it’s critical you keep the soil consistently moist. If you run out of time to plant seeds this fall, you can plant them in the very early spring as well.

 

When sowing wildflower seeds the first thing you want to do is prepare the bed by clearing it of weeds and grass. The quickest way to do this is with a broad-spectrum herbicide, but if you prefer to use an earth-friendly method you can cover the area with a plastic (clear or black will do) for an entire growing season.

Once the existing vegetation is dead the rake away the debris and any remaining foliage. Next lightly till the soil to a depth of about 3 inches. This will ensure good seed to soil contact without bringing up weed seeds that may be lurking deeper underground. If you have especially rocky soil you may want to mix in some compost, but wildflowers aren’t too particular about soil quality. In fact, it’s best to avoid fertilizer because it will just encourage weeds.

The quantity of seeds you’ll need depends on your climate and how much area you want to cover. Wildflowers suffer less from weed competition and excessive moisture in cooler regions so in those areas you get more bang for your buck; one pound of seeds will cover about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. In warm Southern states, 1 pound usually covers about 2,000 square feet.

Many wildflower seeds are very tiny so to get even distribution when sowing, it’s a good idea to mix the seeds with an inert material like sand. In a bucket combine, 5 parts moistened sand to 1 part seeds. You can hand distribute the seed and sand mixture or use a spreader.

After the seeds are evenly spread over the area you need to press them into the soil. You can do this by simply walking over the ground or use a lawn roller.

Spread a thin layer of wheat straw over the area to protect the seeds from washing away in a hard rain. I like wheat straw because it does not have seeds. Don’t be too heavy-handed in the amount you apply so that light can get to the seeds.

Be prepared to water the area on a regular basis to get the seeds started. If you are lucky you’ll get some of those nice, slow fall rains to help you with this part of the process.

When it comes to choosing varieties you are better off buying specific types of seeds that you know will do well in your region rather than buying a mix. Most wildflowers require full sun, but you can also find varieties that will grow in partial to fully shaded areas.

However, if you do use a wildflower mix, you’ll find that they contain both annuals and perennials. The annuals will bloom the following spring, but many of the perennials will take 2 years to flower, so you have to be patient.

 

Earlene’s Strawberry Pie

(Photo by Marc Piscotty / © 2016)

 

My Colorado friend, Ginger, with Ginger and Baker, shares one of her mom’s famous recipes – Earlene’s Strawberry Pie – featuring fresh strawberries and loads of whipped cream… or cool whip if you prefer!

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 (3 oz) box strawberry Jell-O (don’t use sugar free)
  • 1 1/2 quarts strawberries
  • 1 (8 to 9-inch) baked pie crust
  • whipped cream, for serving

Click here for Directions.

50 Reasons To Build Walkable Communities

“Each of us has a responsibility to be better stewards of the planet. Today, we must not only conserve what we have but reverse the damage done to the environment. Good design is part of the solution.” — P. Allen Smith

 

 

I am proud to be involved with conservation developments around the country that respect the earth, improve our health, and are beautiful to live, work, and thrive within.  These communities are for all age groups, economic levels, and backgrounds.  I was cheered to come upon a recent article that highlights one aspect of my design values that I incorporate into each of these projects.  The article nicely articulates why our communities should be walkable rather than car-focused.  It’s a no brainer on many levels, but worth discussion, and I wanted to share this with you. 

Montava 50 Reasons To Build Walkable Communities reviews several of the top benefits of well-designed, walkable communities.  And while my communities include additional features that more closely link our homes and families to the earth, walkability within our communities is very important to me and one of my primary goals at the beginning of my design process.

Here is one such example that sadly many of us–including myself–can identify.  It involves commuting.  It has been found that if one shifts from a long commute to a walk, one’s happiness increases as much as if falling in love.  Wow!  Further “the benefits of walkability are all interconnected,” according to James Francisco, who is quoted in the article.  He elaborates, “maybe you want your local business to be enhanced by more foot traffic…[n]ot only do you get the economic vitality, but you get the social benefits–so people are out and having conversations and connecting–and then you get the health benefits.” 

Oliver-Smith

 

The number one reason for building walkable communities is reason enough for us to focus on this component in our community designs:  

It helps people live longer.

The article presents compelling statistics to support this claim.  Consider: inactivity is the fourth leading cause of mortality around the world; physical activity dropped 32% in the last four decades in the U.S., and 45% in less than two decades in China. For people over 60, walking just 15 minutes a day can reduce the risk of dying by 22%.

The report sifted through dozens of studies to quantify 50 benefits of walkability in cities.  To read more and learn about the 49 other benefits see: Build Walkable Communities.

Homemade Cleaning Solutions

Green cleaning or eco-cleaning has become a big business as homeowners gravitate toward more planet-friendly lifestyles. Eco-cleaning companies are popping up everywhere and there are a plethora of low impact cleaning products available to purchase. While there are a few commercial products that are staples in my pantry, many of my cleaning solutions are ones that I make at home. Much like the home remedies I use in the garden, these formulas are inexpensive and simple to prepare. If I don’t have the ingredients already, I can find everything I need at my neighborhood grocery store.

Stock Your Pantry

  • Borax – Great for disinfecting and deodorizing and as a mild abrasive. Borax is a safe alternative but IS toxic. So be careful where you store it.
  • Vinegar – A natural acidic for removing grime and soap scum. Because of vinegar’s acidic quality, don’t use it full strength on tile grout and it’s not recommended for marble or unprotected vinyl flooring.
  • Baking soda – There are too many virtues of baking soda to list here, but mainly it is a great deodorizer, mild abrasive, and general gunk remover.
  • Lemons – The juice is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer. Dried lemon peel can be used as a moth repellant.
  • Essential oils – These oils are great to add a little fragrance to homemade cleaners. I like to use lemon, grapefruit, or lavender. Check your local health food store for essential oils.
  • Liquid soap
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Whole cloves
  • Muslin
  • Old t-shirts, diapers or other soft cloth
  • Plastic spray bottles
  • Small bucket

Cleaning Solutions
Here is a list of homemade cleaning solutions that I use in my home. When trying new products in your home use the same precautions as you would in the garden. Test in a small area before using it throughout your house. Also, remember to store cleaning products away from children and pets.

All-Purpose Cleaner
Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/2 gallon water in a cleaning bucket. Then add 1/2 cup vinegar. Use immediately.

Furniture Polish
Mix 1 cup olive oil with 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Apply to wood furniture with a soft, clean cloth. Allow to dry and buff with another soft, clean cloth.

Disinfectant
Combine 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 cups hot water. Remember that borax is not non-toxic, so keep this solution away from the little ones.

Drain Deodorizer
My plumber told me that one of the best ways to prevent build up in pipes is with boiling water. About once a week I pour a kettle of boiling water down the sink.

To keep the kitchen sink fresh and deodorize the disposal pour 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar down the drain. Let stand for a few minutes and then flush with boiling water. The vinegar and baking soda will foam so be prepared for that. Also, don’t try this if you’ve recently used a commercial drain opener and are uncertain if any is still present.

Glass Cleaner
Mix 2 tablespoons of vinegar with 1 quart of water. Store in a spray bottle. When cleaning windows using old newspaper really does make a difference.

Bathtub and Sink Cleaner
Mix 1 2/3 cup of baking soda, 1/2 cup of liquid soap, and 1/2 of cup water in a cleaning bucket. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

Air Fresheners
My favorite way to bring fragrance into the home during the fall and winter is with a simmer pot. Fill a muslin bag with cinnamon sticks, orange peel, and whole cloves. Simmer the bag in a pot of boiling water. Just be sure you don’t leave the pot unattended.

A few drops of essential oil in a small dish of baking soda freshens the air.

Place a dish of vinegar by the stove when cooking fish or onions to eliminate odors.

Stuck on Grease
Baked on food can be loosened with baking soda. Sprinkle the dish liberally with baking soda and set aside for 5 – 10 minutes. Wash pan as usual.

Sprinkle half a lemon with salt and use it to scrub dishes.

Fabric Softener
Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.

 

 

Thanks To Global Lockdown, Our Earth Is Healing

 

7 ways the planet is healing, thanks to global lockdown

From air pollution levels plummeting to the canals in Venice clearing up


How the Coronavirus Is (and Is Not) Affecting the Environment

March 5th, 2020 by Kasha Patel | Earth Observatory

The coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic is first and foremost an issue of human health and safety. But as people have changed their everyday behaviors and patterns to contain or avoid the virus, there have been some subtle effects on the environment. There also has been misinformation. Below are four ways the virus is—and is not—affecting the environment in China.

1. Satellites found decreases in one air pollutant, but that doesn’t mean the air is free of all pollution.

2. During the quarantine, roads and transportation hubs are emptier.

3. Coal and oil industrial activities have dropped, so carbon dioxide emissions have also decreased.

4. There is no evidence that cremation ashes are increasing the levels of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.

Read the full article here.

DIY Cloth Face Mask & How to Clean It

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.  Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Should cloth face coverings be washed or otherwise cleaned regularly? How regularly?

Yes. They should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.

How does one safely sterilize/clean a cloth face covering?

A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a face covering.

How does one safely remove a used cloth face covering?

Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.

Making your own mask can be super easy! The CDC has provided three simple ways to make your own mask. I made a mask from a soft T-Shirt I had lying around the house.

Click here for Sew and No Sew Instructions

 

 

Content source: National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)Division of Viral Diseases

DIY All-Natural Hand Sanitizer

This recipe is a natural solution for everyday use but at this time we suggest everyone follow the CDC guidelines for sanitation and the proper disinfectants identified for combating Covid-19.

 

MATERIALS

  • 2/3 cup witch hazel
  • 1 cup Aloe vera (more if desired)
  • 18 drops essential oils
  • 1 tsp fractionated coconut oil (optional)
  • Empty gel container 
  1. Add all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir together until everything is well combined.
  2. Using a funnel, transfer the mixture into an empty container.

A Hydrangea For Every Garden

 

I am hard-pressed to name a shrub that matches the hydrangea for drama, splendor, and elegance in the garden. From the subtle white starry-shaped lacecap flower of  ‘Hayes Starburst’ to the dramatic, large white globes of ‘Incrediball’ — one of my favorites — there’s a hydrangea to fit almost any spot in the garden.

 

And with more advances in plant breeding, hydrangea selection has continued to expand to meet the still-growing demand for new plants. Now gardeners can choose from a wide array of re-blooming mopheads, a variety of new flower color options, and a multitude of dwarf sun- or shade-loving hydrangeas, starting at 12 inches in height.

It’s a great time to discover the versatility of this flexible shrub or reacquaint yourself with a plant that you might have written off as old-fashioned or poor blooming. Make no mistake — today’s hydrangeas are versatile, dynamic, and easy to grow.

While there are thousands of different hydrangeas and cultivated varieties, I’m going to talk about four main species and some of the varieties you may want to be on the lookout for H. arborescens (smooth hydrangea), H. macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea), H. paniculata (hydrangea paniculata), and H. quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea).

And while the different hydrangea species vary greatly, they all benefit from being planted in soil that is rich in organic matter and sited in a location with moist but well-drained soil. Adding compost or manure when planting will help with moisture retention, and, ironically, drainage. Despite its water-loving name, you don’t want your hydrangea to sit in soggy soil.

 


Arborescens — Smooth Hydrangea
H. arborescens is one of the hydrangea varieties native to North America, which makes it a fairly care-free selection. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, ‘Annabelle’ is probably the most well-known arborescens with large white round mophead flowers. It grows to about 4 feet by 4 feet, but blossoms will flop to the ground when it rains. Lucky for us, plant breeders have introduced an improved ‘Annabelle’ with thicker stems for more support — the ‘Incrediball’ hydrangea.

‘Incrediball’ makes a spectacular hedge, is great for cut flowers, and can be enjoyed as a specimen plant or placed in the back garden where its blooms can even be appreciated from a distance. And the variety just gets better. New this year is the dwarf version of ‘Annabelle’ — the ‘Invincebelle Wee White.’ At just 2-feet by 2-feet, this little powerhouse gives you an abundance of white flowers in a mini form. Also new is a pink/mauve version — ‘Invincibelle Mini Mauvette.’ It stands at about 3-feet tall and wide with strong stems.

This species blooms on new wood or the current season’s growth, so you don’t have to worry about improper pruning, hard winters, or late freezes that might kill off precious flower buds. They are best situated in the morning or dappled sun.

 

Macrophylla — Bigleaf Hydrangeas
Bigleaf hydrangeas, with their intense blue or deep pink round fluffy flowers, are the holy grail of blossoms for many gardeners. The old classic ‘Nikko Blue’ and many others only develop flower buds on old wood, or growth from the previous season, so extremely cold temperatures can result in damaged buds and no flowers. Or as I call it, “hydrangea heartache.”

Hydrangea Macrophylla ‘Rose’

Plant breeders have come through with new hydrangea varieties that bloom on both old and new wood. The leader in this field is the ‘Endless Summer’ series of hydrangeas, including the original ‘Endless Summer,’ which blooms pink, purple, or blue, depending on your soil pH and measures about 4 feet by 4 feet. It’s hardy in zones 4 to 9. Its sister plant, ‘BloomStruck,’ has similar flowers on dark purple stems. ‘Blushing Bride’ is a white version that is hardy in zones 5 to 9, and ‘Twist-n-Shout’ is a beautiful lacecap variety with red stems, hardy in zones 4 to 9.

And more remontant varieties are coming out every year. I especially like ‘Let’s Dance Rhythmic Blue,’ which is about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide and hardy in zones 5 to 9. But just like Nikko Blue, ‘Rhythmic Blue’ flowers will actually be pink in alkaline soil, so you may have to amend your soil with an acidifier product to create blue flowers.

H. macrophylla perform best when situated in the morning or dappled sun.

 

Paniculata — Panicle Hydrangea
Gardeners with full sunlight should consider the paniculata hydrangeas, so named because of their panicle-shaped flowers, which open a creamy white and age to a dusty rose as the summer progresses. And because they bloom on the current season’s growth, paniculatas are reliable, hardy bloomers.

One of the best-known and hardest working paniculatas is ‘Limelight,’ hardy in zones 3 to 9 and reaching up to 8 feet tall. But if that’s too much hydrangea for you, consider ‘Little Lime,’ a dwarf version that you can keep to about 3 feet tall with late winter or early spring pruning.

Other dwarf H. paniculatas worth considering include ‘Bobo’ and ‘Little Quick Fire,’ both hardy in zones 3 to 8.

H. paniculatas are the only hydrangea variety that will perform happily in full sun, but will also take part-sun.

Quercifolia — Oakleaf Hydrangea
Oakleaf hydrangeas are the other hydrangea species native to North America, making them low-maintenance, reliable, and outstanding in beauty. They also have the distinction of being a true, four-season shrub, with oak-leaf shaped foliage in spring; large, creamy white panicle flowers in the summer that age to a rosy hue; beautiful fall orange, red, and gold fall foliage; and an ornamental cinnamon-colored pealing bark that is visible in the winter. If you don’t have an oakleaf hydrangea already, then put it on your wish list.

 

Delicate and beautiful white Hydrangea quercifolia flowers close up. Also known as Oakleaf hydrangea or Oak-leaved hydrangea.

 

The true oakleaf species can reach 8 feet or taller and just as wide, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’ve got the room, nothing beats the majesty and size of its foliage and flowers.

More manageable oakleaf hydrangeas include ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Alice,’ both about 5 feet tall and hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Dwarf oakleaf version includes ‘Pee Wee,’ ‘Sikes Dwarf,’ and the relatively new ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which reaches about 4 feet tall and wide and has flowers that darken to a more ruby color. It’s hardy in zones 5 to 9.

And because oakleaf hydrangeas have woody stems, pruning is not recommended so that the stem’s original character and shape can be appreciated in the winter months. If you need a shorter variety, it’s worth searching for a dwarf form to prevent having to prune for size later. These hydrangeas prefer to be located in the morning or dappled sun.

 

Hydrangeas are available today in more colors and sizes than ever before, and with advances in plant breeding and growing consumer demand, the future looks bright for even better selections. Heirloom hydrangeas will always have a place in the garden, but I hope you consider one of the newer varieties if a spot opens up in your garden. You’ll be amazed by their performance and ease, which are plant traits that all of us gardeners seek.

Win-Win: Succulents offer pizzazz while thriving on neglect

As gardeners, we all have our favorite plants. Maybe you love hydrangeas (rightly so), daylilies, or hostas. Me? It’s no secret I’m a sucker for daffodils and peonies. But I’ve got to tell you, over the last few years I’ve had the most fun in the garden and in containers with succulents.

Working with these little beauties is almost like painting with plants because of their exceptional colors, and you get the added benefit of remarkable, quirky leaf shapes and textures — spiny and pointy, smooth and curvy, deliciously ruffled, flat as a pancake, or even perfectly round like a green pearl. It really is a delight to work — and create — with these unusual plants.

What is a succulent? This family of plants stores water in their leaves and stems, which makes them especially drought-tolerant, so perfect for neglectful gardeners. They can be annuals or perennials, depending on your plant zone, and you’ll find them in weather conditions ranging from northern Canada to the rainforests of Brazil.

You might automatically think of cactus, and it’s true, they are succulents — but not all succulents are cactus. Here are a few common plants that fall in the succulent category: aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria), jade (Crassula), and hens and chicks (Sempervivum).

And honestly, because succulents have exploded in popularity in recent years, so many other fun and unusual varieties are readily available. I’ve seen them in big box stores, grocery stores, and department stores (although these are often faux, they look incredibly real).

Succulents are terribly easy to grow. They thrive with neglect and are usually only killed by overwatering. And when I say overwatering, that might mean watering more than once or twice a month — it is possible to kill these plants with kindness! All they require is a spot in the house with bright, suffused light. Hardy plants can be grown outdoors in full hot sun with steep drainage.

One of the keys to getting succulents to thrive indoors in containers is using potting soil specially designed for succulents or cactus. If you can’t find any, you can make your own by mixing regular potting soil with sand at a 1:1 ratio. Think desert.

Plants can be grown in shallow dish containers with holes for drainage, or shallow containers without holes if you water sparingly and judiciously.  You can also add a layer of rock at the bottom of the dish to hold any extra water that might collect.

These plants make a nice show when they’re planted snugly up against each other to fill a pot. The appearance of abundance is matched only by varying leaf colors in shades of greens, silver, gray, orange, and red. You also have the added texture and shape of different leaves, which can take a container arrangement to a whole new level of artfulness.

Or consider planting a single succulent in a small container and top-dress the potting soil with colored sand, rocks, or small seashells for an added pop of color. Have fun with it — plant a small cactus and add a miniature tombstone, long-horned steer skull, and a few tumbleweeds.

Some of my favorite succulents to play around with include:

  • Echeveria
  • Ox tongue (Gasteria)
  • String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
  • Flapjack succulents (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)
  • Living stones (Mesembryanthemum)

If you mix any combination of these five plants together, you’ll have a colorful, textural masterpiece. There’s something very tactile about these arrangements that make me want to touch them or even pat an arrangement with my fingers.

If you’re not yet on the succulent bandwagon, I encourage you to hop aboard. In fact, consider giving a small succulent arrangement as a gift to someone in your life who has a black thumb. If you take away their watering can, they’re bound to have years of enjoyment and you’ll be the horticultural hero who introduced them to these easy, tough, colorful plants.

Starting seeds indoors is easy, inexpensive, and a whole lotta fun

This time of year can be tough for gardeners. The holidays are over and we’re in a sort of gardening purgatory — I can see it on the horizon, but we’ve got plenty of cold, dreary days ahead before we can get outside and dig.

That’s one reason why I love starting seeds indoors — it gives me an opportunity to think about what lies ahead and actually do something. The ground may still be frozen, but I can start working on my vegetable and flower garden now.


If you’ve never tried starting seeds indoors, you’re missing out on one of the true delights of gardening. There’s something pretty great about having someone compliment me on something in my garden and being able to say in response, “Thanks, I grew it from seed.” It’s also a fun way to get my hands on plants that aren’t readily available at the local garden center, like heirloom plants, and rare and unusual vegetable and flower varieties.

Kick-off your seed growing venture by carefully reading the back of each seed packet. Some seeds require special treatment before planting, like soaking in water, chilling (called stratification), or nicking the seed coat (called scarification). You don’t want to find yourself ready to plant and then discover that your seeds need to chill in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

Another key to seed-starting success is timing, and that starts with your last average spring frost date. Here in Little Rock, we’re zone 8a, so our last average frost date is March 28. Most seed packets will tell you when to start growing indoors, often saying “Start 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date.” So I simply look at the calendar and countback.


Next, choose containers for growing. You can use a variety of things around the house, including old yogurt cups, egg cartons, or hand-rolled pots made from newspapers. I picked up some seed starting trays from a nursery that I can reuse each year. I simply sterilize them between uses with a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water.

I’ve also had good luck using a quality potting soil to grow my seeds, but you can certainly invest in a soil-less seed starting mix. Whichever you choose, put your growing medium in a bucket with some water so that the soil is slightly damp before you fill your containers.

Seed packets will tell you how deep the seed needs to be planted. For example, Bachelor’s Button ‘Blue Boy’ (Centaurea cyanus) seeds need to be planted 1/4″ deep, with three seeds planted every 8″ – 10.” The packet also tells me that seedlings will emerge in seven to 14 days, so I have a good idea when to start looking for signs of life.

Once seeds are planted, you need to water. This is where it helps to have your potting mixture already moist. You can use a spray bottle filled with water to give your seeds a thorough misting, which provides enough moisture without roiling all your hard work.

I always cover my seed trays with plastic to create a mini greenhouse. Some seed trays come with plastic domes, or you can use kitchen plastic wrap, sandwich bags, or you can even slip your containers inside a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag. It doesn’t have to look pretty, just be effective.

Also, most seeds don’t need light to germinate, but they do need heat. I recommend finding a location that is ideally around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which may be in your kitchen, near your oven or on top of a refrigerator. (It helps to have a spouse or roommate who doesn’t mind dirt in the kitchen.) You can also use a seed heating mat, which is specially designed to heat soil and seeds from the bottom.

Once you see seedlings, remove the plastic covering and place plants in a spot with bright light. If you’re using a spot by a window, rotate your containers every few days so that seedlings don’t develop a lean. If you don’t have enough sunlight, you can always use grow lights or even fluorescent shop lights. Place the bulbs so that they’re only a few inches above the seedlings and set a timer so that lights are automatically on 12 to 16 hours a day.

The final step is to keep plants growing until it’s time to harden them off as they move outside in the spring. I’ll admit, I’ve had a few bombs — seeds that were too old to germinate or a tray that got overwatered and killed a crop of seedlings. But there are way more successes than failures, and that’s what keeps me coming back to seeds year after year. And on cold gray February and March days, seed starting is a life-line to spring gardening that I’ll grab every time.