As gardeners we are often asked, “What do you guys do in the winter?” As a gardener, that is an easy question to answer. Gardeners stay almost as busy in the winter months as we do in the spring and summer months. In addition to spring planning, snow removal and continuing education classes, the gardeners at The Parklands have been busy propagating vegetables and Kentucky native perennial seedlings. When winter begins to finally melt into spring, it is time, believe it or not, to prepare for the indoor planting of cool-season weather seedlings such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. They can be started any time from mid-February to early March. Similarly, the propagation of native wildflowers can also begin during this time of year.
Starting seedlings indoors can be very satisfying and economical, but it takes a little work as the gardeners on our Parklands staff can attest to. As they each prepare for the arrival of spring, they have accepted the task of zone specific seed propagation. This fact is evident with a visit into our North Operations facility in Beckley Creek Park, where during the cold winter months, the construction of seed boxes, cold frames and the gathering of cell packs and seed trays has been a priority.
These “cold frames” constructed by Gardener Matt Jenne will be used to protect plants from adverse weather.
Throughout February, the team, along with a small group of volunteers, began filling over 2,000 seed pots with a seed starting soil mix to be followed by seed planting and post-care of each specific type of seed. Starting seeds is not complicated or difficult if you understand the process. The basic ingredients are a proper growing medium, containers, light, warmth, water and attention. Because a vegetable needs either warm or cool weather, crops sort themselves into two distinct categories: cool season (Hardy vegetables which grow with daytime temperatures as low as 40°F) and warm season (Warm season vegetables which prefer summer-like weather with temperatures between 70°F and 95°F).
Planting in the proper season is also an important consideration for a successful harvest. Most cool season weather varieties are started from seeds indoors. This is timed out so that seedlings are put into the garden about two months before the last frost arrives.
Volunteers assist the Garden Team with soil preparation.
Unlike cool season crops, the warm season crops cannot tolerate frost. For this reason, they are planted outdoors only after the last chance of frost has passed, and the nighttime temperatures remain above 50° F. Warm season weather varieties may also be started from seed indoors; they are best planted as seedlings. Seeds are easier to start indoors than outdoors where one can more easily provide the perfect conditions for hard-to-germinate or very small seeds, including the ideal temperature, moisture, and fertility.
The propagation of the KY native perennials requires a somewhat different approach. The first step is to first collect and clean the seed. We are fortunate at The Parklands to be able to gather many different types of seed throughout our own gardens and meadows. After the seed has been collected and cleaned, most native perennials require that their seed be pre-treated to break dormancy prior to seeding. This is known as stratification. There are four types of stratification. Here at The Parklands we are using the dry and moist stratification methods. The dry method allows the seed to be exposed to freezing temperatures for 30 or more days. Seed can be dry stratified by placing it in a refrigerator or freezer for 30 to 90 days prior to seeding. The moist method is to plant the seed directly into flats over winter in an area that can be protected from extreme temperatures as well as easily accessible to water. Moist stratification should be timed to ensure optimal germination. Cool-season plants should be started in mid-March to early April when temperatures are still cool. Warm-season plants can be started once the air temperature reaches the high 70s or low 80s F.
A moist stratification cell constructed by Gardener Nathan Strange, protects seeds from extreme weather while providing easy access to water.
Different species germinate at different times of the year. Most summer-blooming prairie flowers and grasses are “warm season” plants, and germinate best at temperatures around 80 degrees F. Spring-blooming prairie and woodland flowers are “cool season” plants, and typically germinate in early spring at cool temperatures in the 60s and 70s F. When in doubt, plant the seed fresh and allow it to experience the natural seasonal cycles.
When you collect and clean seeds, sow them, and nurture the young plants to adulthood, they are old friends by the time you find them a place in your garden. As for those that are edible, your old friends become tasty friends that can be shared abundantly.
Join us at 6:00 PM on March 9, for a Zone Garden Volunteer Orientation meeting. We will meet at the PNC Achievement Center to discuss ways to support the Garden Team as a volunteer! If you plan to join, please RSVP to Ali Greenwell at email@example.com.
About the Author
Karen has worked at the Parklands of Floyds Fork in many capacities. Originally hired as an Attendant in 2013, she has also worked in the PNC Achievement Center at the front desk and The Gheens Foundation Lodge as an Event Concierge. As of September 1, 2014 she has taken on the position as Head Zone Gardener. Karen is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor degree in Technical Horticulture and a minor in Floriculture. For the past fifteen years she has been actively involved in providing a hands-on atmosphere for her husband and three children. During this time she maintained a successful, profitable small business as a lawn maintenance contractor as well as a private residential gardener. Along with a passion to make a difference, Karen shares the same enthusiasm as her colleagues, as they continue to contribute to the growth and progress of The Parklands of Floyds Fork. When not at the Parklands, Karen enjoys spending time with her family, pets and just being in the outdoors.