On growing geraniums from seed

Last May, when local florists were selling geraniums for $1.50, I blithely set out several dozen thriving plants which I had raised from seed at a cost of about 30 cents apiece.

Those plants already had given me three months of joy as I watched their first shoots appear, unfurl, and develop; and they were to give us five months of vivid color in our yard before they retired inside for a winter rest.

Many home gardeners think that they must start new geranium plants by cutting stems from old plants and rooting them. While this method is a good one, growing geraniums from seed is just as easy and gives you a wider choice of varieties and colors.

Sow each seed individually in peatmoss pellets, avalable from gardening stores and seed catalogs, or in small pots filled with sterile potting soil.

The seeds are large enough to handle easily. While some of the hybrid varieties sell for 15 to 20 cents each, they are well worth the investment.Last winter, every seed that I sowed produced a plant, and the seed company had even included a few extra seeds in the packet.

Moisten the soil with a fine spray after planting, or set the containers in water to soak until the top of the soil is damp but not soggy. Cover the pots with plastic wrap and place them in a sunny window.

Shoots should begin poking through in about a week or 10 days.

When they do, remove the plastic wrap so that the seedlings will not develop rot. Don't become discouraged if the seeds do not all sprout at once because their germinating time is sometimes uneven. It is a delight to discover each new seedlings as it appears.

When the seedlings have two full sets of leaves, shift them to 4-inch pots filled with good potting soil. Water well and return them to their sunny window. Turn the plants often to promote even growth because they will naturally grow toward the light.

If you don't have a good sunny location for plants, why not invest in an inexpensive growing light? I bought a light tube at a local hardware store and my husband fitted it in a reflector-type fixture for less than $20. Place the light three to four inches above the plants and leave it on 12 to 15 hours a day. Being fluorescent, the tubes use very little electricity.

Check the young plants daily for the first month to see if they need water. Don't let the top of the soil dry out because at that stage their root system is small and close to the surface.

Give them enough water at a time to moisten the whole potful of soil without leaving it soggy.

Later, as the roots become more developed, you can water the plants whenever the top half inch of soil feels dry to your finger. Continue to check them every few days, however, because the atmosphere in most homes during the winter is dry and water is quickly lost.

Growing plants, like growing children, need plenty of nourishment. Thus, fertilize your young charges with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer every two weeks. Then stand back and watch them grow!

What a pleasure it is to see the sturdy young plants developing against an outdoor background of ice and snow. They hold promises of warm, moist earth, masses of vivid flowers, and bright sunshine which help chase away the winter blahs.

In the spring, after the danger of heavy frost is past for your area, the geraniums can bes et outdoors, either in pots or in a sunny, well-drained spot in your garden, spacing them 12 inches or more apart. If started in january, they should be ready to bloom by late May.

Last year I grew two hybrid varieties. Sprinter, an early-flowering, neat-growing plant, gives many large blossoms all summer long. I grew Deep Red last year and Scarlet the year before; both were excellent. Sprinter also comes in white, pink, and salmon shades.

Carefree my other choice, gave spectacular, bushy bedding geraniums with lots of blooms in a wide range of bright, clear colors.

There are a number of other excellent varieties available from various seed companies, such as Burpee, 1061 Burpee Building, Warminster, Pa. 18991; Geo. W. Park, 40 Cokesbury Road, Greenwood, S.C. 29647; and Jackson & Perkins, 309 rose Lane, Medford, Ore. 97501.

Why not study a few catalogs, choose a variety, and try growing some geraniums yourself?

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