March is here and plants are already hitting the shelves in stores. For those of you who ordered through one of the many various mail order companies that can be found online or through various catalogs, those orders are beginning to roll in as well. However it is a bit risky to begin planting these items in our yards. Most of the plants are either bare root or contain a minimum amount of soil or other suitable packing material that really won’t allow the plants to survive for very long unless they are properly planted.
While it is possible to open many of the packages, put a few drain holes in the bottom of the plastic baggies and water them on a regular basis until it is safe to plant them outside, sometimes this technique can be unsuccessful. When plant roots are surrounded by plastic, the heat from natural or artificial lights can cause them to overheat and die. It is also difficult for plant roots to properly breathe when they are wrapped in plastic.
Sometimes the plants arrive as bare roots or maybe even the bulbs you purchased are beginning to grow but they aren’t in soil. This too can be a real problem if it isn’t handled properly. While some plants and bulbs will be ok like this for a short period of time provided they receive the proper care and watering methods, it is not a wise choice for the typical home gardener to attempt to get these plants to survive under these harsh conditions.
Here are a few tips to ensure that your plants will remain healthy and be ready to move into the garden after the last frost date. If possible, pot the plants up. For the time being it will not harm the plants to grow them in a sunny window. If they are not budding out, you could place them in a garage or basement for the time being but don’t forget to water. Temperatures of at least forty degrees should be maintained for this brief time period.
When you water plants that are living under cooler conditions you will need to water less frequently. You do not want the plants roots to freeze. This could mean instant death for the plant. Bulbs that are wet and then freeze usually turn to mush when they begin to thaw. If you decided to grow the plants indoors until proper planting time, be sure to check the soil at least weekly to see if it is dry.
The biggest mistake people make is in their watering techniques. Over watering is just as bad as under watering. The trick is to learn when the soil is slightly on the dry side and then water. To determine this, stick your finger down into the soil and see what it feels like about a half an inch down. Once you have finished watering, be sure to dump the excess water that has collected in the tray underneath the plant. The only exception to this rule is if the plants soil is so dry it cannot readily absorb the water.