CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Although late February is still the thick of winter, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about those spring and summer gardens. Success doesn’t require a green thumb if you plan ahead and buy seed packets now.
On average, the last freeze in Charlotte runs close to April 1. However, there are many plants that can handle a frost or freeze, like lettuce, arugula, spinach, and peas.
Gardeners can plant things that are frost-tolerant a few weeks before the last frost or freeze -- around now -- for a winter crop, or late winter for a crop during the spring. This is due to a shorter germination period of 30 to 75 days.
For new gardeners or folks unfamiliar with the term, "days to germinate" refers to the amount of time it takes a seed to sprout after you plant and water it.
While planning for spring, consider your summer vegetables too. Items like eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes can take 90 days or more to mature. However, due to colder temperatures outside, it’s best to start these indoors since the seedlings do better in warmer weather.
To have success with your garden, whether indoors or out, remember to read your seed packets. Not only is there a multitude of information, but it’s possible to start too early.
Fast-growing plants like squash, okra, or watermelon are a waste to start indoors without the right setup. These plants require more sunlight to grow strong and healthy than can be provided inside and are attractive to certain pests — like spider mites and mealybugs — if inside too long.
Some gardeners have success by either bringing these plants outdoors on warm days to experience natural sunlight or by using grow lights. If you wait, though, until closer to spring, it’ll be warm enough to keep these plants outside with the option to bring them indoors if there’s a late-season frost.
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Black gave us some tips on how to get a garden going quickly, whether indoors or out. The first tip is to soak seeds in water before planting them. Letting them sit in water sends a signal that it’s time to sprout.
Before you plant your seeds, make sure you have the correct-sized pot and you know how much soil and water it needs. Black says to make a small hole with your finger or a pencil eraser. Place your seed in, cover it up, and add water.
“Another little tip would be you can use a Styrofoam egg carton,” says Black. “It already has your little wells for your seeds. Do the same thing, and then just flip that over, close it up, put it in a window. I’ll be an automatic greenhouse.”
Heating pads or heating lamps can also speed things up. You can also cut the edge of the seeds with something small like a nail clipper. This allows the water to sink in quicker!