Creek Count Master Gardener: The Frugal Gardener Part 2

Kathy Berryhill
Creek County Master Gardener

Looking for ways to make your gardening dollar go further?  Starting plants from seeds is one of the easiest and cheapest ways!  While it’s not the most difficult task, it’s not the easiest either.  A few tips and tricks will make the process more rewarding and can have a wonderful payoff. It just takes some daily attention and nurturing. 

One benefit of seed starting is getting a jump on the growing season.  Our area is in USDA Zone 7, which is determined by the average temperature – both low and high- of our region.  Having this knowledge when you decide what to grow can ensure that your plant purchase will survive our temperature extremes.  When starting plants gardeners need to determine when it is safe to put plants outside.  Tender annuals are hurt by even the lightest frost. A light frost is when the air temperature dips to 32-29 degrees.  This may heavily damage or even kill tender plants.  Our average last frost date is April 15.  After that, we will see about 200 days of a frost-free growing season. 

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While many plants can be directly seeded into the ground after April 15, beginning seeds indoors results in plants that have a jump on the calendar.  Seed packets become available for the 2022 season in early winter.  Ready to try your luck?  Start small, with a couple of vegetables and/or flowers.  Recommendations for easy-to-grow vegetables include beans and peas.  Easy flowers?  Zinnias, marigolds, and sunflowers all seed easily. 

If you look closely, you’ll see multiple plants in a container. Finding these is a cost-saving trick! Photo provided.

Seed starter peat pots are cheap and have the advantage of being ready to put in the ground without transplanting the young plant. Purchasing seed starting mix is key as potting soil is too dense and contains fertilizer, which the young plants can’t use.  Plant seeds according to package directions, label, place in a sunny window, and water consistently.  Overwatering or under-watering can wreak havoc on seedlings.  Rotate seedlings occasionally to produce straighter stems.  Once the danger of frost is over, harden off the plants.  This is done by gradually exposing the tender plants to the outside temperature and sun.  When the seedlings are 3”-4” tall and have their second set of leaves (true leaves), transfer to the garden and enjoy your bounty. 

Springtime is a great time to watch for yard sales that may contain used garden tools.  Garden tools that are found at sales usually need a little care.  First, thoroughly clean the tool to remove dirt and dust.  Allow the tool to air dry.  If rust is present, soak the tool in a mixture of half vinegar and half water.  Use steel wool to remove the rust and then coat generously with mineral oil.  The excess can later be wiped off.  Check wooden handles for splintering and sand them smooth.  Again, coat with mineral oil for protection.  Spray a lubricant (like WD40) on moving parts.  Remove any excess. Finish by sharpening cutting edges with a metal file. 

Yard sales are also a good source for pots of all sizes and materials.  Just remember, old pots can harbor disease and insects so the first rule of repurposing a used pot is to clean it!  First, submerge the pot in a solution of 1 cup of white vinegar to 4 cups of water for 20-30 minutes.  Remove the pots and the buildup should scrub off easily.  A plastic pot can be cleaned in a similar way.  Remove any dead plants and empty out the soil.  Rinse out the remaining residue and then soak in a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach for up to an hour.   Resist the temptation to reuse the old soil.  Fresh potting soil adds nutrients and soil that will better absorb moisture. 

Finding plants on sale is a money saver but make sure the plants are healthy.  Carefully inspect the underside of plants to rule out disease. If leaf tips are brown, the plant may have been gone without water for periods of time and won’t be as healthy.  Check for buds on plants and choose those over plants that have already bloomed out.  Careful inspection may also help determine if more than one plant is growing in the container.  This can be separated by gently separating the roots, thus creating your own BOGO sale!

Mark your calendar for the 2022 Creek County Master Gardener Plant Sale.   The sale will be held Saturday, April 30th at the Sapulpa Farmers’ Market, located in the Creek County Courthouse parking lot.  Hours are 7:30 AM – 11 AM.  MGs will have quality plants grown from seeds or transplanted from their own yards available at great prices.  This is also a good time to ask questions about gardening.  

Do you have gardening questions?  Send to gardener@sapulpatimes.com