Now that you've started seeds for flowering annuals indoors, bring on the perennials and biennials. You have a few weeks to get ready, so continue saving plastic-coated egg cartons and start shopping soon for the appropriate seeds.
Poring through the seed catalogues and being charmed by showplace plants is one thing, but growing the same perennial pictured in the catalogue is probably a different story.
The reason: Seeds from some perennials don't always duplicate the exact colors of parental plants.
If you've grown anemones, asters, baby's breath, candytuft, day lilies, delphinium and oriental poppies, this explains why these plants were remarkably different from the plants pictured in the catalogue.
If you wish to duplicate a specific hybrid perennial, you'll be further ahead buying plants in May and June.
However, some species of these perennials do duplicate themselves, including baby's breath and bleeding heart.
If you have traditionally bought perennials in midspring, continue the practice, but don't deny yourself the pride and satisfaction of starting some seeds indoors in the coming weeks.
Assuming this is your first venture starting perennial seeds indoors, rely on the plastic egg cartons, filled with prewet vermiculite.
Reserve the entire carton for one hybrid perennial. Label the side of the carton accordingly, then place one seed on top of the moist vermiculite in each egg cradle; afterward, take a handful of wet vermiculite and gently cover each seed; unlike some annuals, all perennial seeds should be covered lightly with vermiculite.
Draw a sheet of clear plastic over the top of the carton, down all sides and tuck it under the carton.
Perennials will require bright, indirect light for germination, never direct sun, so cartons should be moved to the brightest and warmest room of the house. To raise soil temperatures to levels high enough to promote seed germination, consider using an old metal TV tray to hold the cartons.
Under the tray stand, use a "gooseneck" desk lamp with a 40-watt light turned on; turn the gooseneck lamp to reflect the light upward under the metal TV stand. Consider using an automatic timer to turn on the light at the time you usually rise in the morning, and to turn it off when you retire at night.
Every five days until germination, remove the plastic sheet, spray mist warm water over the egg carton and replace the plastic.
At the first sign of germination, insert a small ball of rolled-up facial tissue under the plastic sheet at opposite ends to provide "breathing room" for the seedlings.
Remove the cover only after 11 or 12 seeds have sprouted, thereafter spraying twice daily to keep the soil moist.
Transplant to three-inch plastic pots and 1-1-1 soil when the second pair of leaves sprout and the first leaves fall away.
If you are interested in starting perennial-biennial seeds indoors, here are the appropriate pronunciations and schedules for the popular plants: Achillea (ak-il-LEE-a): Start seeds indoors March 1-15 in warm temperatures. Seed germinates in two weeks. Move plants outdoors in full sun in late May. They flower from early June to Labor Day. Althaea (al-THEE-a): Common name, hollyhock. Start seeds indoors any time to mid-April; germination takes two weeks. Transplant to sunny garden in days preceding Memorial Day weekend.
Stake the plants; blossoms will appear from early July through mid-August. Prune the plants to the ground after the last flowers have dropped. Alyssum (al-LISS-um): It's best to buy starter plants when they are first available at the garden shop, planting them immediately after.
For a head start on next year's garden, sow seed outdoors anytime after Labor Day, making sure plants are watered every day after sprouting. Mulch plants over the Christmas holidays with pine bark chips or nuggets to protect against frost.
Anchusa (an-KOO-sa): Buy starter plants in May, planting them in full sun to enjoy June-to-August flowers.
For abundant plants in 1989 and beyond, plant seeds directly in the garden in late April; such plants will be well established by spring of next year and will flower repeatedly thereafter.
Arabis (AR-a-bis): Common name, rockcress. Plant seeds directly in full sun in late April, keeping soil lightly moist for three weeks until seeds sprout. White, fragrant flowers will appear in the spring of 1989 and annually thereafter.
Campanula (kam-PAN-ew-la): Common name, Canterbury bells. This biennial has long been a favorite, planted one year and flowering the next. To enjoy the lavender, pink or white blossom bells in June and July, buy starter plants in late April, planting them immediately.
The alternative is to start seed indoors from March 1 to mid-April; seeds sprout in two weeks. Transplant in early May to enjoy flowers in late spring of next year. Coreopsis (ko-ree-OP-sis): Start seeds indoors from March 1 to mid-April; germination takes two weeks. Transplant to the outdoor garden in June; plants flower abundantly through the summer, but you should choose a spot enriched with shovels of leafmold and well mulched to keep the soil cool and damp for the summer. Lots of cut flowers will be your reward. Delphinium (del-FINN-ium): Common name, larkspur. If you fall in love with a hybrid, shop for starter plants in late April. If you're not fussy, sow seed indoors anytime up to April 15; germination takes two weeks. Plants should be moved to a sunny spot (enrich the soil with leafmold, composted cow manure and lime) after Memorial Day. First flowers will appear in late June. Dianthus (di-AN-thus): Common names are pinks and carnation; biennial is sweet William. For carnation and pinks, start seeds indoors March 1 to late April; germination takes two weeks. Transplant to sunny garden in mid-May. Flowers will occur in 1989. With sweet William, sow seed indoors this weekend; germination takes two weeks. Transplant to the sunny garden in late April; plants will flower from May to June next year, then die. Gypsophila (gip-SOFF-ill-a): Common name, baby's breath. Start seeds indoors March 1 to mid-April; germination takes 10 to 12 days. Transplant to full sun in late May to enjoy flowers all summer. Heuchera (hew-KER-a): Common name, coralbells. Sow seeds indoors from March 1 to mid-April; germination takes three weeks. Transplant outdoors after Memorial Day, improving the soil with leafmold, compost or peat humus.
Plants are often heaved out of soil during severe winters, so they should be mulched by Christmas of every year.
First flowers will happen in the summer of 1989. Starter plants will be available in late April if you want blossoms this summer. Kniphofia (ny-FO-fia): Common name, red hot poker. Start seed indoors March 1 to April 15; germination takes three-plus weeks. Transplant in sun or part shade in late May. This plant flowers abundantly all summer. Liatris (ly-AY-tris): Common name, gayfeather. Start seeds indoors from March 1 to April 15; germination takes three weeks.
Transplant to shady garden after Memorial Day; flowers will occur in late summer of 1989. Lupine (loo-PIN): Plant seed directly in outdoor garden about Mother's Day; germination takes two-plus weeks. Expect flowers this June and July. Nepeta (NEP-et-a): Common name, catnip. Plant seeds after Mother's Day in the outdoor garden, keeping the seedbed moist; germination takes two weeks. Summer flowers will follow. Phlox (flox): Buy starter plants in mid-April, planting immediately in full sun.
Avoid crowding plants so air circulates freely, eliminating chances of powdery mildew. Consider sowing seed in the garden after Halloween so seed germinates in April 1989, giving you more perennial phlox. Poppy: Sow seeds outdoors in late April in full sun or part shade so flowers bloom in early summer. Rudbeckia (rood-BEK-ia): Common name, coneflower. Start seed indoors March 1 to mid-April; germination runs almost three weeks. Transplant after Mother's Day. A biennial, the plant will flower most of the summer and will self-seed if you leave the plants alone. Scabiosa (SCAB-e-osa): Common name, pincushion. Start seeds indoors March 1 to mid-April; germination takes two weeks. Transplant outdoors in full sun after Mother's Day to enjoy summer flowers. Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).