The Novice Gardener: Fighting weeds, drought, and plain forgetfulness – Pinetree Garden Seeds

At this point, most gardeners have reached a sort of holding pattern. Seeds have been direct seeded into their ground space or containers, and seedlings have long since been transplanted. You’re waging a war on weeds that is never-ending, and you beg your baby plants for forgiveness when you forget to water for a day or two. Pests may be making your life extremely difficult, and you can’t take your eyes off your dogs for a single second, lest they trample your poor bean plants.

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Direct seeding for me was very fruitful; I planted beans, peas, carrots, and beets directly into the ground and had a lot of success with them. My beans did not come up, but I learned that the particular variety of bean that I had chosen had given some other people trouble as well, so I didn’t feel so bad when I had to replant with a different variety.

My seedlings were another story. I struggled with deciding how long to harden everything off before planting outside, and my poor seedlings suffered because of it. In general, your seedlings should get about 2-3 hours of sun for about 7-10 days, gradually increasing their sun exposure until they’re fully prepared to endure spending the days and nights out in your garden.

‘Before’ on left or top and ‘now’ on right or bottom:

Pepper, aspabroc, squash, and tomato seedlings
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Butterscotch Squash
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Zucchini seedlings
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Out of the peppers, tomatoes, aspabroc, squash, zucchini, melon, and cucumbers that I started, only about 50% of my total seedlings survived. I completely lost my cucumbers, melons, and most of my squash; forcing me to direct seed the cukes and squash. I’m still waiting to see if the beans, squash, and cukes will come up and grow fast enough to bear anything before the first killing frost. The melons I’ve considered a lost cause… I was warned against trying them my first time with the level of care they require, but I had to find out for myself… and I certainly did. Next year I hope to direct seed from the beginning, utilizing a protective covering for the seedlings to flourish in within the garden itself.

Strawberries in pot and in ground

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When planting, I worked a dried fertilizer/nutrient into the soil furrow before planting my seedlings, and this seemed to work fairly well. I also fertilize with a water mixed fertilizer once a week, and my plants are always thankful for that. I’ve also learned that watering at the base of your plants as opposed to showering them with water from the hose is best… this severely decreases the risk of soil-borne diseases splashing up onto your vulnerable plants.

Weeding has been a battle I’d rather not ever fight again, but unfortunately this is a part of gardening that is pretty much unavoidable. I utilized mulching between my rows of plants to help keep weeds down, and that was very effective (I used grass clippings from my lawn). Jaci also suggested using straw (not hay), or dried leaves as mulch. You don’t want to use any bagged bark mulch, as the acidity can kill your tender plants.

A ground cover that I have yet to identify, trying to choke out my zucchini plants
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At this point I’m just watering and weeding, and trying not to kill anything else. I’ve also been maintaining some herb plants that I got as seedlings from another gardener, and they seem to be doing well. Seeing things flourish, like the peas and strawberries in particular, is a very bolstering experience. My next task is going in and trellising the peas, as well as thinning out my carrots, beets, and lettuce.


Growing & Maintaining Strawberries – Pinetree Garden Seeds

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 ‘Earliglow’                                     ‘Jewel’                                            ‘Mara de Bois’

If you’re one of the many that didn’t know how easy it is to grow your own strawberries, then here’s your wake up call! Just imagine sun-ripened, fresh picked berries going into strawberry pie, strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam… is your mouth watering yet? The possibilities are endless. There are a few different types of strawberries, and these are the ones you’ll most commonly hear referred to:

June-bearing strawberries produce their crop over a span of 3 weeks from late spring to early summer. Because they produce so early and plentiful, June-bearing strawberries are ideal for preserving.


Ever-bearing strawberries produce a very heavy crop of berries in the early summer, and then several smaller crops in late summer and fall. They require cool night temperatures (below 65° Fahrenheit) for the fruit to set. Ever-bearing strawberries are perfect for containers as well as raised beds, requiring attentive watering and regular feeding.

Alpine strawberries produce dime-to-nickel-sized, intensely flavored berries that can be red, yellow or white, depending on variety. Many alpine varieties do not produce runners, but they do re-bloom and set fruit repeatedly throughout the summer. Because of their small size, alpine strawberries are best grown in raised beds or roomy planters, where they can be easily accessed and harvested.

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‘White Soul’

There are a couple different ways to grow strawberries in your backyard. The most obvious is planting live roots directly in your garden. Strawberries require at least 8 hours of sun a day, and they prefer slightly acidic soil. Plant your strawberry plants with the roots under soil but the crown visible to the air, as they prefer good air flow. Keep them well watered, and space each plant about 10-15 inches apart, as strawberry plants produce offspring shoots quite readily. If you decide to start your strawberries from seed, be sure to cold treat the seeds first.

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Another option is container growing. There are special pots made for growing strawberries called strawberry planters. These are ideal for growing strawberries on your porch, or anywhere that you would do container planting. The pot makes it easier to rotate the plants, ensuring that all fruit gets evenly ripened. The small openings allow the strawberries to grow through, but limits the amount that weeds can grow. The most important thing in container gardening is ensuring that your plants get consistent water (especially with terracotta pots, which tend to dry out quicker).

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The most common danger to your strawberries is being picked off by birds. Use a lightweight bird netting to keep birds away. A red plastic mulch will stave off slugs, and watering consistently will keep your fruits plump and plentiful.

What are your favorite strawberry recipes? Share with us in the comments section!

Trial by Seed: Pepper transplants, using black plastic, + new variety trials – Pinetree Garden Seeds

Last week we got some new melon, cuke, and squash variety trials going, including ‘Ugly Duckling’ pumpkin, ‘Georgia Candy Roaster’ winter squash, ‘Midnight Lightning’ zucchini, ‘Tahitian Butternut’ winter squash, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ pumpkin, ‘Harvest Moon’ watermelon, and ‘Dragons Egg’ cucumber.

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Our pepper seedlings were ready to go outside, so we seized a moment between spring rain showers to plant outside!

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This year we’re also trialing our black plastic mulch with some pepper seedlings to see how they do. To use the black plastic, Jaci uses a knife to either cut a few slits, or she even goes so far as to cut out a circle of plastic before planting the seedling in the revealed soil.

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The Novice Gardener: How will I know when to transplant? – Pinetree Garden Seeds


So, the hard part is over, right? Getting my seeds to germinate and keeping them alive long enough to admire them was a rush… but now what do I do? They’re going to keep getting bigger, and even I know that the small peat pots they’re in aren’t going to do the trick forever. Well, this is where transplanting comes in.

If you live in the northeast like me, it’s a very real possibility to see snow in the middle/end of April, so I won’t be doing any planting outside until mid-May. The best way to help your growing seedlings is to transplant them into bigger pots, as well as begin to feed them small amounts of fertilizer.

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A quick way to determine if your seedlings are ready for transplant and feeding is to count the amount of leaves. Seedlings sprout one set of leaves after bursting up through the soil, but they’ll also sprout a second set of leaves shortly after. These are their first sets of ‘true leaves’. By the time you have 2-3 sets of true leaves, your seedlings are strong enough for a move to a bigger peat/cow pot, and for a little bit of added nutrient now that they’ve taken all they can from the seed starting mix.

I spoke to Jaci about how to know when to transplant what, into what size container, and here’s what she had to say.

Amie: So, give me a little bit of a rundown on transplanting… what to transplant, and when?
Jaci: For the most part, you’re starting things indoors to give them a head start before they go outside. Sometimes things need to be started so far in advance that they outgrow the pot you started them in… hence transplanting. If you’re starting your seeds in seedling flats, you’ll want to transplant your seedlings into 3″-4″ peat or cow pots. The longer amount of time that the seedling will be in it’s ‘final pot’ (the last container before being transplanted into the ground), the bigger pot you’ll need. The general rule of thumb is that you disturb the roots of your seedlings as little as possible.

A: What type of soil should I be transplanting into? I know that I can’t use just the seedling mix again.
J: I suggest transplanting into a potting mix that contains more nutrients. You can also mix in worm castings as a supplement; this is something I do with my own transplants.

A: Are there some seeds that should not be transplanted?
J: Yes. Some plants have such delicate root systems that they can’t realistically be transplanted into another container, like radishes or carrots. These things need to be sown directly into the soil.

A: What about fertilizer? When should I start feeding my seedlings?
J: By the third set of ‘true leaves’, you’ll want to start feeding your seedlings with a greatly diluted fertilizer. You don’t want to burn the seedlings, so be careful how much you use. I suggest using fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer. You should fertilize about once a week with the diluted mixture. Keep an eye on your seedlings to make sure they stay green and healthy. If they start to change color or look unhappy, they may be missing a key nutrient.

After speaking with Jaci, I went home to transplant my peppers and parsley into their new temporary homes. I moistened my seed starting mix with a little bit of water and mixed it all together with my hands before pressing it gently into some Cow Pots.


After making a little space with my finger, I gently pulled the seedlings from their original container and pressed them carefully into the holes I’d prepared before pressing the soil around the base.


After giving them a light feeding, I set my seedlings back under their grow lights once more.


Here’s how they’re looking now, about a week or two after transplanting. I also started some aspabroc, which you can see next to the parsley!


How are your seedlings looking? Feel free to share photos of your seedlings on our Facebook page!

Inoculant: When and How to Use it – Pinetree Garden Seeds

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Here’s something you may or may not know about your soil: it can contain BILLIONS of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms; all within just a single teaspoon. Most of these microorganisms are things that you want in your soil… they can form beneficial relationships with the plants you’re trying to grow!

So, what is inoculant? It’s a specific type of beneficial microorganism that attaches and lives on the roots of legumes, such as peas and beans. Legumes have the unique ability to form a symbiotic relationship with certain types of naturally occurring rhizobium soil bacteria. In return for the plant feeding the rhizobia carbon from photosynthesis and giving it a home, the bacteria can “fix” atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plant can use. After colonizing the roots, the rhizobia soil bacteria encourages the formation of protrusions on the roots, called ‘nitrogen nodules’, where the transformed nitrogen is stored and used by the plant. Meanwhile, the plant provides food in the form carbohydrates to the bacteria.

Why and when would you use inoculantMost soils do not contain large amounts of this specific bacteria, if any, and by using inoculant when you plant your seeds it increases the health and yields of pea and beans crops. It is especially good to introduce these beneficial microorganisms to your garden if you have never grown peas or beans in an area before, or if it has been a few seasons since you last grew these crops in the soil.

How should you use inoculantThere are two ways to use inoculant; in each method, the inoculant needs to be as close possible to the root area of the crop.

For the first method, lightly moisten the seed and mix the inoculant around with the seed. Some people use a sticking agent, like molasses or honey, to help the inoculant adhere to the seed better.

First, mix in your sticking agent with a bit of water.

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Then, add your beans or peas and coat well with the sticking agent and water mixture.

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Add a substantial amount of inoculant to the mix. You want to make sure that your seed is well coated. There isn’t really a situation where you can use too much inoculant, so make sure you really coat all the seed.

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Keep the inoculated seed out of the sun and use within a few hours.

For the second method, make a furrow for your seeds in the soil, then shake the inoculant into it generously. Next, sow your seed into the furrow and water well. You can’t use too much inoculant, especially if you haven’t planted any pea or beans before in the soil. Just make sure you don’t use too little. Make sure to water immediately after planting.

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What’s Wrong with My Seedlings? – Pinetree Garden Seeds

When gardening, it’s a known fact that you will have successes as well as failures. The failures can be caused by some sort of outside force that you have no control over (cat digging up your seedlings, a tray of tiny green shoots getting knocked off the table by accident, etc.), but it can also be caused by the things you do have control over. Over watering, under watering, not enough light, and more. These mistakes are very common, and not something to feel bad about!

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Here are some of the more common issues that gardeners run into, and what may have caused them.

1. Seeds fail to germinate

Possible causes:

  • Temperature of the soil is too hot or too cold. Most seeds like a soil temperature of around 65°-75°. In general, the warmer the temperature, the faster the seed will germinate.

  • Seeds rotting in the soil means it was too wet. Your soil should be moist, but not soaked.

  • Planting depth of the seeds – plant too deeply, and light is unable to reach the seed. Plant too shallow, and too much light can damage the seed. Most seed packets wil instruct you on how deep to plant your seed!

  • Growing medium was allowed to dry out. Your soil should remain moistened but not drenched, and not bone dry.

  • ‘Damping off’ disease, which can affect the seeds before they germinate. Damping off occurs when a pathogen that thrives on too-wet conditions is able to grow and kill the seeds before they can emerge.

  • Improper light (some seeds require light or darkness to germinate)

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A healthy tray of seedlings!

2. Seedlings fall over or start to decay at soil level

This is a sign of damping off disease (fungus organisms that attacks seeds and young seedlings, ultimately killing them). Some causes of damping off are:

  • Cold, wet soil
  • Poor soil drainage
  • Poor air circulation
  • Excessive moisture, over watering.If the soil remains consistently wet, it can rot the roots and prevent the seedling from taking in water. It may look like your seed needs water, but in actuality it needs anything but! Make sure to test the moisture of your soil by feeling with your fingers. Soil should be moist but not soaked.
  • Unsterilized soil mix, or reusing soil from previous seed starting
  • Dirty growing containers
  • Stress from low light


3. Leaves start to curl under, growth appears stunted or dwarfed


  • Too much light. Seedlings need a ‘rest’ period, which is why it is suggested to only provide 14-16 hours of light.
  • Over or under fertilization. Too little nutrients can stunt growth, too much much nutrition can damage the roots and prevent the seedling from taking in water.
  • Low temperatures. Most seeds like a soil temperature of around 65°-75°.
  • Excessive moisture and over watering. If the soil remains consistently wet, it can rot the roots and prevent the seed from taking in water. It may look like your seed needs water, but in actuality it needs anything but! Make sure to test the moisture of your soil by feeling with your fingers. Soil should be moist but not soaked.

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4. Seedlings have pale, discolored leaves; or leggy, spindly growth

Possible causes:

  • Insufficient lighting, or light source too far from your seedlings

  • Fertilizer burn from adding too much fertilizer, which can damage plants root system

  • Excessive watering

  • Nutrient deficiency – check the growing medium you are using to find out if nutrients are supplied in the mix. Some have tiny amounts to just get seedlings going, which means you then have to supply the rest until planted out in the garden.

  • Overcrowding of seedlings. Be sure to thin your seedlings to prevent this.

  • Temperatures too high.  Most seeds like a soil temperature of around 65°-75°.

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5. When transplanting you see poorly developed root systems

Possible causes:

  • Poor drainage

  • Low soil fertility

  • Damage from fertilizer salts, a.k.a. ‘fertilizer burn’, by adding too much fertilizer

  • Low soil temperatures. Most seeds like a soil temperature of around 65°-75°.

  • Compacted soil (lack of air space in growing medium), which can arise from over watering and poor drainage.


6. Moss or mold is growing on your medium

Possible Causes:

  • Lack of air circulation. Set a fan up to move air around your plants

  • Excessive moisture. If the soil remains consistently wet, it can rot the roots and prevent the seed from taking in water. It may look like your seed needs water, but in actuality it needs anything but! Make sure to test the moisture of your soil by feeling with your fingers. Soil should be moist but not soaked.

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Here’s a short message of encouragement from our master gardener, Jaci!:

“As a gardener, I know how it can be discouraging it can be when some seedlings fail or don’t look perfect. Try not to dwell on it too long; just take the opportunity to gain some knowledge on the possible underlying causes so you can be successful in the seasons ahead. I have been gardening for nearly 20 years, and each year still brings new learning experiences for me.”

Some quick tips for making sure your seedlings flourish!

  • Once your seedlings have 2-3 sets of leaves, the most important thing to do at this point is to supplement them with nutrients! Most seed starting mixes very little nutrition, if any at all. We suggest using ¼ to ½ strength liquid fish/seaweed fertilizer every other watering for your seedlings to be at their happiest!
  • Using a soilless seed starting mix to start seeds is very important. Soilless seed starting mix is light, fluffy, and perfect for your seedlings to grow strong, sturdy roots! Garden soil or potting soil is often far too heavy and lacking in drainage, making it hard on the delicate root systems of the young seedlings.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for seed starting? Share in the comments section!