Get a jump on your spring planting

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Spring is fast approaching. Gardeners are itching to start their summer gardens. One way to get started now, before the summer rains come pouring down, is to browse seed catalogs, order some interesting varieties and plant them soon.

Most plants will mature about 90 days after seeding, so you can start harvesting veggies and enjoying flowers by June if you plant early in March. With more than a month before we get longer days and warmer, wetter weather, it’s a good time to plant seeds.

Start by dreaming. Though we can garden year- round, we can use some dreaming downtime. Check seed catalogs online or order some to ponder in an easy chair. Several companies have seeds that do well here and come highly recommended from local gardeners.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers hundreds of varieties of flowers, herbs and veggie seeds. It emphasizes varieties that perform well in warmer climates like ours. Its Cosmic Purple carrot might be worth a try.

At, you’ll find a list of seeds that have been perfected to grow well in Hawaii. Its Anuenue or Manoa lettuces are tried and true for great salads.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds carries a huge variety and many organic seeds. Think Fairy Tale eggplant or check out the many nasturtium varieties for nice bedding plants as well as color and taste accents for many dishes.

Though some Seeds of Change seeds may be found on local seed turnstiles, you probably won’t find Lavender Bergamot, an unusual, colorful and tasty medicinal herb.

You definitely will have to go to Territorial Seeds online to find Star of David okra and Red Ruffled peppers. The small size and sweet flavor of these peppers makes them perfect for pupu parties, stuffed with cheese and baked.

And don’t forget to check out Fedco Seeds. Though located in Maine, it sells some fantastic organic and heirloom seeds. Imagine a string bean named Dragons Tongue and picture the family enjoying Dakota Black popcorn.

Dreaming done. Seeds in the mail. Time to prepare for planting.

Though root crops and some bedding plants might be best planted directly in their beds, herbs, lettuces and bushing vegetables will probably fare better if started in seedling trays. Individual six packs are probably the best way to start most veggies.

Create a good starting place for seedlings by using a seeding mix with lots of peat and some perlite. To germinate, seeds need a moist (not soggy wet) soil environment with good drainage. Temperature is probably the most important environmental factor for germination and seedling growth. Optimum temperatures range between 80 and 90 F and can be achieved if you place seedling trays in a warm place out of full sun. Most seeds do not require light to germinate and some are actually inhibited by too much sunlight.

Some larger seeds, particularly beans, get a good start if you soak them in water for a day before planting. Once planted, maintaining the proper moisture level for germination can be difficult especially with tiny seeds planted near the soil’s surface. Covering the trays with plastic wrap until the seeds germinate can help but open them daily to allow airflow and inspect for sprouts. Once the sprouts appear, remove the plastic to prevent fungal diseases like damping off. Anecdotal success against these diseases has been reported using a light layer of vermiculite on top of the seedling mix. Once plants sprout, gardeners have also reported preventing damping off by spraying the seedlings with chamomile tea every day until they develop true leaves.

Plants don’t need much soil fertility until they have exhausted the resources stored in the seeds. Once they have produced their first true leaves they are probably ready to get a little fish emulsion or be moved to a richer soil mix.

While your seedlings are enjoying their nursery days, you can begin preparing their beds. Organically rich, friable soil that drains well and has an adequate water supply will help your seedlings flourish. Plan to transplant to places with the proper sun or shade exposure for your plants. Remember full sun at lower elevations can be really hot and dry and plants might need some hours of shade and lots of water. The afternoon cloud cover at upper elevations provides hours of shaded sunlight that can slow a plant’s growth. Choose a location and provide conditions to match your plants needs for best results.

Tropical gardening helpline

Dennis asks: What are the particular needs for bromeliads to flourish?

Answer: All bromeliads are native to warm, moist climates and will do best in these conditions. Some are more shade tolerant than others. Many have cups or tanks that should be kept filled with water. Even those with rosettes and insignificant or nonexistent tanks prefer to be watered in the center as well as on the surrounding soil.

Most bromeliads are very adaptable. Although they may have particular preferences, they can and will thrive in a wide variety of conditions and soil types and in many different locations.

According to Andrew Steens in his “Bromeliads for the Contemporary Garden,” terrestrial bromeliads like Cryptanthus, Dyckia, Orthophutum, Pitcairnia and Puya grow best with adequate drainage in neutral to slightly alkaline soils.

Epiphytic bromeliads have less well-developed root systems and seem to do better in a medium that is more acidic. Epiphytic varieties are well suited to mounting in the crotches of trees or on stumps. They need to be well secured and watered often until established.

With a wide variety of bromeliads available, you surely can find some that will do well in your location.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, consultant and an organic farmer living in Captain Cook.

Gardening events

– Wednesday: “The Ins and Outs of Farm Taxes” meets from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Yano Hall in Captain Cook opposite the Manago Hotel. It is presented by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association. Contact Mary Lou Moss at 329-4035 for more information.

– Saturday: “Natural Farming Methods” meets from 9 a.m. to noon at the Laupahoehoe School garden. Drake Weinert will teach ways to improve soil fertility with microbial cultures. E-mail reservations to Donna Mitts at

– March 6: A farm tour and luncheon is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Earth Matters Farm. Ken Love on will discuss “The Future of Farming in Hawaii.” Donation of $25 for adults and $10 for children is requested. To reserve a space and get directions, call 939-7510 or e-mail

– Ongoing: Plant advice lines — consult with master gardeners and tropical gardening advisers from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays at the Kona Outdoor Circle at 331-2426 or 9 a.m. to noon Thursdays at the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service at 322-4892, and Tuesdays and Fridays at UH CES in Hilo at 981-5199.

West Hawaii Today – Features > Get a jump on your spring planting

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