January's Garden Chores: Can We start Seeds Yet?

When can I start my seeds indoors? What about cool season crops? Is it too soon, too late to start those? So go the questions of anxious gardeners who managed the holidays and are now ready to plant something--anything. Starting seeds indoors is one way for gardeners to fight that winter itch to plant, even when snow covers the ground.  

How-to on Starting Seeds

Nasturtiums started in newspaper, which will degrade once planted.

If you're starting transplants indoors, start 6-8 weeks before the plant date for outdoors, and follow these few tips.

  1. A window sill isn't enough light for seedlings. They'll become leggy and won't thrive. Twelve hours of light with a grow light that provides the necessary brightness is recommended.
  2. Use a good potting mix that drains well, and keep it moist but not wet. If the soil stays too wet there's potential for a fungal disease called damping off, which kills young transplants. Good air circulation and watering the seedlings from below, not above, will help too. 
  3. Peat Pots are good for starting seeds since they can be planted directly into the soil when the time comes, but any container can be used. If reusing planting trays, be sure to sterilize first. If using containers that had summer annuals in them, be sure to use fresh potting mix.
  4. Most homes are warm enough for seeds to germinate, but a heat mat is especially helpful. Heat mats go directly under the plant tray and should be removed once germination starts. Also, remove the dome over the seedlings once germination occurs.
  5.  If you don't have room indoors to start seeds, remember you can buy transplants to get a jump start on your cool season or warm season vegetables. We sell them at the store, both organic and non. The frost date for Western North Carolina 2017 is April 10 with a ten day standard deviation rate (meaning be prepared to cover your seedlings if a late spring frost shows up). Check here for outside planting dates. 
  6. If you have a left-over seeds from too many years to count, consider doing a viability test on those, remembering that you're testing germination rates, not vigor. The rule of thumb is that most seeds will last a couple of years, more or less. If you can't see the date on the package, it's probably time to toss them. If you'r'e saving this year's seed, put seed packets in a ziploc bag, zipped up tight, and store in the freezer. 

Tomatoes are a must, though wait to start them since their plant date is not until night temperatures are consistently  above 50 degrees.

To test for viability: Dampen a couple of paper towels and place ten seeds from one left-over packet in-between the layers, and roll up. Place the moistened paper towels in a plastic bag to keep moist, but not airtight, and leave in a warm place for a few days. If 3 germinated, that's a 30% germination rate. If 7 germinated, then you've got 70% germination rate. Obviously, you want a higher rate. The lower the rate, the more thickly you'll need to sow, or consider a new packet of seeds. 

The good news? We have seeds galore and everything you need to start your seedlings. The temptation is to buy more than you have space for or will eat. Instead: Choose the veggies you love and get a enough for succession planting, and then experiment with a few new vegetables for fun. Oh, and don't forget the flowers.


We're all in love with these tiny African violets. Their leaves look like mouse ears and their colors are so, well, colorful. They're prefect for terrariums. (And we're having a terrarium workshop this month!). 

Now is the right time to double check the houseplants for spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects. If you catch problems early, it's easy enough to take care of--a shower, insecticidal soap or horticulture oil works. So does alcohol with a q-tip. And, not yet on the fertilizer. Wait until early March, a bit closer to spring to begin feeding your indoor plants. 

BB Barns just received a large shipment of new tropcials this week, so stop by and ask Terri Joiner, our tropcials buyer, for a few suggestions. And, check out the top five plants for cleaning up indoor toxins. For those of you with four-legged housemates, here's the pet poison hotline with information on which plants are harmful for your pets.

January is the time to plan

January is the month to plan and dream a little. What worked last year, and what didn't. What area of your yard needs some serious attention? Should irrigation be considered (last year's drought), or hardscpaing (the year you get that patio)? (We do have a landscape department that can help you with that.) Do you have the onesie look happening and this is the year to unify the garden with sweeps and masses (masses don't have to be large scale, 3 of something counts)? 

Start a wish list for plants. Go for walks and check out the neighborhood. See something you like? Take a picture of it and bring that picture to the store in the spring. The staff loves to play name that plant! And chances are, we will have it. It's an easy way to get a jump on spring, and solve some of those garden issues.


Winter is a good time to glean some gardening tricks and helpful information. We're here to help. We start hosting our yearly seminars this month, and these will continue throughout the season. Check them out here and see if something strikes you. Click on the picture on the calendar and it will take you to the registration page. Easy peasy.

Now, back to the fireplace with a good garden book. (I'm rereading My Summer In A Garden, by Charles Dudley Warner. I highly recommend it.) 

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, blog writer and sales staff.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennesse.