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The author's jade plant that began as a 'cutting'. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

Indoor potting and seedling recommendations 

By Brandon Walker EBS LOCAL EDITOR

BIG SKY – As Americans shift to working and schooling remotely in response to the COVID-19 virus, activities to occupy time indoors that adhere to social distancing suggestions are in high demand. While warming temperatures interspersed with the occasional snow flurry suggest spring’s approach to southwest Montana, gardening season is nearly upon us. In preparation for the transition to the yard or even simply starting a plant to admire in the kitchen window, there are numerous ways to flex your green thumb inside for the time being.

“Right now, the best thing, really, for people is house plants,” said landscape designer and horticulturist Nick Turner of Big Sky Landscaping. “…If you plan on having a summer garden, right now would be a great time to start propagating and growing your seeds for food production this summer.”

Turner, who oversees roughly over 7,000 plants, trees and shrubs at the BSL garden center, shared three different methods of indoor gardening that people can try their hand at while social distancing.

If you already have any indoor house plant such as, spider, bamboo or jade plants, Turner suggests ‘cuttings’ as a simple way to start a new plant. A cutting is obtained by literally cutting a shoot or stock off of your existing plant and attempting to grow it in a new pot or container. 

“An easy way to propagate cuttings is by simply cutting them [off] and putting them into soil and keeping it moist enough and seeing if they take root,” Turner said. He recommends supplementing your potting soil with a rooting hormone to help mitigate the risk of the new plant rotting.

Turner, who started with BSL in 2009, said about 50 percent of cuttings successfully take root. He advises the use of a 4-inch pot filled three quarters full of potting soil. “Make sure to water everything well when you do first transplant,” Turner added. After the initial planting, keep the plants moist but do not overwater, while also ensuring they get sunlight for roughly two thirds of the day. 

Now is a prime time to start seedlings, as well, Turner mentioned. He recommends cucumbers as a worthy selection due to their quicker maturity period. “You want to try to find seeds that are going to have a shorter growing time,” he said in recognition of the brief growing season in Montana. “…If you do start it inside right now, you’re going to give yourself a better chance. Just get ahead of it so they’re mature.”

Turner suggests filling your seedling container two thirds of the way with potting soil and abiding by the instructions on your seed packet regarding the depth at which to plant the seeds. Constant sun and artificial light are key to a seedlings’ success and even accelerate their growth rate to ensure they’re ready for the growing season.

“I usually don’t tell people to put seedlings or plants that they’re growing inside outside until mid-June in Big Sky,” Turner said. Late season frosts can be devastating to both the garden and the gardener. 

Lastly, bromeliads are an eye-catching flower that succeed indoors, requiring about 50 percent sunlight each day. “They typically put off an orange or a pink spike flower right out of the middle of them and they only do that once in their life typically,” Turner said. 

Water bromeliads adequately, allowing the soil to nearly dry before repeating the process in a half-gallon pot, as they could grow to be as tall as two feet, Turner advised. “You can actually fill the center of it with water and it will kind of self-feed for a little while,” he added.

According to Turner, one other creative indoor gardening project is Bonsai, a technique in which any plant can be utilized. “[Bonsai is] the art of dwarfing plants,” he said. “…You can get so creative with Bonsai. You can make these little terrariums, get moss and stuff from the woods and put little rocks in there.”

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