A good planting mix is the best way to start vegetables from seed

I would like to grow some of my own vegetable and flower plants from seed this year. Can you recommend a good soil mix for starting seed?

Dirt is what you sweep up with a broom. Soil is what you find in the garden. Growing media is what plants are started in, and it should not contain soil or dirt. It can be purchased already mixed, or you can mix your own at home. There are a number of recipes for growing media, but all have two primary components -- peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. Here is a recipe from Rutgers Cooperative Extension:


10 gallons shredded sphagnum peat

10 gallons horticultural grade vermiculite (or perlite)


1 cup dolomitic lime

1/2 cup superphosphate (20 percent P)

1 cup (5-10-10) granular fertilizer

The above should be mixed together thoroughly. Add water and mix again. Keep adding water until the mixture is evenly moist but still fluffy. If you would like to buy it premixed, call a good garden center and ask for growing media or seed-starting media.

My neighbor and I both have blue spruces, but his tree is much bluer than mine. Mine is partially shaded by trees but still gets six to eight hours of sun each day. Would that cause the color difference?

There is great variability in the color of blue spruce. Shade may have a small effect, but more than likely you have different varieties (actually cultivars) of the tree. The species plant, Picea pungens, has an overall green color and only has hints of blue in the foliage. It would more accurately be called Colorado spruce. The Latin name for the original blue spruce is Picea pungens f. glauca. It is a naturally occurring form of Colorado spruce and would more accurately be called Colorado blue spruce. Many new cultivars have been developed from this tree. They vary in size, form and color. Some are an intense powder blue that can look very odd in the landscape.

1. Fruit trees can be pruned now, but it is best to prune in late winter. Pruning on mild days in the winter may stimulate growth and cause a premature loss of dormancy.

2. We may well have another snowy winter on the way. When plants get loaded down with snow, gently sweep them to prevent injury.



Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site