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Mary H. of Healdsburg asks: What is the advantage of buying vegetable starts instead of sowing your own seeds?

Answer: “Starts” or seedlings, are young plants that have been sown from seeds, You can purchase starts at your local nursery or garden center in p6-packs or in individual 4” pots. Here are a few reasons why you would buy starts and not start with seeds:

1. It’s your first garden: As a new gardener, planting starts can give you the confidence to plant a vegetable garden in the first place because you’re starting with plants that are already growing.

2. You want a leg up on the growing season: Maybe you forgot to order your seeds or maybe you just don’t have the time to start from seeds. Maybe you moved during seed starting months and want to be sure that you have a garden this year.

3. Instant gratification: Maybe you don’t like planting seeds. It’s easy to head out to your favorite nursery and buy the plants you want, go home, plant them, stand back and smile.

4. No worries: Germination, damping off disease, soil temperature, light, over-watering, under-watering, are all issues that stress gardeners out because they can easily wipe out your starts and you have to start all over again.

5. Less plant loss: For all of the reasons above, you will keep more plants alive than you will kill when you begin with vegetable starts as opposed to seeds.

6. Fewer tools: When you let someone else do the sowing and growing, you don’t have to purchase the trays, shelves, lights, special seed starting soil, etc.

All you need to do is have your garden bed ready to be planted.

You purchase only the plants and compost, if needed.

Most vegetable gardeners have learned some of their best gardening practices the hard way (including me). It takes time to find out what works and doesn’t work.

Kelly Laffey of Santa Rosa asks: I’m a brand new gardener and want to plant a vegetable garden.

Can you give me some tidbits to help me avoid making some serious mistakes?

Answer: Here are some of the biggest vegetable gardening mistakes to avoid. As gardeners, we know it’s impossible to avoid every problem in the garden, but these tips should help reduce some of the vegetable-growing challenges:

Starting seeds too soon. If seeds are started too soon, plants will grow too tall before it’s time to plant them, if they even germinate at all.

Planting too early. If plants are planted too soon, they too, might not grow, rot, or be forever stunted.

Not checking the soil. A soil test is the best way to know what pH and nutrients the soil needs, if you want to grow a healthy garden.

A soil test helps you decide what amendments the garden needs before planting.

Planting too much. Be realistic when it comes to the size of your vegetable garden. It’s easy to get carried away and plant too much

Not following instructions. Be sure to read the seed packet instructions or the transplanting information for every vegetable you plant.

Follow the instructions for placing plants, spacing plants, and thinning plants.

Overwatering. It’s important to maintain good soil moisture. Wait for the top inch or so of soil to dry before watering.

Some plants droop naturally during the day, so wait to see if they perk up before adding more water.

Letting garden get weedy. A weedy garden causes problems by competing with vegetable plants for sun, water and food.

Insect pests are attracted to weeds. Add a layer of organic mulch to prevent weeds from growing.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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