5 things for a 252 gardener to do this weekend

The warm temperatures predicted for the Greenville, NC, area this weekend may tempt you to head out to a local nursery, buy some plants and start gardening.

Whoa -- wait just a minute. Despite the spring-like weather, it's still winter!

The last frost date in Pitt County is April 1, so there's a good chance that anything you plant now won't survive until spring.

So what can a 252 gardener with planting fever do in late February?

1. You can buy some plants -- just don't put them in the ground yet. Plant them in a pot which can be moved inside or to a protected spot if our area does experience a frost.

If you are bound and determined to plant in your flower bed now, select a sunny spot. Cover the roots with lots of mulch for protection. And make sure you have fabric to cover the plant in the event of a freezing night.

And don't blame us if your plant dies. That's just the risk you take.

2. Study seed catalogs or nursery websites and plan what you're going to plant outside after April 1. Think about creating an all-white garden, a shade garden, an herb garden or a butterfly garden this spring.

3. Purchase some seeds and sew them indoors. Seeds should be started about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date.

Now is the perfect time for starting such vegetables as beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach and tomatoes. The seedlings will be ready to transplant when the weather warms up, giving you a jump start on the growing season.

If you don't know how to start seeds indoors, directions are below.

It's easy, fun for the whole family, saves money and allows you to grow heirloom plants and flower and vegetable varieties that aren't readily available at local nurseries.

4. Get your yard and flower beds ready for spring. The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service suggests that you fertilize trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers with a slow-release fertilizer. Also, apply mulch to perennial beds, trees and shrubs. And clean up pine cones and fallen branches in your yard and flower beds.

5. Instead of buying plants now, spend your gardening money on supplies and tools so you'll be prepared for the upcoming spring gardening season.

Start seeds indoors in late February so they will be ready to plant in your eastern North Carolina garden after April 1. (Photo via Modern Gardener website)

Late February is a great time to get a jump on gardening by starting seeds indoors. The seedlings will be ready to plant outdoors in 6 to 8 weeks. Seed starting kits are available, but you can do it yourself with things you have around the house. Here is how to start seeds indoors, according to Burpee Seeds and The Old Farmer's Almanac.

You need: Seeds of your choice Sterile seed-starting potting mix Containers with drainage holes Pencil with eraser A shallow waterproof tray Newspaper or plastic wrap and toothpick to poke holes Warmth Light Water Attention

Any container that will hold the starting mix will work, like last year's plastic pots, egg cartons or yogurt cups. Burpee Seeds says there is no point in using containers more than 3 to 4 inches across since you will be transplanting the young plants in the garden or a larger container. First, clean and sterilize recycled pots in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. If a container doesn't have draining holes, poke a few so excess water can drain away. Fill the pots to just below the rim with moistened growing mix. Sprinkle on a few seeds and press them into the soil with the eraser end of a pencil, or cover the seeds with a scant 1/6 inch of soil. Lay damp newspaper over the soil to keep the seeds moist and dark. Or loosely cover the containers with plastic wrap and prick small ventilation holes with a toothpick. Then place the pots in a shallow waterproof tray and set the tray on top of the refrigerator or dryer. At this point, the seeds need warmth, not light, so they can germinate. Check the seeds daily to make sure they are moist and to see if they have sprouted. Don't water the pots from the top -- pour water into the tray. When you see green sprouts, remove the covering and place the plants in bright light -- either a south-facing window or a florescent shop light from the home improvement store -- at a comfortable room temperature of 60-70 degrees. Continue to keep the seedlings moist. When the seedlings get their second set of leaves, they will be ready to transplant in the garden or a larger container.