Seed Sowing for Summer Colour
During April gardeners will be enjoying both the improving weather and all the glorious spring flowers, more so, perhaps, in these uncertain times when we are all spending more time in our gardens than we might normally. However, this is also the time to be thinking ahead to the summer months and all the colourful flowers associated with the warmer times. Normally for most this would mean a visit, or visits, to the local garden centre or nursery to buy bedding plants in plug form in April and/or more mature plants in May for planting out when the risk of frost has passed. Unfortunately these are not normal times and this year gardeners will need to be a little more creative if they are to enjoy lots of colour this summer. For this reason many will be, or already have been, sowing seeds in order to raise their own plants. These will no doubt include the traditional “bedding plants” such as Pelargonium, Begonia, Petunia and Lobelia. Most of these require some heat in order to germinate and, as they are frost tender, need some form of protection such as a porch or greenhouse until they can be planted out in late May/early June.
However, there is another group of flowering plants which require much less attention but which still provide lots of colourful blooms through the summer. These are generally labelled on the seed packet as Hardy Annuals (HA) or, for the slightly less hardy, as Half Hardy Annuals (HHA). Most can be germinated on a windowsill now or can be sown directly outside later this month (HA) or in May (HHA). Hardy Annuals include Lodularia maritima (Alyssum), Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold), Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium) and Lathyrus odorata (Sweet Pea). Popular HHA include Antirrhinum (Snapdragon), Begonia semperflorens, Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) and Petunia.
Seeds can either be sown in a pot or tray for transplanting to modules or separate pots later or directly into modules if the seeds are large enough to handle.
*Use a good quality, preferably, peat-free compost
*Gently firm the compost
*Water or place in a water tray for a few minutes
*Sow seed thinly or as one or two seeds per module (very small seeds can be mixed with sand so that they can be handled
*Cover lightly with compost- seed packets will normally recommend a depth but around twice the diameter of the seed is a good guide.
*Gently firm again to give good contact between seed and compost
*Place in a propagator or plastic bag on a bright but not sunny windowsill
After germination if pricking out is required wait until the first true leaves develop (these will look different to the two seed leaves which grew first). Do this very gently to avoid damaging what is a delicate seedling and always handle by the seed leaves and not the stems. Place the seedling carefully in hole in the compost and gently firm in and at the end water well. If the seedlings have become a little long and floppy they can be planted quite deep in order to make sturdier plants. Keep the newly pricked out plants out of strong sun for a few days until they have rooted well.
Plants that have been grown on windowsills ,in porches or greenhouses will need hardening off before planting out in late May or early June. Put them outside during the day and warm nights or in a cold frame which can be opened during the day and closed on cold nights. Ideally this should be done for a couple of weeks before planting out.
If all this sounds a bit too daunting remember that many seeds can just be sown directly outside where they are to grow. The Hardy Annuals are particularly suitable for this but the back of the seed packet is the place to look for guidance. Any patch of bare soil can be raked over to remove stones and break up the soil. Once a fine tilth is achieved the soil can be firmed with the back of the rake before watering. Once the water has drained away make a drill or small furrow with a cane or pencil in a crisscross pattern and sow the seeds thinly in the drills. Cover lightly with soil and keep moist over the next few weeks as the seeds germinate and the seedlings develop. Some thinning might be required if the plants are too crowded. If you do this carefully it is possible to transplant seedlings to other areas.
Hopefully the above has given you some ideas to try out and will give you a garden to enjoy even more in a few months. If you have not been able to buy any seed in the last few weeks you might have some older seed left from last year or even earlier. Most seeds remain viable for several years so it is always worth trying with older seed but perhaps sow a little more thickly. Remember also that The Old Railway Line Garden Centre is still offering sales of gardening sundries which includes seeds on the internet either for click and collect or for delivery.
Also don’t forget that if you have any gardening questions on seed sowing or anything else please post them and I will try to answer if I can.
Good gardening and keep well! Next time I will look at taking cuttings from your existing plants in order to increase your stock. Watch this space!