EARLY RISERS — 9 TO CHOOSE FROM
Plants you can sow now to ensure a long flowering season
THE days are (at last) starting to get a little longer, but who knows what the weather’s going to be like this month. Thinking about seed sowing might seem a bit of a gamble, but it’s an inescapable fact that some flowers – some veg, too – take time. That’s time to germinate, time to grow and time to develop before flowering or cropping. And sowing seeds in January will really help you get ahead of the seasons.
Certain seeds – begonias and pelargoniums, for example – can be sown in a heated propagator in a greenhouse, in a conservatory or on the windowsill this month. Plants with small seeds, including begonias and lobelias, germinate into tiny seedlings and take many weeks – months even – longer to mature than large-seeded marigolds and calendulas, for example. Starting early gives them the head start they need.
Perennials tend to have a long development period, and by getting them started sooner rather than later you will help ensure that they flower in their first year. In fact, many perennial plants flagged as ‘first-year flowering’ will only flower in their first year if sown early.
There are also early risers that don’t need any extra heat. Chard or lettuce, for example, require nothing more than a clear lid to keep the sun’s warmth in and the chills out, while some seeds can be sown in open pots on the bench in a cold greenhouse. Radishes can be sown in the greenhouse border.
If you didn’t get around to doing it in October or November, sweet peas are happy to be sown in January. Personally, I wouldn’t sow them outside this month, but the little extra protection of a cold greenhouse is all they need. Meanwhile, pulsatillas and other alpines can be left outside, as winter cold is one of the factors that promotes germination.
The one thing all these seeds needs is good light. Make sure the greenhouse or conservatory glass is newly cleaned – the propagator lid, too. If you’re using a windowsill, clean the window inside and out. Poor light will encourage soft, stretched stems that invite disease.
Damping-off disease is the biggest danger, which rots seedling roots at soil level. Prevention is the only cure and cleanliness is crucial. Use small pots or cells so that any infection is restricted. Don’t overwater and never use water from water butts – it’s tap water only for seedlings.
I won’t pretend that early sowing is as simple as sowing in March or April, but the extra attention it takes is a small price to pay for the results.
Early sowing pays dividends for the likes of delphiniums, echinacea and antirrhinums. If sown this month, they will flower their hearts out this summer