Last week we chatted about one of the most colourful plants of all, roses. These stalwarts of the garden are a little investment, in both time and cash. They'll take a while to achieve their full potential. However, if you're impatient, gardening to a budget and yet still love colour, then read on!
To achieve a brilliant display which can include all the colours of the rainbow in your plot as early as possible in the summer in your gardens takes a little planning. Just about now our bulbs are beginning to show - these were probably planted last autumn and starting with snowdrops and crocus will keep us interested right through to early summer.
Spring will soon be upon us, our soil hasn't really cooled down that much over the winter as the climate has been unusually mild after successive years of being unusually harsh. So, you can begin to prepare the colourful progression of plants by following this guide to indoor sowing of half-hardy annual seeds.
Half-hardy annuals are usually from warmer climes such as South Africa and South America so they are not able to handle frost. If you sow them now indoors and they will be ready for transplanting outdoors in May when fear of frost is past. I'm imagining a garden full of vibrant bedding plants such as French and African marigolds, lobelia, cleome, busy lizzies, petunias, zinnias, gazanias, cosmos, molucella, Felicia, helichrysum, brachycome and amaranthus, all of which can be grown inexpensively from seed.
You don't need a greenhouse - just a bit of space indoors, on a kitchen windowsill for example. The temperature needs to be about 18°C to 21°C so if using an unheated greenhouse, you will need to use a heated propagator. Essentially, you are protecting the seeds - wrapping them in warm air but while doing that there are few things to look out for. You are also creating a perfect atmosphere for diseases such as mildew - many seed companies anticipate this and dress the seeds in powders to prevent fungal outbreaks.
So what do you need? Firstly, a seed tray or small pots. For best results, use special seed compost - this has the correct texture and nutrient level for seeds. Fill containers with compost to within about an inch of the rim, firm down gently and water the compost.
Now sow your seeds according to instructions on the packet - they will give you correct depth and space.
Some seeds are hard to handle as they are as fine as dust - such as lobelia and petunia. These you can mix with a bit of fine sand so you can better see what you are doing. Use a kitchen sieve to lightly cover the seeds with a sprinkling of soil or a sprinkling of vermiculite. Pop in a label so you know what the plant is going to be.
Now you need to water the seeds very carefully without causing disturbance. Either use a fine rose on a watering can or recycle a kitchen detergent sprayer to get a really fine mist. Finally, cover the cartons or tray with either a piece of glass or cling film will do as well and if using heated propagator, close the lid.
Now go off and do something different - it will take anything from 7 to 21 days for germination to occur. As soon as this happens, remove the cling film or lift up the lid.
This is essential to get the air flowing again and prevent fungal diseases flourishing.
The first pair of leaves are known as seed leaves and aren't the "true" leaves of the plant. As soon as the true leaves appear you can begin to prick out seedlings for potting on.
With a dibber or blunt pencil, gently tease out the seedling holding it by its leaf, not the stem as this will crush it and pot in ordinary compost in a 3" pot. Keep your seedlings moist and fed fortnightly. Be careful not to saturate seeds or seedlings as this can cause them to rot.
And that's it.
Make a note on your calendar for April to start hardening off these plants. This means gently acclimatising them to the outside world.
To plant your seeds, you can improvise and recycle yoghurt cartons and eggs trays -
just make sure they are clean and have some drainage holes.