Seed sowing SuccessAlison Marsden
With Spring in sight many gardeners’ thoughts turn to sowing seeds for this summer’s annual flower and vegetable crops and very little beats the excitement of seeing those tiny green shoots emerge. Here are my tips for success:
I recommend that you make a list of what you need and have space for before shopping for seeds whether online or at the garden centre. It easy to get carried away with so many choices on offer.
Consider how many plants you want: a packet of 500 seeds may be cheaper per seed than 250 but modern germination rates are very high and do you want that many plants?
Varieties labelled F1 are hybrids that are cross pollinated in a controlled process making the seeds much more expensive. You may get 10 seeds in a packet instead of the usual 500 for a field pollinated variety. Worth it if you want the specific characteristics of the plant, but not if you just want the ‘common or garden’ version.
Sow tiny seeds much more shallowly then large seeds: as a guide plant at a depth equal to the size of the seed. Tiny seeds do not have much food stored inside to support growth until the shoot emerges into the light to photosynthesise.
Resist the temptation to plant half-hardy seeds too early even if you have a greenhouse. They will be tall and spindly before you can plant them outside after the last frost. Of course what constitutes ‘too early’ is totally dependent on where your garden is but even down here in Kent there is risk of a frost into late April and snow in April is also not unknown.
I also ask you to use Peat-free compost as you start to sow seeds and pot on plants this year. For 70 years gardeners in the UK have been presented with packaged compost to use in their gardens and hanging baskets that contains peat. Now growing awareness of the importance of conserving our natural environment and wildlife and greater sustainability means that we understand the problems of continuing to destroy peat bogs.
- Peat landscapes are hugely important for the plants and wildlife that depend on them..
- Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, more than the equivalent area of trees.
- Peat bogs act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater to help reduce flood risk
- Peat is laid down at only 1-2mm a year so is not replaced as quickly as it is currently extracted.
Investment over the last 10 years in reliable alternatives to peat means that increasing numbers of commercial growers and organisations like The National Trust and The RHS have gone peat-free. But amateur gardeners still use 2.25 million cubic metres of peat a year, and a large part of the reason is that there has been little publicity about peat-free compost in the national media and so not everyone is aware of the issue and the solutions. Additionally product packaging still hides the real situation in many cases: any compost not labelled explicitly ‘peat-free’ will contain peat, usually from 40-70%.
There are many alternatives to peat but we have to create a demand in nurseries, garden centres & DIY stores by insisting on peat-free compost.
Happy seed-sowing from Alison
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