As your carefully sown seeds begin to germinate, and the windowsills of your house start to fill up with pots of tiny plants, you might be wondering how to keep them growing healthily until they are ready to plant out in your new cutting patch.
Seedlings may seem very delicate, but given the right conditions they will grow to make sturdy plants. They need…
As much natural daylight as you can give them. A sunny, south facing windowsill is ideal for the more tender half hardy annuals, and a greenhouse, unheated conservatory or windowsill is fine for hardy annual seedlings. As I write this I have a conservatory full (really full) of plants waiting for the weather to warm up.
Check regularly to see if your seedlings need water. A really good tip I keep hearing is to water young plants with warm rather than cold water. It doesn’t need to be too warm, just enough to take the chill off. This way the plants aren’t shocked by a cold bath each time you water them.
If you have sown a few seeds in a pot, the time will come when each plant needs its own space so that it doesn’t have to compete for light and water. Very gently tip the pot out and separate the individual plants. Then replant each one in its own pot using fresh, peat-free compost. Try to handle the plant by one of the seed leaf (the first leaf to appear), to avoid damaging the stem. Gently firm the compost around the roots and water the plant. Then it’s back onto the windowsill or into the greenhouse.
Some plants will benefit from pinching out the growing tip. Sweet peas should be pinched out when they have grown 4 pairs of leaves. Use your fingernails to very carefully remove the top pair of leaves. It might seem wrong to be taking away some of the growth that you have carefully nurtured, but doing this will encourage the plant to produce side shoots, resulting in a bushy plant and more flowers.
With the weather improving, hardy annuals can be planted out into the cutting patch as soon as they are big enough to withstand the conditions outdoors. Get them used to cooler conditions by standing them outdoors in a sunny, sheltered spot on warmer days. If you struggle with slugs in your garden, growing the plants on in pots until they are big enough to survive the odd nibble is a good idea.
Half-hardy annuals will need to be protected from frosts. Gardeners in most of the UK usually reckon on being frost free by the end of May. In the meantime, you can harden off your half-hardies alongside the hardy annuals in that sunny, sheltered position as the days warm up – but do remember to bring them back inside every night.
Next time we’ll be looking at how to provide support for plants in the cutting patch, making sure you get upright growth and straight stemmed flowers.