Early March Flower Sowing

Early March Flower Sowing

It's still nippy outside, but sowing fingers are getting itchy! Here are some tips for the best chance of healthy flower seedlings sown early in the season.

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All over the UK seed packets are being opened and seeds sown.

Every year, by the time we get to mid February, we are desperate to start sowing our packets of seeds. But, the days are still short and the spring equinox isn’t until 20th march when the days become longer than the nights. Sowing seeds in early spring risks weak, leggy seedlings trying to get to the light. Added to this, we have had frosts until quite recently which has meant that seed sowing has been even more tricky.

Spindly Snapdragon seedlings in a seedtray sown too early

Spindly snapdragon seedlings sown too early

At the beginning of February, I sowed some snap dragons and I couldn’t believe how spindly they were. This week they were finally big enough to handle and I potted them up into their cells. Even though the stems looked really thin and weak I was still surprised by the root network that had developed. It’s always worth remembering that a lot of work goes on under the soil, even if the stems don’t look as though anything is happening. However, waiting a couple of weeks might have given me stronger seedlings.

Healthy Ammi seedling - look at those roots even though there isn't a lot of green growth!
Healthy Ammi seedling - look at those roots even though there isn't a lot of green growth!

Since then, I have watched the weather, waiting impatiently until I could start sowing properly. With the frosts ceasing (for the time being) and the equinox approaching I have decided to start. Even so, seeds that need temperatures of 18-25oC for germination can’t be left in the greenhouse, unless I have a heat mat, which I don’t. Leaving them in the greenhouse might also mean that I need to resow and I don’t have lots of extra seed. The solution has been to bring them indoors and leave them on a warm windowsill with a propagator lid on them. I also noticed that the extraction hood above the Aga has a shelf built around it that allows me to stack four seed trays with propagator lids on. This has only taken me 20 years to discover. Within four days, seeds were germinating which was a complete shock.

Now the conveyor belt starts.

  1. Seeds are sown and covered with a propagator lid. Those needing constant warm temperatures in excess of 18oC are stacked above the Aga. Those needing cooler temperatures are stood on a warm windowsill. At this stage the greenhouse isn’t providing the constant warmth needed. Stratification is a different matter entirely, and for this seeds are kept in the fridge before sowing, for a couple of weeks.
  2. As soon as the seeds germinate they are all moved to, or remain on, a sunny windowsill, lids still in place.
  3. New seed trays needing high temps then take their place above the Aga.
  4. After a couple of days the seedlings on the windowsill will be moved to the greenhouse and lids will be kept on for a couple more days. Then the lids will be removed during the day to start toughening up the seeds.
  5. As soon as a decent pair of leaves grows the seedlings will be potted into individual cells of compost, ready for further growth.

Very soon, as the days get longer and warmer I will be able to germinate seeds in the greenhouse which will make life a lot easier. Hopefully, this earlier sowing will give me some earlier flowers.

In the garden, ranunculus corms that were sprouted in the autumn (click here for a guide on sowing ranunculus in autumn), and potted up once or twice, have now been transplanted into a new raised bed, covered with a low hoop tunnel. So far, they seem to be quite happy but I would like some sustained warm weather to get the flower buds popping up. I cant wait to grow such beautiful blooms in cream, apricot, salmon pink, and pastel pinks. The thought of them makes me think of ice cream.

Ranunculus plants under polytunnel

Ranunculus planted up inside hoop tunnel

Until then, we have Mothers’ Day, one of the most flowery days of the year, filled with fragrant narcissi, hyacinths, daffodils, anemones, alstroemerias and tulips; all British grown. Bouquets are selling out fast so if you can’t find a bouquet, you could pot up some bulbs, muscari, primroses and polyanthus, from the garden or greenhouse, into a pretty glazed pot or bowl. Add some hazel twigs and cover with moss. It will last a lot longer and can be planted out afterwards.

Early Spring Bouquet
British spring flowers ready for Mothers' Day

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