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We are now well into November and in the greenhouse and garden there is so much to do. Here in South Wales we’ve had a short cold snap which froze the dahlias but they seem to have recovered. Their days are numbered though and I will be digging them up soon. If you are digging up your dahlias and looking to store them, I did put some instructions together, earlier this year in January, so feel free to take a peek. I hope they help.
In the meantime, I have been planting and sowing ranunculus, sweet peas, anemones, and some bulbs. Boxes of tulips have also arrived and they need planting out too, hopefully before the end of the month. For more ideas on what you can sow throughout the cold months, you can find our Sowing Guide here.
Planting Anemones and Ranunculus Corms in Autumn
Anemones (left) and Ranunculus (right)
Ranunculus and Anemones are beautiful flowers, remarkably easy to grow, and if you cut their stems to the ground they flower even more. They love the cooler weather of spring for flowering and are therefore grown over winter. Against all logic, I have bought my ranunculus from a specialist supplier this year. I could not resist the thought of picking those Persian buttercups for bouquets and weddings in the spring. My anemones, on the other hand, have magically survived the year stuffed into a plant pot behind the greenhouse so I thought that as they had been brave enough to sprout, I would give them a go.
Ranunculus corms look like dried shrivelled claws when you get them. They are delicate, so handle them carefully to avoid breaking talons off
Anemone corms look like shrivelled black buttons. But you treat them the same way as the ranunculus.
On the day you want to plant either of your corms, soak them in cold water for a good while before planting (3-4 hours for ranunculus; 24 hours for anemones). Some growers advocate trickling water for this time, but I find that replacing the water a few times is enough to keep it fresh and oxygenated. You will see that the corms once soaked really start to plump up. Do not worry if this doesn’t happen as they will still expand in the compost.
Ranunculus Corms - Dried (left) and Soaked/Plumped (right)
Once your corms have had a good soak you can start sprouting, and there are 2 methods you can employ.
- Half fill a plant pot tray with moist potting compost. Do not add water. Scatter either your ranunculus or anemone corms on top so that they are only just touching and cover with more compost, filling the tray. Store in a dark cool room for a couple of weeks to get them sprouting. After a week or so, check to ensure the compost is not too wet and whether any corms are rotting or mouldy. If they are, remove them and dispose.
- Once the corms have sprouted you can plant them up in a favourite patio pot, or out in a sheltered, sunny covered garden bed for the winter. Ranunculus claws are planted 2.5cm deep and 20cm apart, with the talons pointing down into the soil or potting compost. Anemones are planted 5cm deep and 20cm apart. I have previously planted mine into a raised bed and covered with a low polythene tunnel to add protection from excessive rain. If temperatures fall below -4°C, I add fleece inside the tunnel.
Ranunculus sprouting in plant pots
An additional method which I am using this year is as follows.
- The corms have first been soaked for the allotted time. For each corm, ¾ fill a small plant pot or 2-inch module with compost. Place one ranunculus claw on top with the talons pointing down into the compost. If planting anemones, place the button with the shallower side facing up. If in doubt I plant them on their sides. Cover with compost and place in a cool frost-free greenhouse to sprout.
- Once the corms have sprouted with greenery showing, take a plastic vegetable crate or a larger plant pot and fill with compost. Repot the sprouted corms and leave in a cool space such as a cold-frame, sheltered sunny spot, polytunnel; or sink into a garden bed for the winter. Cover to protect from adverse weather if it gets too wet/cold. My plan is to plant them into crates, sink them into the garden and cover with a caterpillar tunnel. The beauty of the crate is that it can easily be removed once the flowers have finished to ‘do their thing’ and not take up valuable garden space. Move pots into the greenhouse if there is an extended freeze or extreme weather but do be careful. I lost all of my ranunculus one year due to rot from over-heating.
- Following all of that, do not forget to keep an eye on your corms for anything untoward. Mice love them and I have previously covered pots with a piece of chicken wire to protect the plants.
- If you are using caterpillar style tunnels, allow for ventilation on warmer days as they do not like to overheat.
Sowing Sweet Peas in Autumn
Unbelievably, I don’t think it is too late to sow sweet peas, but having just sown mine I'm bound to say that.
It is worth knowing that autumn sown sweet peas are much bigger, stronger and more floriferous than spring sown. If you have time for a cup of tea, you have time to sow these worthy beauties and you won’t regret it.
Again, I have two methods for you to have a go at.
- An optional first step is to soak your sweet pea seeds for 48 hours or so to chit them and get them started on the road to germination. (I didn’t have the patience for this as my tea was getting cold.) You can use 4-inch pots and root trainers for sowing sweet peas which allow for long strong root development which these climbers will appreciate later.
- Fill your pots or trainers with potting compost up to 2 cm below the rim. Place 2 seeds onto the top of the compost in each module or pot. Water carefully but thoroughly. Cover the seeds with 2cm depth of compost. The seeds will need 15-18°C to germinate so you may need to find a sunny window indoors.
- As soon as the seeds have germinated, take them outside immediately and place in a protected cold-frame or sheltered south facing spot where they can spend the winter. You don’t want well developed shoots at this stage. What you need is strong root growth and really hardy plants that are ready to romp away when you plant them out in early spring. Only protect the seedlings if there is extreme weather or severe frost below -4°C. At this point they can be temporarily moved into a greenhouse.
- In January check the seedlings for side shoots as these will form the main flowering stem. If there are no side shoots then nip the top off the main stem, above 4 leaf sets, to promote the sprouting of the side shoots. Also carefully break up the soil surface and top up with more compost.
- Because these plants are so hardy, they can be planted out into well prepared ground from February/March, as long as there isn’t a deep freeze.
Sweet Peas in root trainers, before they get covered with compost
Here is an alternative for the brave and ambitious. I love a challenge and will be doing things a little differently this year.
- I have sown my seeds and am waiting for them to germinate indoors. As soon as they do, I will whip them outdoors into the cold-frame.
- When the shoots are about 3.5cm long I will take them out of their pots and snip off the tap root, making sure that the little side roots are left. I will then pop the seedlings back into individual pots or root trainers and put them back into the cold-frame for the winter. I would like these little side roots to develop into a strong network of roots to help in the production of long strong flower stems. I do not want green growth over winter and will only protect them if the weather is extreme or if there is a severe frost.
- In January I will check the stems and side shoots. I will also break up the soil surface and top up with additional compost.
- I will then plant out in February/March into the pre-prepared ground.
I am very excited about this method as it is completely new to me and I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to tips and snippets. I am also quite nervous as I have purchased expensive seed and feel like I’m taking quite a risk, but I believe it’s worth a try. It will be really interesting to see if there is a difference. In order to really check this out, I will also be using some of last year’s seeds, which I collected, as well as my fancy new ones for a fair comparison.
I hope that some of what I have provided here is useful. I wanted to show you that there is always more than one method that can be used. Perhaps that’s why there are so many styles of gardening. Armed with a bit of knowledge we can all develop our own style to fit our own personal constraints and ambitions. Maybe we all have a bit of magpie within us.
Do not forget to check all your pots and precious seedlings for slugs, overwintering caterpillars and greenfly and any other pests.
Final bouquet for the year on an early autumn morning
If you'd like to find out more about La-Di Dardy Flowers, you can find them on Instagram or go to https://www.flowersfromthefarm.co.uk/members/la-di-dardy-flowers