Sow now to reap rewards much later

Polyanthus
Polyanthus

BRIAN KIDD: From pom poms to cactus, dahlias just keep on giving

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We must always plan ahead if we are to be successful in the garden. While polyanthus are starting to bud up to explode into flower in a few weeks, we must consider sowing some seeds now so there are more coming along – even though these won’t be in flower for another 15 months.

Polyanthus seeds don’t need any heat to germinate. They will be quite happy sown in a cold frame or even in a cool room because they will germinate anywhere frost-proof. But they must be in light.

This is a nice job to start the seed sowing season off. We are so used to covering seeds with newspaper and keeping them in the dark to encourage them to germinate, but polyanthus and busy Lizzies germinate far better if left in the light.

Try to obtain something a bit special rather than the cheapest packet available. Polyanthus have been hybridised and there are some superb strains.

You can buy fragrant varieties too.

If you enjoy seeing coloured primroses or even wild primroses, the same approach to germination applies. The seeds of polyanthus are not all that small but as they are ripening while still in their seed case, Mother Nature coats them with a thin film of resin which becomes harder as time passes so the seeds are protected from bad weather.

The longer the seeds are left unsown, the harder the resin becomes, so that by the time the seeds are sent to the shops it’s as hard as varnish. This stops the seeds from germinating because the water can’t penetrate the seed coat.

In the garden, it’s very likely you have little polyanthus seedlings coming up alongside the parent plant, which proves they are easy to grow if the seed is fresh.

There’s no reason why these little seedlings can’t be pricked out into seed boxes. They may not be as good as their parents as they will have been cross pollinated, so not all will be brilliant.

I have found a way around the resin problem. Take a screw-top jar and place a teaspoon of dry sharp sand into the jar. Now put the seeds in and replace the lid tightly. The seeds shaken up in the sand for five minutes and then sown on any seed compost in a tray or pot. They should germinate in about two weeks in cool, light conditions.

The seeds must be saturated, not just damp. Once sown, soak the tray in Cheshunt Compound.

Then cover the seed tray with clingfilm. Look every day to see if the seedlings have germinated. Once they have, remove the clingfilm but put the seed tray into a slightly deeper box and cover with a sheet of glass. Once large enough to handle, prick out each seedling out into insert trays.

The one with only 12 cells is the best size.

JOBS TO DO

• Set up tubers of seed potatoes in trays somewhere light and frost free. Egg trays inside seed trays are ideal. Set the tubers so the tiny buds are uppermost. Check occasionally in case some are upside down.

• Try to concentrate on producing as much garden compost as possible, used as a top dressing when earthing up potatoes in summer.

• See if you can find some stables where there may be some manure available. If you are short of space, leave the manure in bags in order that it can rot down. Mixed with compost from the heap, this is another good material to use to earth up potatoes.

• Order flowers and vegetables as plugs.

• Take dead leaves off the base of the Christmas rose (helleborus) plants and scatter sharp sand to prevent blooms being splashed with mud.