With a little heat, plant seeds now

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People often ask me when to plant seeds, particularly people who are new to gardening.

Well, this is a good time to sow the first flower seeds indoors or in a greenhouse, but we need some warmth otherwise the seeds won’t germinate.

Begonia semperflorens is one of the best flowers for summer displays.

If you sow them now they will be in flower when you plant them out in the garden in the third week of May and will still be in full bloom when the first frosts arrive next autumn.

An electric plant propagator is a good investment and garden centres have a great range.

They comprise a heated base with a plastic dome over the top with knobs on the front for you to twiddle.

Plug in and switch on the propagator 24 hours before sowing the seeds so the temperature is about 60F (15C).

The seeds can then be sown in a seed tray. Choose either John Innes seed compost or a loamless universal mixture.

Fill the container to within a quarter of an inch from the top and sow the seeds evenly over the surface.

Begonia seeds are like dust and they are expensive. However, if you mix them and shake them up in a small amount of dry potting sand it helps distribute the seeds more evenly.

Begonias germinate far better if they are in the light. To achieve this, lightly cover the seed tray with fine vermiculite which you will find at your garden centre. This helps keep the seedlings warm, but the granules of vermiculite also absorb moisture and reflect light onto the seeds.

Germination starts about 15 to 21 days after sowing the seeds. The seedlings are notoriously slow to grow but if they are given plenty of light this speeds up the growth. Simple things like ensuring the greenhouse glass is clean or using a mirror to reflect the light helps them to grow.

If you want to make an early start in a greenhouse or window ledge without heat, seeds of Chabaud carnations can be sown now or even seeds of spring hearting cabbages such as Durham Early. They will be ready to eat in early June. Cauliflower seeds sown in the same way will produce magnificent heads in July.

TIP OF THE WEEK

The rain has badly compacted flower borders and surfaces of plant containers so fork over the surface. This will help the roots. Use a stainless steel border fork on flower beds. These are not as wide as digging forks and you will find them a pleasure to use.

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