Shake, rattle and roll for a poly riot

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February has almost gone and if you remember the old saying, March will come in like a lamb and go out as a lion, or come in as a lion and go out like a lamb. We are talking about the wind of course. Do you suffer from the wind?

So I think we’ll stay indoors out of the blast and do a job which is always forgotten – sow some polyanthus seeds.

You’re probably thinking: ‘The polyanthus in the garden are only just starting to flower, surely it’s too early to sow seeds?’

Polyanthus plants need to be about a year old before we buy them to be assured of a super drift of colour.

You may have noticed seedlings growing beside polyanthus in your garden. This is because seeds grow really well if they are fresh.

Fork them out and transplant each seedling into a seed tray, pricking out no more than 24 seedlings to a standard seed tray in John Innes number 1 or 2 compost. Or one seedling to each cell in large insert cells.

If you want to grow polyanthus or coloured primroses from seed, here’s a little trick. Take a screw-top jar and pour in a heaped teaspoon of dry (it must be dry) sharp sand. Tip the seeds into the jar and replace the lid. Shake the seeds and sand together for five minutes. Drench seed compost in a tray and gently shake the seeds and sand over the surface of the compost.

Polyanthus seeds we buy are more than a year old and as soon as they become ripe a coating of resin grows over the seeds. Over time the resin gets harder and blocks a tiny hole called a micropile through which water is absorbed by the seed.

Shaking the seeds in sand breaks down the resin and allows them to absorb water. As soon as water enters the seeds a hormone reaction stimulates the root. Roots are the first thing we see when germination takes place. Horticultural scientists can explain this in more detail but all we want to know is how to get the seeds to grow!

Polyanthus don’t require much heat. A window shelf is suitable and all types of primrose germinate in light conditions. A single sheet of newspaper protects seedlings from the sun.

Once large enough the seedlings can be planted in rows in the open garden nine inches between plants and 18in between rows and transplanted eight inches apart into the flower borders next autumn.

If you can’t be bothered to grow them from seed, have a look at your garden centre and you will see a huge range of coloured flowers grown in pots. They look amazing and some are perfumed. Choose your colour and look at the undersides of the leaves to ensure there are lots of flower buds. Polyanthus and coloured primroses will bloom for another eight or nine weeks in your flower beds or in containers. They are great for cold greenhouses and conservatories too.


Plump hosta buds are now poking through the soil and tiny slugs are eating their way through them. In spring, as the leaves unfurl, we’ll see lots of holes in the leaves. To stop this, drench the plant with Slug Clear and put a generous layer of sharp sand or sharp grit all over the soil. No grit? Vermiculite will also stop them.