BRIAN KIDD: Great tips for first-time greenhouse growers
If you would like to sow seeds in the greenhouse, perhaps for the first time, start with something easy to germinate.Â A good choice is carnations which can be grown on as annuals in a sunny border. I suggest these because they only need 7C (45F) and they don't damp off like many other seedlings in cold weather.
IfÂ you are new to gardening, damping off disease kills seedlings quickly.They fall over and when you examine the stemsÂ it looks as if someone has squeezed them. Prevent this by using clean seed trays, fresh sterilised compost and clean water. AddÂ copper mixture to the waterÂ to avoid copper deficiency.
Copper mixture comesÂ in green containers atÂ garden centres. Use it at the initial watering time. Allow the compost to soak up the solution by putting the tray inÂ a container half-filled with it. Wait until the compost's surface glistens before allowing theÂ tray to drain.
At this time of year, heating aÂ greenhouse is expensiveÂ so why notÂ investÂ in an electric plant propagator?Â It will lastÂ years if kept clean. If you have electricity in the greenhouse, just plug itÂ in. If you don't have electricity buy a cheap plant propagator. If this is seated on a piece of metal with a paraffin heater set up below, this will do the job well.
Returning to the carnations... annual ones doÂ not do well in flower beds.They are not showy enough, but they do have aÂ place in a border. They are always admired in cottage gardensÂ and flower from JuneÂ toÂ late October here. There are lovely varieties such as Giant Chabaud,Â one of the best ofÂ the mixed colours. It can be relied on to flower well and isÂ brilliant if the soil is chalky. Sprite mixed hasÂ smaller flowers in pastel shades with red or pink frilly edges, not often seen in annual carnations.
If you wantÂ to grow perpetual carnations which are keptÂ in the greenhouse all the time, they are expensive to buy as plants. There is a perpetual mixture too, but it will take more than a year to get them to bloom in a cold greenhouse. If you can't find themÂ and you like growing unusual plants from seed, send for a seed catalogue.
Carnation seeds are best sown in John Innes seed compost as it containsÂ a small amount of chalk. Carnations love chalk. SowÂ seeds evenly. This isn't hard asÂ the seeds are not tiny and thereÂ aren't manyÂ in aÂ packet. Soak the tray in the copper solution until the compostÂ glistens.Put the tray inÂ the propagator and the seed will germinate in threeÂ weeks. Watch each dayÂ and water with clean water fromÂ a watering can with a fine rose so the compost is always moist. Err on the dry side. If in doubt, keep the compost just moistened.
Once the seedlings are bigÂ enough to handle, prick out each one into insert cells so each plant makes aÂ strong root. PlantÂ inÂ the garden at the end of April after hardening themÂ off. To do this,Â leave the plants outdoors for Â four days bringing them back into the greenhouse at night. Then leaveÂ outdoors for four daysÂ before planting outÂ in a sunny border. To ensure the plants are sturdy, nip out the tipsÂ once side shoots appear.Â
THIS WEEK'S TOP TIP
Yellow botanical crocus are blooming in sheltered places. To stop them being damaged by sparrows, cut out the shape of a cat lying down. Paint it black with a white patch on the front to make it look realistic and put two marbles where the eyes should be. Place it nearby and sparrows will keep off the blooms.