Time to get sowing

Looking good for a bumper crop of rhodochiton at last. Fingers crossed they all survive!

Looking good for a bumper crop of rhodochiton at last. Fingers crossed they all survive!

Spring is on its way, whatever the weather is trying to tell us and I am well into the sowing cycle. Most sowing in the propagator is done in March with a big push around the middle of the month. Hardy annuals are sown outside where they are to grow in April or even May but some half-hardy annuals, that cannot tolerate frost, are sown at any time from late January to April in the propagator. I start some early because they take a long time to reach flowering time so an early start means early flowers and a longer flowering season. But consider where you are going to put the seedlings once they are taken out of the heated propagator. Moving them from warmth to a cold greenhouse will not do them any good. Antirrhinums are sown early because they will tolerate low temperatures but begonias, which are also sown early, will not stand cold.

So here is what I do and what I have been up to. All photos (except the past two) are this year’s crop.

First. I have a propagator in a cold greenhouse ( a part is heated to 5c min) and the propagator is about 3mx1m with heated blankets with thermostats that can be set to various temperatures but which provide (at present) a min of 20c. You need to give your seeds and seedlings warmth and, once germinated, light. Very high temperatures are not a huge advantage and 20-25c is quite warm enough. Be careful of small propagators on windowsills – they can get very hot in sun. I open and close the lids of the propagator frequently according to the weather. If in doubt, er on the cool side. Colder conditions will mean slower germination but may prevent the seedlings getting drawn and spindly or from drying out as they start to grow – which will be fatal.

Start with clean pots and trays and fresh compost. I add perlite to the compost to improve drainage.

Fill the trays with 'fluffed up' multipurpose compost and level but do not firm. I usually add perlite to the compost to improve drainage.

Fill the trays with ‘fluffed up’ multipurpose compost and level but do not firm. I usually add perlite to the compost to improve drainage.

I use cell trays with six cells for most sowings. If there are up to 25 seeds per pack each pack gets a cell of its own. If there are more seeds then I sow into more than one cell. This means that if the dreaded damping off appears (see below) I may not lose all the seedlings because there is a barrier between the different batches.

Once the seed trays are filled with compost I give them a tap on the bench to settle the compost and sieve a little compost over that if i am sowing fine seeds

Once the seed trays are filled with compost I give them a tap on the bench to settle the compost and sieve a little compost over that if I am sowing fine seeds

Water the trays before sowing. Ideally soak the trays or, if you are in a hurry, water them from above.

Water the trays before sowing. Ideally soak the trays or, if you are in a hurry, water them from above.

Large seeds are sown by hand but, for easy sowing, I often pour the seeds into my left palm, partly fold my hand to make a crease and work the seeds with the finger of my right hand to sow them evenly over the surface. Sowing direct from the pack usually results in a great rush of seeds and uneven sowing.

Sow the seeds really thinly on the surface.

Sow the seeds really thinly on the surface.

Seeds including foxgloves, petunias, begonias, poppies, nicotiana, primulas and impatiens need light to germinate. Other, very fine seeds like lobelia are easily buried too so it is best not to cover them with compost. For these I use perlite which maintains some moisture around the seeds so they are less likely to dry out as they germinate but allow light to reach the seeds.

I cover most seeds with a layer of perlite so it keeps some moisture around the seeds but lets light in - some seeds need light to germinate. But sometimes sieved compost will do for large and easy seeds. Make sure you label them. I make a note of when seeds were sown so I can see how long they take to germinate. Germination times vary from a few days to a month or more.

I cover most seeds with a layer of perlite so it keeps some moisture around the seeds but lets light in – some seeds need light to germinate. But sometimes sieved compost will do for large and easy seeds. Make sure you label them. I make a note of when seeds were sown so I can see how long they take to germinate. Germination times vary from a few days to a month or more.

Once the seeds germinate make sure they get light. I move them to a cooler place too so the seedlings stay stocky and easy to transplant. When moving the seedlings always handle them only by their seed leaves. If you damage or break a seed leaf the seedling will survive but if you hold and crush the stem it will die.

With luck you will get a good crop of seedlings. They are ready to move on to their next stage when the first true leaves appear in the centre of the seed leaves - like these salvias

With luck you will get a good crop of seedlings. They are ready to move on to their next stage when the first true leaves appear in the centre of the seed leaves – like these salvias

The seedlings will not grow much for a few days after transplanting and should be kept in shade but, once settled, they should grow away well. Be careful to keep them moist but do not overwater them.

The seedlings will not grow much for a few days after transplanting and should be kept in shade but, once settled, they should grow away well. Be careful to keep them moist but do not overwater them.

Damping off is a fungal disease that kills seedlings. It spreads through the compost, causing the seedlings to constrict at soil level and they collapse. These antirrhinums went from healthy to dying in 24 hours because I did not open the propagator top last Sunday. One day of laziness and disaster struck! Luckily the seedlings in the other two cells were not affected and I saved them.

The nightmare of all seed-sowers - damping off.

The nightmare of all seed-sowers – damping off.

Damping off is caused by:

Cold, wet compost

Old compost

Over-firming the compost

Dirty trays and pots

Early sowing in cold, airless conditions

I sow hardy annuals and some veg in cell trays so the seedlings do not get any root disturbance.

I sow hardy annuals and some veg in cell trays so the seedlings do not get any root disturbance. This is Thyme.

Many hardy annuals do not like root disturbance and it is better to sow them direct in cell trays rather than transplant them. It sounds fiddly but it is not that much of a chore and it is essential for zinnias. But you do not need to sow until late March or April.

Lagurus ovatus seedlings. Two or three seeds sown per cell.

Lagurus ovatus seedlings. Two or three seeds sown per cell.

Those lagurus a few months later

Those lagurus a few months later

, , , , , , ,

3 Comments on “Time to get sowing”

  1. Judy @ newenglandgardenandthread
    February 28, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

    After a long winter, there is absolutely nothing like getting your hands dirty and inhaling the earthly smell of soil and compost. 🙂

  2. Jill Swift
    May 13, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

    Can you advise on Rhodochiton seeds please? Only 2 seeds have germinated, and they are minute! Shall I take the polythene off now?

    • thebikinggardener
      May 14, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

      Yes the seedlings are very small and germination can be erratic. They also grow very slowly at first and are too easy to overwater. I would take the polythene off now. And watch out for woodlice which like the tint seedlings. If you search the articles I have done posts with more details

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Sweetgum and Pines

gardening in the North Carolina piedmont

Ravenscourt Gardens

Learning life's lessons in the garden!

RMW: the blog

Roslyn's photography, art, cats, exploring, writing, life

IGPS Blog

The Irish Garden Plant Society - Lovers of Irish plants and gardens

AltroVerde

un altro blog sul giardinaggio...

vegetablurb

four decades of organic vegetable gardening and barely a clue

The Long Garden Path

A walk round the Estate!

Flowery Prose

Growing words about writing, gardening, and outdoors pursuits in Alberta, Canada.

ontheedgegardening

Gardening on the edge of a cliff

Uprooted Magnolia

I am a freelance Photographer born and raised in the Southeast. I have uprooted my life in Macon Georgia for a new life as an unlikely cowgirl in love with a handsome cowboy in Wyoming. I hope you enjoy my photo journal on life, love, and the spirit of Wyoming.

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

Garden Variety

A Gardening, Outdoor Lifestyle and Organic Food & Drink Blog

For the Love of Iris

Articles, Tips and Notes from Schreiner's Iris Gardens

One Bean Row

Words and pictures from an Irish garden by Jane Powers

Plant Heritage

The world's leading garden plant conservation charity

HERITAGE IRISES

An English experience of gardening in Ireland - and back in the UK

%d bloggers like this: