The festive season is upon us, and we must brace ourselves for browsing the shop-shelves while listening to Slade, Mariah Carey and Wizzard once again. Because so much of Christmas was cancelled last year, I wonder if we’ll welcome the Yuletide Muzak a little more this year than normal? No, me neither, but I’ll be humming along happily by December 20, no doubt. If you’d rather listen than read while you’re on the go, there’s a link to the podcast of this blog at the end – you may catch a little purring in the background – Lulu the kitten was sitting on my shoulder while I was recording – to be fair, she was good as gold, for once!
There are some handy jobs to get on with in the garden to take our minds off ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ for a short while, like pinching out the sweet peas, seeking out the hibernating snails, and sorting your seed-packets…………..
Sweet pea seedlings
Did you sow some sweet pea seeds in September or October? Top of the class, if you did – your reward will be good strong plants to put out in the garden next spring, bearing flowers early enough to give you plenty of bragging rights! So, what to do with them now? Here’s what I’ve found out:
POSITION: These seedlings need a cool, bright, frost-free place in which to grow slowly throughout the winter – an unheated greenhouse or a cold-frame is ideal, or how about a bright enclosed porch? I’ve got mine on the window-sill of an unheated little conservatory. You want them to concentrate on good root-development, rather than masses of top-growth. If it’s a bit gloomy in there, their stems become elongated and weak, as they search for the light. And if it’s too warm, they start piling on masses of fast, lush growth that will never cope with harsher realities outside next spring.
WATERING: Be careful about this – they really won’t need a lot of water during the winter because they are growing so slowly. If they sit in wet soil for any length of time, your seedlings could actually rot which would be a crying shame after all your efforts thus far. Just check the soil every so often and water it when it feels dry. Then no more until it feels dry again.
PINCHING OUT: Only specialist growers who are after huge blooms for the show-bench would let their sweet peas grow on a single cordon stem. The rest of us would much prefer to have a mass of flowers from multi-stemmed plants. The way to make them branch is to wait until your seedlings have developed 3-4 tiny leaflets, and then use your thumb and forefinger to pinch out the top main tip. More sideshoots will then come from those leaflets.
ONE MORE THING: Did you actually forget to sow some sweet peas this autumn? Well, I reckon it’s still worth a go, if you can germinate them somewhere warm. Don’t use all your sweet pea seeds though because a) the ones you sow now might not come up and b) you want a few more to sow in the spring, so that once your early ones peter out, the later-sown flowers can take over! And who wouldn’t want beautiful scented blooms as in our feature pic, in flower all summer long……
Here’s a confession – I loathe chucking away plant seeds, whatever their provenance, and no matter how old, non-viable or inappropriate they are. All that potential wasted! (Much like the sort of thing that the teachers used to write in Caroline’s school reports). I have serried ranks of them in shoeboxes, and I bet I’m not the only person to have rows of unnamed saucerfuls of seeds along the windowsill. I, and you, MUST sort through them, nay, scythe through them, and bin the useless ones. Grow Them or Throw Them!
I rarely sow all the seeds in a new packet, and I know that you can often use them with quite a bit of success the following year, but after that, the chance of germination success falls away dramatically, and you can waste a lot of time, compost and space on them for almost zilch return. I know all this, so why am I dithering about a packet of Cerinthe seed from 2015? Enough. Away with them. I’ll add the names of the throw-outs to my burgeoning Christmas list…………………..
On the subject of seeds, though, I was very pleased with my little collection of free ‘Red and white collection’ seeds in the Christmas edition of ‘Garden Answers’ (link to magazine at the end of this blog)– Cosmos, Mallow, Amaranthus and Poppy. And soon I’ll have room for them in my seed-box!
- If you’ve got cabbages, broccoli or cauliflowers growing outside, it’s a good idea to pull the earth up around the stems with a hoe or trowel, to stop them rocking around in winter winds. Take off any yellowing leaves too, and tie the stems of brussels sprouts to canes .
- Snails are starting to congregate in little corners like seed-trays and under pots to hibernate. Seek them out and deal with them, before they wreak more havoc in your garden next spring. Please don’t use pesticide on them though; sprinkling with salt, vinegar or baking soda will kill them, if that’s what you want to do. Though don’t use these things if the snails are actually on your plants – the plants will die too!
- The roses are losing their leaves, and if they have been affected by blackspot, they may fall earlier than usual anyway. This is when dark unsightly blobs appear on the foliage and it can reduce the vigour of your rose bush in severe cases. It’s a bit of a drag, but try to be fastidious about picking marked leaves off and picking up the ones that have already fallen – it’s the best way of lessening the likelihood of a bad infestation next year. Remember not to put them on the compost heap, though!
- Amongst our gardening friends, there is one who always plants out his broad beans in the third week in November – he is a very good gardener, so I thought I’d pass the message on!
NB If you are planning on gardening outdoors through the winter you could do what Laura has done and invest in a pair of Genus ‘Warm and Dry’ gardening trousers. Having been given a pair of their popular ‘3-Season’ trousers to trial over spring, summer and autumn she was impressed enough to ask for a pair of their winter trousers as a birthday present and reports that they make that trip outside for gardening or dog walking now the weather has turned nippy positively enjoyable. If you’re dropping hints to your significant other about Christmas approaching you might also mention that Genus are offering a 10% discount at the moment to anyone who signs up to their newsletter.
More NB Here is the link to a podcast of this blog.
More NB If you fancy a giggle at our choice of Christmas gifts from a couple of years ago, check out this blog. Even then, Laura was raving about the Razor Hoe that we’ve got in our shop!
Even more NB Here is the link to Garden Answers magazine
Final NB: If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.