Plenty more very challenging days ahead for us all, clearly. We lucky, lucky gardeners at least have an interest that can sustain us through lonely or boring days, and give us some escape from hectic or frightening ones. There are early seeds to sow, plans to make, tools to sharpen…………..let’s get going!
Before we start, I must just share with you part of an email I got from a (very able and experienced) gardening friend this week:
“I’m keen to get going. Thinking of starting off earlier this year, maybe invest in a greenhouse heater. Last year was a bit of a disaster. Voles and mice ate the beetroot and beans, whitefly destroyed chillies and peppers, the leeks have allium fly and the carrots carrot fly, pigeons had the spinach and the squirrels dug up the new crocuses and alliums. I’m undecided as whether to buy lots of protective fleece and netting or a shotgun.”
I bet there is not a gardener in the land who doesn’t identify with my pal Dave here! As you’ll have seen from our blog last week, Caroline has such disasters on a weekly basis. But check out the enthusiasm in the first phrase for doing it all again! That’s the thing about gardeners – we are the walking embodiment of ‘Hope Springs Eternal’….
It’s too early to sow the seeds of most tender plants – the plants will get too big and lanky before the weather is okay enough to plant them out. BUT there are some seeds which relish a long development period, and you can get sowing some these now.
These early-sown seeds can be a bit tricksy especially with regard to fungal problems, so before you start, pay attention to a few householding issues:
- Scrub the pots, seed-trays etc. and rinse with a mild disinfectant.
- Use only fresh peat-free seed-compost, vermiculite/fine grit and fresh seed.
- Sow the seed very thinly.
- Find a bright warm windowsill where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate wildly.
- Water when you sow the seeds, but very cautiously thereafter, only to prevent them drying out completely.
- Keep air flowing round the pots and trays, and wipe away the condensation inside a propagator as soon as it forms.
- Above all – check them every day – stay right on top of any potential problems.
Among the flowers that you can start of early are some that need warmth to germinate – begonias, dahlias, pelargoniums, petunias etc. Delphinium seeds should be put in the fridge for 3 weeks before being sown in a warm place, and begonia and petunia seeds must have light in order to germinate. Sweet peas and Iceland poppies don’t need any heat – a cold frame, unheated greenhouse or bright porch are all fine for them.
Follow the instructions on the seed packet carefully – some seeds need to be barely covered, for instance. Also – STAND BACK FOR MY BIG TIP OF THE WEEK – never sow all the seeds in a packet all at one go, especially at this time of year. Keep lots back and make later sowings, to give yourself plenty of chances of success.
There are also veg seeds that benefit for being sown early, the most obvious of these being chillies. These can be AWFULLY slow to get going at the best of times, and need to be big strong plants by midsummer with an excellent root system. If they have that, I find that with a bit of love, they will go on producing fruits up till Christmas! Be patient – seed sown at this time, might take a month and a half to come up…..
Other veg seeds that can be sown as early as this are aubergines, cauliflowers and leeks. For masses more info and tips on vegetable-growing, by the way, please do click on our DigYourOwnaForCorona veg-growing for beginners blog-campaign from last March/April/May – the link is at the bottom. Also, stand by for a little veg guide in book-form that we are bringing out this spring!
Ready for action!
This can be a pretty quiet time in the garden and when the weather outside is frightful and the fire is quite delightful, it might be a good moment to get yourself geared up for the busy spring season.
This is always the moment when I sort out all the plant-labels I used last season – I wash and dry them and then use an eraser to rub out all the pencilled names ready to use again this year. Another great little job in January is to sharpen up your secateurs. I can assure you that spending 10 minutes on them now will make a stupendous difference to their efficiency when you really need them. Blunt blades can cause snags and splits in the stems you’re cutting, which look ugly and can allow diseases to enter.
Use a nylon kitchen scourer, dry or wet, to get rid of dirt and dried sap on the blades. Then sharpen the blade with a fine file or an oil-stone. Finish by applying oil with a rag to all the exposed metal bits to ward off the dreaded rust and help them work smoothly.
Hellebores and epimediums
It’s a great idea to idea to cut off the old leaves of these two pretty spring-flowering things now. The flowers of Helleborus orientalis will look much better without them, and the old foliage is quickly replaced by fresh new and unmarked leaves. And leaving the epimedium foliage on (lovely though it often is in winter) will obscure the dainty flowers. It is a question of careful timing though – too early and you sacrifice that splash of autumnal leaf-colour so welcome in grey January; leave it too late and you’ll risk cutting all the slender flower-stems which start to unfurl in February.
A couple more things about hellebores: they like alkaline soil (good news here in Eastbourne, I can tell you!) so they enjoy being mulched in autumn with mushroom compost. And it’s worth occasionally buying a few more of the Orientalis kind (who needs an excuse to do that?!) every few years which have strong bright colours. This is a species that hybridises freely, like Aquilegia, and their colours can become a bit dull and ‘muddied’ over time without an injection of new ‘blood’.
- If you were given houseplants at Christmas, an earlier post gives you a few tips on how to look after some of them. Click on the link at the end if you’re interested.
- Try to avoid walking on a frosted lawn which can break the grass-blades – not disastrous but it can take quite a while to recover.
- Enjoy browsing though all the wonderful seed and plant catalogues popping though our letterboxes about now. With a pen, a piece of paper and cuppa, plan how your 2021 garden’s going to be the BEST EVER!
Here is the link to our beginner’s veg-growing course, written during the first Covid lockdown.
And if you want some tips about looking after houseplants, this is the post for you.
NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning