Sow now? Wait? Or buy plants?

February 9th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Begonia 'Santa Cruz Sunset' with young begonia plant

If you read what it says on the seed packets, you’ll be sowing seeds of begonias, geraniums and lobelia in the propagator or on the windowsill now – if you haven’t done so already. But is this really wise?

Early sowing is recommended because the seedlings take so long to develop and, of course, it would be good if they started flowing before August. So an early start is essential. But looking after young seedlings in the short dark days of winter is tricky if you don’t have ideal facilities.

On the windowsill most of the light comes from the side so you have to turn the seedlings every day. And the fact that the feeble sunlight must pass through the window or greenhouse glass and through the plastic propagator lid means that less light reaches the seedlings. They get leggy. Commercial growers often use artificial light.

Damping off disease is always a danger, it can wipe out your seedlings in just a few days, especially now that we have no treatments for it.

So what’s the answer? Sow later and your seedlings will be easier to look after but flowering will be delayed.

If you don’t have good facilities I’d suggest that you buy plugs or young plants instead. That way, you transfer responsibility for the most difficult part of the whole process to the nursery and receive plugs, large plugs or young plants, ready to pot up or plant out when it suits you.

Begonias, geraniums and lobelia are the top candidates for this plants-instead-of-seed approach but I’d also suggest antirrhinums, calibrachoas and petunias. It may cost more, but what you’re paying for is certainty.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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