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March 2021 Column

We are in ‘false spring’ as I write. That little window of bright sunny warmer weather just as the days lengthen. We are outside working, thrown off the coats and naively forgotten it’s still only March! From now on in, for the next three months, Spring will splutter like an old two stroke motor just started up from the cold. We will have plenty of warm days of course but also some freezing ones, heavy rain and winds. Enjoy all the seasons now as the year shakes off the cool weather fronts and emerges in to Summer.

We are in no rush to sow seeds directly into the soil yet. It is far too cold, so we are sowing under cover into pots and trays where there is a little protection from the frosts.

Those seeds we began sowing last month, the Hardy Annuals, will be planted out later this month and in early April. For now we transplant the seedlings from their seed compost into multi-purpose compost to provide more nutrients for the young plants to grow on in. We like Sylva Compost as it’s organic and peat free. To transplant your seedlings, wait until you see a set of true leaves (the second set of leaves after the initial ‘seed leaves’), these leaves will already look like the ‘real’ leaves of the plant whereas the first leaves often look much alike any other seedling.

First fill your module trays up with multipurpose compost. We like to warm the compost up a bit indoors - it sounded bonkers to me too at first but going from a warm pot into freezing compost will shock any seedling and we want to make the transfer easy and the seedlings to establish quickly. Reducing attrition is the name of the game. Attrition is the effect of transplanting any plant and how long it takes to settle and recover from the shock. The more you can reduce this, by transplanting as soon as the plant is ready and quickly into prime conditions, the quicker and more easily the plant will grow on making stronger and earlier flowering plants.

So lift the seedling gently by the leaves (the stem is too fragile) and dib a hole with a pencil or stick into the compost and drop the root in. If the stem is a little long from reaching for the light, at this stage, you can drop the whole stem down to the leaves, below the soil to remedy this. Choose a module that only gives the seedling a little more space to grow, say 1” square. This is because as soon as the roots reach the side of the pot, they will break and produce more roots creating a strong root ball. Searching for that pot side takes energy so make it easy for them. As soon as the plant fills the module with roots, you want to plant straight out. Again, reducing attrition and like the perfect parent, providing that little nudge and pre empting just what the little seedling needs next with precision. Of course this is rarely managed but intentions and potting on little and often will serve you well. It’s a lovely job out of the weather in March, in the greenhouse or on the kitchen table. Press very lightly and as ever, only water from beneath and sparingly. In fact we don’t water our plants in at all until we see new growth emerging. Grow on your plants undercover, in a cold frame with plenty of circulation, a cool conservatory or a sheltered porch.

After 20 years of growing plants from seed, I am still really thrilled to see seeds emerge with so much potential and awe. It’s so simple and life affirming.

See you back here next month for Half Hardy Annuals and planting out your seedlings.


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