March is the time to sow seeds to bring some colour and produce to your garden this summer. It's cheap and easy and kids love to get involved.
It's still too cold outside for seeds sowing and growing so these need to be started off on a windowsill or in a greenhouse.
Seeds can be bought from your local garden centre, supermarket or hardware stores like Wilkos and Robert Dyas. There are a huge number of seeds to choose from, but you're looking for half-hardy or hardy annuals: those plants whose life cycle is just one year.
Clues on the seed packet will be the time of year they can be sown and when they flower. We're looking for flowers that need to start off indoors between January and April and that will be planted outside in May and then flower from June onwards.
This year I've chosen favourites such as poppies, cosmos, sweet peas and sunflowers, but I've also added zinnia, rudbeckia and clary. Pick the colours you like the look of. Or, if you want to eat what you sow, you can start tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies or aubergines off now in exactly the same way.
All you need is :
- Pots or seed trays: If you haven't got the real thing re-use any of the plastic packaging that you have around the house or the innards of toilet rolls. I even cut milk bottle cartons in half last year to make a perfectly good pot!
- Compost: Seed compost is the best to get things started, but multi-purpose will do, and you can use it for potting on bigger plants. Always try and find peat-free composts if you can, to help to protect and preserve the peat bogs in our country and abroad.
- Clear plastic bottles or bags: You can use them to cover the pots and trays with to create mini greenhouses. You might also need elastic bands to secure the plastic bags.
- Pencils and labels: Write what your pots and trays contain, in case you forget which is what!
Here's how you can get sowing:
- Fill the pot or tray with seed compost, shake, then firm down the soil.
- If the seeds are tiny, sprinkle them across the surface of the pot or tray, and then cover lightly with a fine layer of compost and firm gently again.
- With bigger seeds like sunflowers or sweet peas, use a pencil to make a hole in the soil about 3cm deep, drop your seed in and then, using the pencil, cover it up with the compost.
- Label your pot or tray and then water. Keep the soil damp throughout (not soggy or boggy though!) Take a clear plastic bottle and cut it in half. You then have 2 halves that you can put on top of your pots to act as a mini greenhouse. Clear plastic bags or glass works just as well over pots or over trays.
- Keep your seeds in a light place but not in direct sunlight. Within two weeks you should see green stems appearing. Once you do, remove the plastic or glass.
- When your seedlings are big enough to handle (with 3-5 sets of leaves), carefully tease them out of the pot or tray with a pencil and transplant them into bigger pots or trays of potting compost, 5cm apart.
- Keep them indoors or in a greenhouse until the frosts have passed in May.
- One week before planting, move the seedlings to a sheltered spot outside to get them used to the outside temperature.
If you've not done it before, just give it a go! Sowing from seed is really easy and the children love to see plants grow before their eyes!
Renée Canter is The Girl Who Gardens – contact her to find out how she can make your garden bloom!