Some tips for the sowing season
Watch out for slug attacks on new soft perennial growth
Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' perennial wall flower
With the gentle spring we have had the soil should have warmed up suffciently to provide the perfect environment for seed germination. If you have a greenhouse or poytunnel you may well have started module or liner pot sowings a few weeks ago and already have young plants that you are preparing to plant out. If you are not that lucky or a gardening beginner now is the time to take on the project and marvel at the achievement of watching your plants grow from seed.
Half hardy varieties need to be sown indoors and transplanted out in mid May as this gives them a head start to allow them to flower well in summer. Pot marigolds, annual Chrysanthemums, night scented stock, godetia, poached egg plant and Nasturtium are hardy annuals.
Some half hardy annuals like Cosmos can be sown directly into the soil in a warm sheltered spot and still successfully flower for you although a little later than if started indoors. Bizzie lizzie, lobelia, petunia, begoina, French and African marigolds and Ageratums are some of the many half hardy annuals.
When planting out any seedlings grown under cover you are best advised to harden them off over the course of a week to ten days. To do this place them outside in a sheltered sunny spot so they can acclimatise before their final planting out. This might involve, over a week, leaving the seedlings outside for a few hours the first day then bring them back in, repeat this for progressively longer until you leave them outside overnight preferably on a still mild one.
Whether you are sowing vegetable or flower seeds the soil preparation is the same although the sowing technique is different. Ideally the area to be sown should be dug over well in advance to allow winters weather to break it up, especially with heavy soil. The reason for this is as you might imagine that you are looking for a soft crumbly fine textured soil ultimately to sow your seeds into. Failing this dig over the area and allow a few good dry days to help make the soil more workable. Break up the soil with a rake picking out any stones or obvious weeds and roots as you go. Remove any clods that won't break up, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty though as two clods rubbed together will often break up nicely.
What you are looking for is to create a soil with the texture of breadcrumbs know as a fine tilth. But we and our soils are not perfect so try to work the best with what you have. Firm the area to be sown with the head of a rake, light walk over or plank and walk. We don't want compaction but we do want a firm seed bed. With flower seeds we want a random natural look so at this point you can evenly scatter seeds over the prepared soil then lightly pull the back of rake over to cover the seeds and work them into the soil and then lightly firm.
With vegetables you generally want straight rows so start by using a string line or bamboo cane to give you this. With the corner of a rake or hoe or hand or stick create a straight sowing drill in the soil. Mark either end of the drill with a written label so it is identifiable later. The depth of this drill and the seed spacing depends on the seed being sown so always read the labels for specific instructions. After sowing lightly pull back soil to fill in the seed drill and lightly firm.
Water both types of sowings with a fine rose so as not to wash the seeds away, particularly those sown near the surface. Watch out for slug attacks on seedlings and over sowing 'damping off ' [rotting] from fungal diseases, although outside this tends to be less of a problem than undercover. As the seeds germinate they will undoubtably be joined by an army of weed seeds, make sure you know one from the other and hand weed regularly.