Getting ahead – sowing seeds for spring
One way to get a bit ahead for the spring is to sow seeds of hardy annuals now. Sown outside, they will overwinter in a state of dormancy, and then start to grow the moment the soil starts to warm up in the spring. When you stop to think about it for a moment, it makes sense, because that’s what happens naturally! Plants broadcast their seeds in the late summer or autumn, and the seeds stay in the soil overwinter, and then grow in spring. So why would it not work for you?
Sowing in established flower beds
You may want to add a particular hardy annual to an existing flower bed. Suitable plants might be Nigella damescena or Lychnis, which will self-seed like mad once established, but need sowing in the first place. Clear the ground between the established plants of weeds and small seedlings, and rake over the soil as far as you can, then scatter your seeds onto the desired spot. Cover with sieved compost. Multi-purpose compost is ideal, which you can buy from compost suppliers or garden centres. Water in with a fine rose on a watering can.
Sowing in seedbeds or designated annual beds
You can also sow your seeds into empty flower beds, if you have the luxury of having enough space to have a seed bed, or if you maintain any flower beds for hardy annuals. In that case, dig the soil over to a spade’s depth, and break up any large clods. Rake it finely and firm it out. Mark out roughly where you want each type of plant, using canes and string, whether you want them in patches or in rows for transplanting later.
There are two ways of sowing seed. You can ‘broadcast sow’, where you scatter the seed across the whole area, rake it gently into the soil, then cover with a thin layer of compost. Alternatively, you can sow in shallow seed drills, about 0.5cm deep, then cover the seed over with soil. Either way, once the seeds or sown and covered, water them in with a fine rose and cover with a net to save from birds.
Sowing in pots in the greenhouse
If you don’t have space to sow in separate beds, you can always sow seeds into pots, and keep them in a cool greenhouse or cold frame over the winter. Annuals don’t really like very fertile soil, though, so you’re probably best using topsoil, or even topsoil, rather than compost, as a growing medium. Again, water with a fine rose when you’ve finished, and don’t forget to water them over the winter, or you will have no plants in spring.