Top Plant Picks for February
It’s still too cold for outdoor sowing, but if you’re itching to grow something, there are some hardy plants that can handle indoor sowing in February. In fact, there are some advantages to starting early: popular seeds sell out so by snapping them up now, you are making sure you get the varieties you want; secondly, your plants will be fully grown that bit earlier, plus it’s fun! Eamonn picks out a couple of flower and veg seeds that will get you nicely underway.
A cottage garden favourite is night-scented stock. These popular annuals come in lilac, pink and white-flowered varieties but their main attraction is their intoxicating sweet scent which emanates in the evening.
Sow seeds in modular trays and cover lightly with either sieved compost, potting grit or vermiculite (a naturally occurring material that helps soil retain moisture and nutrients). They’ll take between 10 days and three weeks to germinate. When large enough to handle, carefully remove the seedling with the help of a dibber (or pencil) and pot each one in its own pot. This will give them enough space to get stronger and you can gradually get them used to being outdoors by moving them to cooler spots, eventually leaving them outside for periods (this is called hardening off). You will plant them outdoors after the risk of late frost has passed (usually in May). Choose a sheltered site in the garden in full sun, and to get the benefit of the perfume, a spot near a door or window, close to a bench or seating area, or along a pathway is ideal. Stock is an annual, which means it will only last one growing season; but it isn’t a demanding plant and will just do its thing once it’s in the right location.
Stock can grow quite tall (up to 24 inches/60cm), but even taller is the cosmos (5 to 6 and a half feet/1.5 to 2.5m), making it excellent for creating levels in a pot or bed. Cosmos has a daisy-like flower, which peeps out of masses of feathery foliage. It comes in beautiful white/pink shades and will provide interest for months and months. It makes a terrific cut flower. Like stock, it’s super low maintenance. Sweet Sixteen is a stunner.
Sprinkle seeds on the surface of the compost in modular trays and cover the trays with glass or polythene to trap heat. To germinate, the seeds need to be at 16 degrees Celsius minimum. Like stock, you can pot on, harden off and plant outdoors after the last frosts in May. Leave plenty of space between plants in their final location as they get quite bushy. They too like a sunny location in moist, well-drained soil. You may need to support them with stakes if it’s a windy spot.
Sweet peas are another favourite of ours, particularly if you’re a fan of fragrant plants. This is another great flower for the vase; the more you cut, the more flowers it will produce. What’s more, sweet pea is great if you’re looking for something colourful for a shady area. Try Early Mammoth Mixed for a profusion of gorgeous colour.
Sow sweet pea seeds singly in moist compost in narrow, tall pots, as they need plenty of depth for their roots to grow. Cover the seeds with a layer of compost and water. When you plant them out (after the risk of frost has passed), always leave a good amount of space between them.
If you’re interested in growing your own produce, Eamonn recommends a couple of vegetables you can start now by sowing indoors.
Sprouts are an ideal vegetable to sow in February, as they thrive in colder conditions. You can plant them straight in the ground from the end of February if it isn’t too frosty but, for an early crop, sow seeds under cover now and they will be ready to pick in August. Usually sprouts are harvested from October to December, hence their appearance on the traditional Christmas dinner plate. Try Marte F1 Hybrid, delicately sweet, without bitterness. F1 Hybrid varieties stay closed for longer, lengthening the harvesting period.
Brussels sprouts are best sown in a modular seedling tray and planted out four weeks later. Sow one seed per module at 2cm deep. They will germinate in 7 to 12 days and be ready to plant out about four weeks later, after hardening off. When planting them in your veg bed, work lots of farmyard manure into the soil and allow between 70cm and 90cm between plants depending on the variety (consult seed pack) – they need a lot of space!
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