The arrival of February is a reminder that spring is just one step closer, it quickens the heartbeat, brightens the spirit and sends gardeners running to the greenhouse to start the seed sowing season. Plants like peppers, chillies and aubergines which need a long growing season, up to five months to mature should be sown this month. Most people who complain that their peppers haven’t ripened later in the year sowed the seed too late. The third week in February is ideal, mid March is fine and the first week in April is the limit. Seeds germinate in light warm conditions and dislike fluctuating temperature so if you are unable to provide for their needs, buy young plants from the garden centre or via the internet later in the year. (This also saves space in the greenhouse).
Water the surface of a 10cm pot of multipurpose compost with a fine rose, using tepid water and leave it to drain for at least half an hour. Sow the seeds over the surface, six to a pot, then sprinkle a shallow layer of fine grade vermiculite over the surface. Put the pot in a propagator at 18-20C or on a sunny windowsill and three weeks later they should have germinated. Transplant when they are large enough to handle by lifting the seedlings gently by a leaf, into a 9cm pot and grow on in the greenhouse at 10-15C. Make sure that there is adequate space between the pots so plant growth is compact; pack them close together and the stems stretch towards the light and become elongated. Once the pots are full of roots but not ‘pot bound’ they can be moved into their final growing position in a heated greenhouse in 25cm pots of growing bag compost or growing bags. If the greenhouse is unheated, sow later and don’t plant them out until May.
Make the most of any sunshine to warm the soil on your vegetable plot, speeding up germination for early crops like carrots and beetroot. Covering the soil with clear plastic sheeting, or cloches not only warms the soil but encourages weed growth, which can be hoed off before sowing, reducing weed problems later in the season. While you are in the mood, it’s worth checking your borders and weeding round the base of shrubs as access is easier when deciduous shrubs are not in leaf.
Don’t forget to prune your Wisteria. From early August last year 2007’s side shoots should have been cut back to 30cm, now it is time to cut them back further, to 2.5-5cm or six buds, any long whippy shoots that developed after summer pruning can be cut back to six buds too.
There is still time to plant bare root trees, shrubs and hedges. High rainfall has made life difficult for nurseries, particularly where heavier soils has made lifting difficult. The choice of plants is reduced later in the season but ‘bare root’ plants are cheaper. Happy gardening!