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Johannesburg - We may still be having hot days, but February is the month to think about sowing seed for winter colour. A host of seed can be sown into seedling trays now for planting out into your garden in April. The plants will be in full flower in late winter and early spring where they will provide colour and interest when much of the garden is still at rest.
Winter-flowering annuals are plants that thrive in the cold of winter. Mass them in beds, plant as edgings along pathways, and among spring-flowering perennials and bulbs. Let them spill from containers, window boxes and hanging baskets, add colour to rockeries, and fill gaps in borders.
How to sow
All the information on how to sow seed is on the back of the seed packet – including when, where and how to plant.
Seed can be sown two ways – straight into a flower border (in situ) or into seedling trays.
Sowing in situ
Growing in situ simply means sowing seeds directly into the ground where they are to flower.
The most important part of sowing seed is the thorough preparation of the soil. Prepare the ground by forking over the area, removing stones and breaking up any lumps before digging in a generous amount of compost and a general fertiliser. Rake the surface as evenly as possible and water well the day before sowing seed.
If seed is sown in rows, it will make weeding easier and rows will not be noticed as plants mature. Sow seed sparingly, then cover with a thin layer of soil before gently watering to remove any air pockets. Protect the area by covering with bird-proof wire. To ensure germination of seed, keep soil moist.
Growing in seed trays
Some seed is more difficult to germinate and is better started in seed trays. Use clean trays and a commercial seedling mix and label each box with a waterproof pen. Stand seed boxes on a slatted raised area to discourage ants, caterpillars, snails and snoozing cats.
Level the surface, firming the soil down lightly with your hand or a block of wood. Sow seed sparingly over the surface. Some seeds need light to germinate and should not be covered with soil, while others require darkness and need a covering of soil. Spray soil with water, or use a watering can with a fine rose. When plants show true leaves, prick out into individual pots.
What to grow
There is a range of winter flowering annuals that can be sown in February. Calendulas add colour to a cottage garden or brighten a vegetable and herb patch with their apricot, yellow or orange daisy-like flowers. Moreover, calendulas are easy-to-grow early spring annuals given average, well-drained soil and a place in the sun. Sow seed directly where they are to flower or in seed boxes.
The elegant Iceland poppy, in brilliant and pastel colours, starts blooming in late winter if seed is sown now. Choose cultivars such as “Champagne Bubbles” with large flowers on sturdy stems for windy gardens. Nemesias and pansies make good companion plants.
Seeds or seedlings of the fairy primula (Primula malacoides), with dainty-tiered flowers of white, pink and lavender held on delicate stems, are pretty when planted among bulbs, under deciduous trees, and among spring-flowering trees in moist soil. White primulas brighten shady corners and show up well at twilight.
What would a spring garden be without pansies? Sow in seed boxes and mass in beds, in wide ribbon borders and in containers. Plant a carpet of red, rust and orange pansies, and pastel shades among similar coloured perennials and bulbs.
It is not only flowers that can add colour to your winter garden if seed is sown in seed boxes now. Ornamental kale with rose, red or mauve leaves are eye-catching when grown in large groups and in containers; those with green and white leaves in a green and white garden.
Plant seeds of climbing sweet peas up trellis, on fences and over arches in a sunny aspect, in well prepared soil in which generous amounts of compost, superphosphate and a general fertiliser have been mixed. Soak seed in water overnight to help soften the outer membrane. Sow at two-week intervals for a long-lasting display.
Other spring-flowering annuals you can grow from seed or seedlings are alyssum, Bellis perennis, candytuft, clarkia, cornflower, dianthus, Foxy foxglove, godetia, Livingstone daisy, lobelia, schizanthus, snapdragons, stocks and viola. Delphinium seed requires a chilling period in the refrigerator (not freezer) before sowing.
In the vegetable patch start sowing cool season vegetables of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Sow seed or plant out seedlings of Swiss chard, carrots, leeks, turnips and parsnips. - Saturday Star