Sowing starts now

After a bitterly cold week we are all desperate to plant something. Even if the soil does thaw over the next few days, it is will horribly wet so it is best to keep off it and definitely should not be sowing anything quite yet. It is horribly frustrating but it pays to wait till conditions are better. So we are tempted to sow things on the windowsill but we need to think about where all these plants will go when they are large enough to plant out. Windowsills may provide warmth but never enough light to keep plants short and stocky and since we can’t put out tender plants till mid May we need to wait.

But we can make a start with broad beans, the hardiest of the beans. Broad beans are hardy and many people sow in autumn, though the young plants often fall prey to winter wet and cold as well as mice and pigeons. They can be sown outside from March to late April but you can get them started now on the windowsill. Because the plants withstand cool growing conditions and even light frosts you can plant them out in late March and get a head start on outdoor sowings.

The seeds are large and easy to sow. Sow them in their edge so they are about 1cm deep. I fill pots or cell trays and just push them in. Watering then covers them up though you could add a bit more compost. Use multipurpose compost and small pots. 8cm (3in) pots are ideal but you can use yoghurt pots as long as you make holes in the base. Keep them moist and in a light place and the seedlings will be up within a fortnight. Then keep them cool and light so they do not get too straggly and plant them out before they exceed 15cm (6in) in height. If allowed to get scrawny they will never recover after planting out and will give a poor crop.

Plant them out about 20cm (8in) apart in single or double rows. You could grow them in patio pots too, setting them 15cm (6in) apart but they will not give a huge crop. But the flowers are attractive and bees love them. Unfortunately so do blackfly so pinch out the tips of the plants once the flowers have formed to stop them covering the tops of the plants.

Fresh (small) broad beans are a late spring treat, served with parsley sauce and some new potatoes so don’t forget to sow some parsley and get those seed potatoes chitted ready to plant, in the garden or in bags.


Start summer bulbs

Most summer bulbs are not hardy and should be started in warmth. Lilies are the main exception and can be planted in the garden or in pots and left outside. They do not need replanting every year and can usually be left for several seasons. The term ‘Summer bulbs’ is wholly inaccurate and most are actually tubers, rhizomes or corms.

Tuberous begonias are hugely popular for their large, usually double flowers. They can be grown from seed but the seedlings can be tricky so most people buy tubers. These need to be started early so the plants are already blooming when they are planted out in May. It can be difficult to see which is the top of the round, flattish tubers thought the side with the depression is the top. Young tubers are often like discs and if you can’t tell which is the top simply pop them in a plastic bag with some barely moist compost, sand or perlite and place it in a warm place. After a few weeks you should see pink shoots growing from one side and this is the top. You can then pot them in small pots with these shoots just on the surface. Keep them in a warm, light place to grow on.


Cannas also need starting before planting out in May. The awkwardly shaped rhizomes are often long. You can usually see the remains of last years shoots so you can tell which way up they should be planted. Pot them in the smallest pots you can manage and water very sparingly at first until you see new growth. If you have saved the plants from last year now is the time to shake off the soil, cut into convenient sections and pot.

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