Your February seed sowing jobs

Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus

With daylight hours increasing a little every day, sowing under cover can begin in earnest this month. February is an ideal time to chit potatoes, plant out Jerusalem artichokes, swap spare seeds with friends and neighbours, and start sowing greenhouse crops like chillies, tomatoes and aubergines in a heated propagator.

 More February seed sowing advice:


Flowers

Mexican fleabane

Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane) produces masses of pretty flowers

Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) is an attractive perennial with masses of daisy-like flowers that open white, turning pink as they age. This versatile, low-growing plant copes well with drought and thrives in full sun or semi-shade in well-drained soil. We love to plant fleabane in containers where it tumbles over the edges, and as ground cover in our sunny gravel garden. It’s easily grown from seed, though it will often self-seed and save you the trouble! Our Mexican fleabane blooms from late spring until autumn, attracting a range of pollinating insects.

Seeds can be sown under cover in late winter and spring, or outdoors in late spring and summer. The earlier you sow, the more likely plants will flower in the first year. Sprinkle the fine seeds onto the surface of well-drained peat-free seed compost. Keep moist and place on a windowsill or other warm, light spot at 15-20°C. Germination normally takes around two to four weeks. Transplant seedlings into individual pots when large enough to handle. Harden off and plant outside after the last frost.

The popular Mexican fleabane ‘Profusion’ lives up to its name with a froth of daisy flowers throughout the season. E. ‘Lavender Lady’ and E. x ‘Wayne Roderick’ both have delightful lavender blue flowers. For the edges of borders with hot colour schemes, try E. aurantiacus: a fiery fleabane with bright orange blooms.

Salvia

Salvia viridis ‘Blue’ is ideal for growing en masse in a mixed herbaceous border

We’ve been growing perennial salvias such as S. nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, S. ‘Amistad’ and S. ‘Love and Wishes’ for years, but only started to grow annual salvias recently. They are easy to raise from seed and sowing your own gives you access to a range of varieties. Annual salvias can be sown direct in spring or in a propagator from February. Sprinkle seeds on pots or trays of moist, peat-free seed compost and germinate at 15-20°C. Harden off and plant out in May after the risk of frost is over.

One of my favourites, painted sage (S. viridis), has vivid bracts in blue, purple, white or pink. Seeds can be bought in single-coloured packs or in a variety of colours like S. ‘Bouquet Mixed’. These salvias make attractive cut flowers. I like to plant S. viridis ‘Blue’, which has almost purple bracts, as a contrast to bright orange pot marigolds such as Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’ and the zingy green bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis). S. farinacea ‘Evolution’ is another superb annual variety with violet spikes of flowers that attract pollinating insects through summer and into autumn.

Lobelia

Lobelia erinus is great for hanging baskets and other containers

A traditional favourite in hanging baskets and patio containers, annual lobelia (Lobelia erinus) produces an abundance of small blue, pink or white flowers from May until the first frosts. Lobelia are often bought as bedding plants or plugs, but can also be grown from seed now as a cost-effective alternative.

Some lobelia varieties are upright and bushy, while others have a naturally trailing habit. Popular upright plants include ‘Crystal Palace’, which has dark blue flowers and bronze foliage, and ‘Cambridge Blue’ with its sky-blue blooms. The ‘Fountain’ series, bred for larger flowers, and the ‘Cascade’ series, which comes in a range of colours with mostly white-eyed blooms, are ideal to use as trailing plants. Seeds should be sown indoors on the surface of moist, peat-free seed compost and placed in a propagator or on a sunny windowsill at 15-20°C. Prick out into trays when large enough to handle and plant in groups after the last frost.

Like annual lobelia, perennial varieties such as Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria’ with her vivid scarlet blooms and deep chocolate-purple foliage can be sown this month. Sprinkle seeds on moist, peat-free seed compost and keep under cover around 20°C until germination. As with annual lobelia, prick out when large enough to handle and plant out after the last frost.

‘Queen Victoria’ thrives in moist soil beside a pond or in a bog garden. Perennial lobelias are often fairly short-lived, and can be propagated by division in spring or softwood cuttings in summer. Plants are harmful if eaten and their sap is a skin and eye irritant.

Verbena

Verbena bonariensis can be grown from seed, and will flower in its first year, if sown early

Another hanging basket favourite that can be started from seed now is bedding verbena, as well as its leggy, border-dwelling cousin Verbena bonariensis. They can all be grown from seed in the same way and, for perennial varieties, the earlier you start the more likely you are to get a good display of flowers in the first year.

Sow seeds onto the surface of a seed tray filled with compost and give a thin covering of compost or vermiculite. Verbena likes it to be really warm in order to germinate (around 24-27°C), and even then germination can be slow and erratic. If you have one, put your seed tray into a heated propagator, otherwise pop it in a clear plastic bag on a bright, warm windowsill indoors. Seedlings should be pricked out once they’re big enough to handle. And they’ll need potting on and hardening off before they’re ready to plant out.

Verbena bonariensis looks wonderfully elegant wafting through borders, with its dainty flowers held atop tall, spindly stems, and shorter varieties are lovely in pots and hanging baskets, so if you’ve not grown verbena before, it’s well worth trying.

Growing Greener 

Seed swaps will be taking place all around the UK over the next few weeks, bringing local gardening communities together to share resources.

Some seed swap events have been running for many years, such as Seedy Sunday in Brighton, which focuses on preserving heirloom varieties and is now in its 21st year. Events are often publicised on social media or through local gardening groups and community gardens, so why not check out events near you? As well as sharing seeds and seedlings, it’s a great opportunity to get to know other gardeners in your area.


Vegetables

Chillies

There are a vast array of colourful chillies to choose from, including chilli ‘Apache’, pictured

One of the things I love about chillies is the vast array of varieties available to choose from. Whether you want to turn up the heat with fiery favourites such as ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ and ‘Peach Reaper’ (two of the hottest chillies available), or seek the safety of mild varieties like ‘Ancho Poblano’ and ‘Anaheim’, there are chillies suitable for every palate.

Sowing in late winter means plants mature earlier and harvests last longer. Sow the seeds in pots or trays, cover with a fine layer of compost and place in a propagator at 21°C. Prick out seedlings when they have grown their first true leaves and grow on in individual pots in a bright spot indoors at around 16-18°C.

For something a bit different, why not try growing a tree or rocoto chilli (Capsicum pubescens) with their hairy leaves and hot fruit? Best sown by the end of this month, tree chillies grow into large plants and can live for several years. We overwintered ours indoors and it fruited earlier in its second year.

If a sizeable tree chilli is too big for your space, you could grow a compact variety such as ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘Razzamatazz’ or ‘NuMex Twilight’ on the windowsill. These diminutive plants have attractive upward-facing fruits that mature through a range of vibrant colours. As well as their ornamental qualities, the hot fruits are perfect for spicing up sauces. Take care when preparing chillies not to touch your face or eyes.

Potatoes

Trug of homegrown potatoes

There’s nothing quite like the taste of homegrown boiled potatoes with butter and fresh mint. Early February is a perfect time to start chitting first early potatoes ready for planting out in mid-March. Leave your seed potatoes somewhere light and cool – we put ours in egg boxes on a windowsill – with the end with the most ‘eyes’ or growing points uppermost. Chitting will speed up growth once they are in the ground and should provide a bigger harvest. Make sure you label each variety so you don’t lose track of what you’re planting next month.

We love to grow ‘Rocket’, a heavy-cropping, super-early variety. ‘Swift’ is one of the earliest of all, with its compact growth making it ideal for container growing. Another favourite is ‘Lady Christl’ with its tasty medium-sized tubers that can be left as second earlies if you want larger potatoes.

Towards the end of the month, second early potatoes can be chitted ready to plant out in April. There are so many delicious salad potatoes, but if I could only grow one second early, I’d choose ‘Vivaldi’ – a versatile variety which tastes fantastic boiled and came top in our baking potato trials. Seed potatoes and plants are harmful if eaten.

Jerusalem artichokes

Harvested Jerusalem artichokes

When we took over our allotment, we inherited a thriving patch of Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus). These vigorous cousins of the sunflower are easy to grow and provide a bumper harvest of tubers in the autumn. Best of all, you can leave some in the ground for the following year, so this is a sustainable and cost-effective crop too.

Plant tubers 10-15cm deep, spacing plants 30-40cm apart in a sunny spot, allowing them plenty of space to spread. We’ve grown Jerusalem artichokes successfully in large containers, which has the benefit of controlling their tendency to spread rather too enthusiastically in the garden. ‘Fuseau’ is a popular variety that produces large tubers with smooth skins, ‘Papas’ overwinters well, and red-skinned ‘Dwarf’ lives up to its name, growing only around 60cm tall.

Thrifty tip

You can reduce your use of plastic and save money at the same time by making your own newspaper plant pots. It’s a fun activity to do with kids, and they can plant their own seeds in the pots afterwards. 

Fill the completed pot with peat-free compost and sow annuals such as sunflowers and nasturtiums. When seedlings are ready to go in the ground, the whole pot can be planted in the soil where it will quickly biodegrade.

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