General Growing Guide
Seed sowing – Orla’s tips!
As much as possible I sow most seeds indoors. This allows me to have better control of germination rates, the number of plugs I choose to grow and to get a head start on the growing season. Propagating seeds indoors cuts out the weeding, thinning out of seedlings, weather issues and birds gobbling my seeds. Over the last four years I have trialled both indoor and outdoor germination and apart from a few varieties I have continuously had more success with starting seeds indoors. If you are someone who prefers to sow outdoors – either by scattering or into pre-prepared drills please feel free to continue doing it this way or experiment to find your favourite method!
I would like you to be able to decide how much (or little) work you would like to do in your cutting garden. I don’t want your enjoyment to be bogged down by chores so it is up to you the time you would like to spend, but the more time you give to the care of the flowering plants the more flowers you will have to harvest!
For me the preferred compost is a good quality peat free seed compost, but I have also used other types including peat-based ones, coconut coir and homemade compost. From a space point of view coconut coir is great as it takes up very little space before it is hydrated but it is completely devoid of nutrients which must be added to it to make it a viable seed compost. I no longer use homemade compost for seed starting as no matter how hard I tried I could not keep out the weed seeds which are a disaster when they emerge with my germinating flower seeds!
Plastic seed trays with bottom tray for watering. Wash and sterilise all trays between use. I frequently use plastic tray covers while the seeds are germinating – this keeps the heat in and prevents the trays from drying out. Please note: be very careful if using a tray cover in conjunction with bottom heat as it may cause the seeds to cook if the tray gets too hot.
Prepare the tray for the seeds by adding the compost and lightly firming it with a tamper (Andy made me one from a piece of leftover wooden board cut to fit my tray perfectly and a handle from an old curtain pole end). When spreading the seeds take up as much of the tray as possible to give the individual seedlings space. Cover with recommended amount of compost and firm this down with the tamper.
Only bottom water (as much as possible) so as not to disturb the seeds. Once seedling begin to emerge I like to lightly mist these regularly as part of the watering regime. It is very important that seeds DO NOT dry out in their trays. From personal experience I know that most don’t recover and those that do can often be incredibly stressed and just don’t develop into strong, healthy plugs.
Heat & Light:
Unless specifically instructed to keep in darkness seeds should be placed in a position which will allow plenty of daylight – such as a sunny window or greenhouse bench. During the warmer months I sometimes use newspaper to filter the sunlight during the hottest part of the day as to much sun/heat can burn the baby seedings. During the cooler months I almost always use bottom heat (in the greenhouse I have a heated bench), it is not an absolute necessity, but it does it speed up germination process.
Outdoors plants require full sun to be at their most productive. Most will tolerate semi-shade but may not produce as many blooms as they would in full sun.
Once seeds have germinated and are big enough to handle they can be ‘pricked out’ (transplanted) into plug trays or small pots. I prefer plug trays as each individual plug does not use a lot of compost and they produce a perfect size plant to put in the ground. Small pots work very well for a small number of seedlings (one per pot) but you will have to wait longer for them to be rooted well enough to plant into the ground.
Timing is important with this task – if you try to transplant seedlings that are not strong enough they may not survive and if you leave it too long they will become very stressed. Again, from personal experience it really is important to have patience and wait until the little ones are ready to be moved (this is usually when they have at least one or 2 sets of true leaves). If seedlings are left far to long in seed trays they will be very hungry, over-crowded and stressed and most likely will not become healthy, abundant plants.
I use a narrow stick (wooden kitchen skewer) to tease the seedlings apart in the seed tray.
Once the transplanted seedlings have developed a strong, healthy root system (when the roots have filled up their plug or pot) they are ready to be transplanted into their permanent home in the ground, a pot or raised bed. It is important to wait until the roots are strong before transplanting otherwise they just won’t be able to support the plant during its time of settling in and rooting into the ground. I am finally learning to be ruthless during this stage. I used to plant every plug – no matter how small or weak – into the ground and invariably a number would end up dead pretty quickly, leaving an empty space (which an undesirable weed would quickly fill). Andy would have to quickly dispose of any ‘useless’ seedlings before I had a chance to plant them – it felt wrong to throw away any plant but by disposing of the weak ones we were saving ourselves both time and space in the future – lesson learnt!
Feeding and care of plants:
I like to give my plants the best possible start by adding loads of mulch/manure/organic matter to the soil before planting. I find that feeding the plants through the soil is the most time effective way to do it and is also fantastic for the health of the soil. I find this is usually enough to carry most varieties through the season. If I feel they need a boost during their flowering period I will apply a liquid feed (organic bought or home – made nettle tea) to the leaves and base of the plants. It best done as soon after harvesting flowers as possible.
As I work with natural growing processes I don’t use any harmful chemicals on the flower farm. My first line of defence against pest and diseases is strong, healthy plant. This is achieved by having healthy soil and plants that don’t get too stressed, for example by drought. If I do need to use some from of pest control for bugs (aphids and thrips being by main problems) I use an organically certified spray.
Early in the season I use some organic slug pellets when necessary to protect the baby plants.
Damping off is a disease which causes young seedlings in a tray to collapse and die. It’s mainly caused by a fungus or mould.
If damping off does occur immediately transplant any viable seedlings (those that are still upright) into clean a plug tray or pots with fresh compost.
To help prevent this nasty condition wash and sterilise trays between uses, don’t over crowd trays and monitor your watering so that trays are not over or under-watered.
For most flowers, I recommend giving some form of support during the growing season. This is to give you the best possible stems for cutting or displaying on the plant. You can of course save yourself time and effort and let the plants look after themselves. In sheltered areas they may be perfectly fine and self-supporting but in areas prone to wind there is a greater risk of damage to unsupported plants. I personally support most of the rows of flowers as I require the longest, most upright ones for harvesting. If you are a hobby gardener, growing just for the pleasure of having them in your garden you may wish to take a more relaxed approach and allow the plants to grow as they wish during the season.