SOWNOW FOR SPRING; Pick out your favourites and take cuttings and seeds for an early harvest festival.
Both are low-cost ways of increasing your garden stock, and even if you only do a couple of pots, it can be very satisfying to watch your favourite plants grow from seeds or cuttings.
Get the kids or grandchildren involved and spark their interest in gardening by cutting open unusual seed pods and explain the magic contained inside.
Collect seedheads on a dry day and pop into brown envelopes or paper bags, labelling as you go. Then, on your kitchen table, open the seedheads and shake out the contents on to some kitchen paper - this will blot up any excess damp.
Remove any chaff as this can cause rot. Don't store seeds in plastic bags as this can encourage moisture retention and fungus - if you don't have brown paper, greaseproof paper will also work.
Seeds for spring sowing can be stored somewhere cool and dry - not in your airing cupboard which is too warm. Some seeds can be planted straightaway such as astrantia, foxglove, angelica, aquilegia, meconopsis, primula, orlaya and delphinium.
With very fine seeds, use seed compost with a layer of grit on top and surface sow them. You can also hedge your bets by sowing some now and some in spring, or if you're waiting to decide, pop them in an airtight container in the fridge where they will keep well.
You can also take cuttings now from many tender herbaceous perennials such as salvias, osteospermum, fuchsias, pelargoniums and argyranthemums.
You might also do this as a sort of insurance policy with plants that you chance leaving in the ground over winter such as Penstemon - at least if there's a hard winter, you know you have its young offspring safely indoors.
Generally, the rule for cuttings is to do it early in the morning and immediately pop them into a plastic bag to retain moisture until you pot them up.
However, with pelargoniums you can let the cutting dry out a bit for a couple of days so the end of the cutting forms a bit of a callus and this will help your cutting survive.
Select a piece of new growth that isn't flowering and cut above a leaf. The key to success in cuttings is the compost you use - it needs to be very free draining so they don't rot. I use sand or horticultural grit in seed compost at a 50:50 ratio.
Remove leaves from the bottom third of the cutting and using a dibber, pop into the pot. You can use hormonerooting powder but it's not necessary. If you are using it, don't overdo it as this can be counterproductive - just a light dusting is sufficient.
When putting a few cuttings in one pot, keep them to the sides of the pot (where it's warmer) rather than sticking one in the middle. Bottom heat from a propagator is a good way of encouraging roots to form. If you're just doing a few cuttings, it's a good idea to keep them indoors on a kitchen windowsill (so long as it's not in direct sunlight) or somewhere you will pass regularly to keep an eye on them.
There's a fine balance between overwatering and letting them dry out. You can cover the pot or tray with some clingflim to conserve moisture, but every few days lift the clingfilm and shake any drops out.
At this time of year, with long daylight hours, usually within four to eight weeks you'll see roots developing - just turn the pot upside down and inspect.
Once you can see a cluster of roots, you have a plant that's ready to be potted on.
So, take a walk in the garden, see what you like the look of and get harvesting!
PRIMULA ASTRANTIA ANGELICA MECONOPSIS FUCHSIA FOXGLOVE PENSTEMON ARGYRANTHEMUM AQUILEGIA
POD ONE OUT Collecting verbena seed
ON THE GROW Planting seeds is a great way to get kids involved in the garden