Think carefully before rushing to buy plants

When you simply can’t wait to get the growing season under way, it only takes the slightest encouragement to start plants off too early against your better judgement, and later come to regret the hasty action.

Saturday, 9th February 2019, 3:49 pm
Some of the eye-catching varieties of seed potatoes currently on display in local garden centres. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

That thought came to mind last week as we browsed two ever-so-tempting plant displays at the local garden centre.

First came the ornamental plug plants destined for summer flowering outdoors – row upon row of petunias, geraniums, fuchsias, semperflorens begonias and more, immediately raising the interest and morale on a cold January morning.

Next ‘must inspect’ attraction were the eye-catching seed potatoes arranged in 2kg bags, smaller packs and ‘select your own’ fashion. This caters for a range of situations; a large allotment plot, the more modest vegetable garden and those who grow them in containers.

These two enticing displays relate to summer crops; the ornamental bedding and container plants on one hand, and seed potatoes, the earliest of which are normally planted outdoors in late March for June harvesting, on the other.

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The obvious question is ‘have I got the facilities at home to sustain the development of tender ornamental plants under cover until frost-free planting is possible in the garden?’

Half-hardy bedding plants need good daylight and moderate warmth to develop sturdy growth at a steady rate. This rules out our unheated greenhouse, in which the temperature has of late fluctuated between a low negative Celsius figure overnight and 15C under the midday sun.

Nor is a living room with more than adequate warmth for humankind and low light levels the answer. Seedlings/young plants form elongated growth and rarely recover.

Given this, the few plug plants I couldn’t resist were bought and housed in the sun room/conservatory, which offers strong light and moderate overnight warmth.

But not just any plants were chosen. Pelargoniums (geraniums), fibrous rooted begonias and favourite fuchsia varieties were targeted.

The first two are raised from seed in cell trays and demand an early start in keeping with their slow growth process. This allows us to meet a late May planting-out date. Alternatively, they can be potted on in stages to become indoor pot plants.

The fuchsia plugs have been raised from stem cuttings and are more tolerant of midwinter conditions.

Although it might at first appear expensive purchasing these young plants at £1.49 each, just think of the potential for propagation once they reach maturity.