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Sowing seeds of annual flowering plants

We are far enough into spring now that you can sow hardy annual seed outdoors. Hardy annuals are so-called because they can endure a few degrees of frost, so they can be sown outdoors in autumn and they'll survive the winter. Or they can be sown in early spring outdoors while frosts are still likely. Half-hardy (or tender) annuals generally need sowing in frost-free conditions under cover in late winter or early spring, or outdoors once frosts are passed. This week I'm sowing a few annuals outdoors and making a late sowing of sweet peas. Sowing annuals outdoors <ol> <li> Dig the soil, and firm the area by shuffling forwards with both feet together, until it is flat and free of air pockets. Rake over the area in all directions to create a fine tilt, ready for sowing.</li> <li> Sprinkle grit or sand on the soil to mark out the sowing areas.</li> <li> Within each area, draw out drills about 1in (2.5cm) deep with a hoe, varying the directions of each area.</li> <li> Sow the seeds thinly into the drills (pictured) and carefully rake the soil back over the drills without dislodging the seeds. Firm with the back of a rake, water the drills with a can fitted with a fine rose, and label each area so that you know what's in it.</li> </ol> Sweet peas These are really quite tough climbing annuals, so they can be sown outdoors now. But a better success rate will be had if you sow in control conditions in pots, and plant out the seedlings towards the end of May. ; <ol> <li> Start by soaking the seeds overnight in water to soften the hard, outer casing. Some people like to chip the casing with a sharp knife, but this should be done very carefully.</li> <li> Sow in deep pots that allow room for the seedling's roots. Fill the pots with seed compost, and space-sow five to seven seeds per pot. ;</li> </ol>

Choosing compost

Compost is a finely-balanced thing, a complex blend of minerals, nutrients and organic matter judged so your plants perform at their best. It's no surprise, then, that there are nearly as many types of compost as there are varieties of plant.

We stock dozens of varieties in our garden c…

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