Spring stirs dreams of annuals that can be sown in April

It’s late March, my garden is covered in snow. As much as I would like to be outside planting, I hav

It’s late March, my garden is covered in snow. As much as I would like to be outside planting, I have to wait. Instead, I am thinking about gardening outdoors, looking out the window and dreaming of the flowers that will grace my beds this summer.

The first seeds I will be able to sow outside are larkspur, sweet peas and poppies. The sweet peas­ — as well as edible peas — can be sown in mid-April. I sure hope the snow is gone by then. If not, I will plant seeds as soon as we can actually work the soil. These are three tough annuals that will thrive in the typically cool temperatures that will be with us into May and flower their little hearts out this summer.

All three of those flowering annuals are available as seeds at local garden centers and big lot stores. Beware, not all annuals or all varieties can be sown outdoors so early. When in doubt, read the back of the seed packet, as it will state when the seeds can be planted outdoors, how deep to sow the seeds and how far apart they should be planted and sunlight requirements.

By the way, an annual is a plant that completes its life cycle in one year. They do not survive the winter in our region, though some can reseed from year to year.

How to Begin

First, prepare the soil by gently raking the top layer. The soil should be loose and crumbly. If the soil is obviously soaked or forms large clogs when you try to rake it, wait. It is too wet to work. If you can work some organic matter in the top few inches, that would be ideal. Aged manure and compost would be fine, but not fresh manure.

Next, read the package for planting instructions. For example, the Princess Elizabeth sweet pea package recommends soaking the seed in water for 12 to 24 hours before planting outside. The seeds should be planted an inch deep and spaced about two inches apart.

On the package of larkspur, it states that these flowers are susceptible to root shock and do not transplant well. The package recommends either starting them in peat pots indoors or direct sowing in the garden.

The poppies have another special requirement. The seeds need darkness to germinate. “Sow shallow, but must be covered,” the package reads.

Once you know what each plant requires, follow the instructions and sow the seed by sprinkling it as evenly as possible. Seeds need good contact with the soil. If the soil is very dry, moisten it thoroughly before sowing.

Once sown, rake or sieve soil over the seeds and firm in place with a board. Then place plant markers to identify what you have sown.

Trick for sowing

If you are working with a fine seed — like poppy seeds — put the seeds into the triangular fold of a sheet of paper and gently tap the paper. You will have more even control of their dispersal this way.

Germination takes about 10 days for the three annuals mentioned.

Once germinated, it may be necessary to thin seedlings. It is best to do this sooner rather than later.

I know it is hard to thin out plants, but remember properly spaced seedlings will result in stronger, healthier and better blooming plants. And in some cases, you may be able to move the extra seedlings elsewhere in the garden.

Happy gardening.

Categories: Life and Arts

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