Gardening Guide

February is planting season

(All photos: Shutterstock)

I am still pondering the Lazy Person’s Garden. I have started to nurture the few cactus and succulents that I have and intend to buy some more. I still hanker after colour and, in that mood, ordered some seeds. Now I have quite a lot of seeds to plant. 

Realising this is not a task for the lazy gardener, the result was fun. I tended to go out every morning to see what had come up and it’s given me great wonder and happiness when they do. I haven’t planted many because it is still early in the growing season and as it still gets very cold at night, it might damage them. I only plant as many as I could carry inside to protect them from the inclement weather.

In case you also get tempted, I thought I would revise some of the little tricks that you might have forgotten. To begin with, save all of the bubble wrap you have; it makes perfect protection tucked around seed pots or plants. It allows the light to get through and holds some warmth that’s accumulated during the day, to comfort the growing things at night. Also, it’s free!

I soak big seeds like peas or sweet peas, or seeds with very hard shells, in tepid water, and a weak solution of fungicide for an hour or two before I sow them. The tiny seeds I sow with a (well-washed) salt shaker, and with a steady hand making sure that I have even coverage. Making sure first that the surface of the soil is level and slightly tamped down. Then with an old sugar shaker that I have with bigger holes, filled with fine soil, or even clean sand if it is recommended the seeds, as some seeds need light to germinate.

I leave it to settle down for a while then water it with a weak solution of manzanilla tea which prevents drying off. I use the manzanilla spray after the seeds have produced their first real leaves, especially if the weather is warm and damp. Remember that plantlets are affected by climatic effects other than hot and cold. Downpours can wash them out of the soil if their roots are not very strong. The wind is a killer. It robs the plants – of any size – of their mini-climate of humidity, and they will dry out and die trying to re-establish it.

If you’ve sown the seeds too thickly, don’t thin them by pulling the extras out; that will disturb the roots of the ones you want. I use nail scissors to snip them off at the soil surface as the points on the blades make it easier to select. 

Remember that young roots are very tender, hold off on the fertilizer until the plants are well established.


Now we come to the next step: Planting if needed. This can also apply to pretty plants in little pots with a few extra steps.

First step: Water the plant well, and dig it out with as much soil around the roots as you can.
Second step: Dig the hole and water it well. Hold the plant gently by the stem in one hand and lower it gently into the hole, fill in the around the roots keeping the level of the soil surface the same. When that is done you can firm press the surface around the plant and water when it has settled.
The extra steps for pretty little plants in little pots, remenber when you are buying them. Try pulling each out of its pot, if it dosent want to come or has roots hanging out of the bottom, put it back.

When you get your chosen little plant back home and are ready to plant it, water it well so that the soil adheres to the roots. If the roots are in a solid ball, soak it in a bowl of water then try to tease the roots out a bit. If you don’t do this the roots take ages to venture out into your lovely garden and it will take longer for the plant to settle in. I have pulled out plants at the end of the season which have not been been growing well and the roots have stayed within the confines of their original pot size.

The hole that you dig should be wider so that you can spread the teased-out roots, and your addition of soil to the hole should be more firmly tamped down, water gently after each scoop. Remember that the little plant is weakened – a patient (think of the care that a human patient gets after an organ transplant). Coddle it, shade it, and cover it until it gets acclimatized. If its root gets damaged then it needs time to settle in, all plants need to flourish. After a while, it will probably appreciate a little fertilizer in a ring around the plant to encourage those roots to reach out for it. This is of enormous importance since we are gardening in a Mediterranean climate. The plants that survive our climate do so by pushing their roots deep into the soil which is cooler so they can retain some moisture. Thyme and rosemary have very fine roots up to five meters long. A tomato plant had roots that were measured at thirty meters before the investigators gave up. That is a place where tomatoes are perennials, of course.
I hope that a thousand words or so of instruction have not discourage you, this is not an exaggeration but it is an advocacy of care for a living thing, and almost always a guarantee of success.

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