With spring just round the corner, February is a month of expectation in the container garden. You can also start sowing seeds again (hurrah!).
Chillies, peppers and aubergines are particularly worth sowing now.
For keen growers who want to get a head start, there are other crops you can sow this month, too – see below. It is also true, though, that later sowings will often do better – and with less chance of failing due to heavy frosts, lack of light or cold winds. So you can happily wait a month or two. (A cunning strategy can be to sow just a few now and the rest later).
The advice here is for container gardeners in the Northern hemisphere. The timings will be good for most of the UK. For those of you in cooler or warmer regions, the timings will be similar but slightly different: I recommend you look for a seed sowing calendar for your area and use it in conjunction with the advice here. Container growers in India can check out Monica Bathija’s tips from her roof terrace in Mumbai.
- What you can sow inside
- What you can sow outside
- Other jobs this month
1. What you can sow inside
The following seeds can be started inside if you have a bright space, next to a window for example. Seedlings do need light to grow healthily - if you do not have a bright place you may find it easier to buy chilli, aubergine and tomato plants later in April / May instead.
- Aubergines, chillies and peppers – need to grow for about 20 weeks before they fruit. Starting them now improves your chances of a good harvest, but any time before the end of March should be OK.
- Tomatoes – can be sown until early April. Sowing some now will improve your chances of early tomatoes (hopefully by late June / early July) but beware: they grow big, quickly! Your flat can quickly feel like invasion of the triffids as they take over. (I’ve learnt from experience! These days I just sow one or two tomatoes this month).
The above will be killed by frost and so can only be planted outside (in a sunny place) once the threat of frost is over (April in many places).
Their seeds will germinate better if you can provide some warmth (25 – 30 degrees C is optimal, 16 degrees the minimum). A heated propagator (a container with a perspex lid for starting seedlings) will make germination speedier and more reliable. But it is not essential – a simple plastic propagator with a perspex lid, placed in a warm place, is a good alternative. Or you can improvise with a clear polythene bag over small pots or seed trays.
The following crops are less sensitive to frost. They can be sown in a bright place inside now, then moved outside later in March, ideally under cover (eg a plastic cloche) to begin with. There is no urgency to sow these this month – they will quite happily wait for a month or two.
- Salad crops like rocket, mizuna, mibuna, pak choi and red giant.
- Peas. Freshly picked peas are a luxury and if you sow some inside now, you should have a crop for late May, early June. For containers, mangetout or sugar snap peas are significantly more productive than the traditional podded peas.
- Beetroot. You need to sow beetroot in individual modules so that, later, you can move it to a bigger container without disturbing its roots (it hates having its roots disturbed).
2. What you can sow outside
Although it is still cold in many parts, a few seeds and plants are tough enough to be started outside now:
- Broad beans – can be sown outside from now until April. Starting them now can help get them off to a strong start. You won’t get a very good yield of broad beans from a container (you really need lots of space to grow them) but if you love them as much as I do, you may find it hard to resist growing a few.
- Jerusalem artichokes are a tall (6 foot and more) and bushy crop, with delicious, edible tubers. They grow well in large containers – if you can find enough space. You grow them from a tuber, just like a potato. You can plant them now, or wait until March / April.
- Garlic – February is your last chance to sow garlic – get the cloves in the ground before the end of the month.
- Potatoes and carrots can, in warmer places, be sown outside now if you can protect the tender shoots from frost with a cloche or a fleece. Wait until March or April if you live in a cooler part of the UK (like I do).
- Blueberry plants: blueberries are usually sold in pots and can be bought at any time of year. They make an excellent container crop. Now, while they are still dormant over winter, is a particularly good time to get them started in the container garden. Remember that they need acid compost (known as ‘ericaceous’ compost) to grow and that you’ll get a better crop if you grow two different varieties (they like to cross pollinate).
3. Other jobs
- Continue with the preparation jobs from January‘s list.
- Start collecting empty plastic bottles or clear plastic sheeting to put over your seedlings to protect them from cold and slugs (slugs love seedlings). Water cooler bottles, chopped in half are great if you can find them. Empty water / or plastic oil bottles etc are good, too.
- Collect or buy some sticks or canes to support your peas and other climbing crops. Coppiced sticks can give your growing a more natural look if that appeals to you.