February is a month of expectation in the container garden. Spring is tantalisingly close. You can also start sowing some seeds now. The miracle of seeds emerging never ceases to be joyful and exciting to watch – a perfect cure for any lingering winter blues. But you may chose to hold off on sowing seeds for now: see the FAQs below.
Advice here is based on the UK climate. It will also be relevant for most other Northern hemisphere countries. Seed sowing dates will, however, vary slightly from region to region, so I’d recommend tracking down a seed sowing calendar for your area as well (Google will help you here).
If you live in India or nearby, check out Monica Bathija’s tips for what to do now, based on her experience growing on her roof terrace in Mumbai. Thanks for sharing this, Monica.
- What you can sow outside
- What you can sow inside
- Other jobs
- What type of compost do I need to sow seeds in?
- Is it a good idea to start sowing seeds now?
- How much light do my seeds need?
- Can I buy plants instead of sowing seeds?
- How much space do I need to start seeds inside?
1. 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 an early and strong start. You probably won’t get a huge yield of broad beans from a container (you really need lots of space to get a good crop) 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 and bushy crop, with tasty, edible roots. They can grow well in large containers if you have 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).
2. What you can sow inside
If you have a fairly bright space inside, you can sow the following seeds in small pots or trays now, ready to transplant outside later in March. It’s really rewarding to be eating fresh green veg early in the year and starting seeds off inside now, will get you off to a head start.
- 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).
The following seeds all need a bit more warmth than the above to germinate (this is because they come originally from warm sub-tropical countries). A heated propagator will make germination speedier and more reliable. But you can still grow them OK without one. A simple plastic propagator with a perspex lid is a low cost alternative, and can work well, particularly if you have a warm window sill or airing cupboard. Or you can improvise with a clear polythene bag over small pots or seed trays.
- Aubergines – need to grow for a long time (about 20 weeks) before they will start to fruit. So starting them in February can help to ensure you get a good harvest before the end of the summer, but any time before the end of March should be OK. Aubergines do well in containers but you must have a sunny sheltered spot to grow them successfully.
- Chillies and Peppers – as for aubergines, see above.
- Tomatoes – tomatoes can be sown any time from now until early April. Sowing a few now will help you to get tomatoes early in the season (hopefully by late June / early July) but beware of sowing too many now as they do grow quite huge, quite quickly! See note on space below.
3. Other jobs
- Continue with the construction and organising 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 look wonderful if you can find some.
What type of compost do I need to sow seeds?
You need a good quality seed compost or a multipurpose compost. Either will be fine for sowing all the seeds listed here. Avoid potting compost or municipal compost, it’s too rich for sowing seeds. (In the UK, New Horizon Peat Free multipurpose compost is a good all rounder.)
Is it a good idea to start sowing seeds now?
Yes and no! Sowing seeds now will help you get harvests earlier in the year. Bear in mind, though, that when its cold and light levels are low, seeds can be more tricky to coax into life. They’ll also need love and attention (and plenty of light) if they’re to grow strong and healthy. If you’re new to growing, you may want to hold back for a month or two: you’ll still have plenty of time to create a productive container food garden if you start later this year.
How much light do my seeds need?
Seeds will grow strongest in a bright space, close to a large, bright window. If you start them without enough light they may quickly grow tall, thin and weak – particularly if you keep them in these low light levels for more than a few days. If you’re unsure, I’d give it a try with an open mind and see what happens. (I’ve successfully raised seeds on a north facing window sill – true, they did grow a bit spindly but they did OK in the end.) If you really don’t have enough light (this is my current situation) you can rig up a growing light, or start seeds outside a bit later in the year.
Can I buy plants instead of sowing seeds?
Yes! And this totally makes sense if you don’t have enough space or light to start your seeds inside, or if you haven’t got time to sow right now. In particular, aubergines, chillies, peppers and tomatoes, make good sense to buy as plants in late April / early May (after all risk of frost has passed so you can plant them straight outside). You don’t need many and they need plenty of warmth, light and time to start from seed yourself. However, I do recommend sowing salad and root crops from seed – salads because they’re so easy and root crops because they don’t like to be moved. Peas, beans and courgettes / squash are also good ones to grow from seed.
How much space do I need to start seeds now?
To start seeds inside, you just need enough space in front of a bright windowsill to hold a tray or two of seeds. Bear in mind though that if you sow your peppers, chillies, aubergines and tomatoes inside now, they can’t be moved outside until all risk of frost has passed (usually around mid April to May in the Northern hemisphere). So you’ll need enough space on your windowsill for them to grow and develop for at least two, perhaps three months. Tomatoes, in particular, can get quite large in this time. My space has been completely over run by huge tomato plants in the past!
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