GARDENING: Sow seeds for hardy annuals in September

Ammi majus.
Ammi majus.
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Most people sow hardy annuals in spring, but you’ll get a much earlier display if you sow seeds in early September.

Combine early autumn sowing with the usual March-May timescale and your annuals will look better for far longer.

A Californian poppy.

A Californian poppy.

Not every type is suitable - they must tolerate frost.

There’s three basic methods - direct sowing without protection; direct sowing with cloches or horticultural fleece when frost is forecast; or sow in pots and keep frost-free.

For direct sowing, either broadcast seeds thinly over weed-free, firmed and raked soil, or sow in drills. Don’t use fertiliser at this point. Aim for a gap of about 0.5cm (¼in) between seeds, then cover lightly with soil and water. If sowing in drills, space them 15-45cm (6-18in) apart.

If your garden has a frost pocket or is very exposed, sow annuals under cover at 18°C (64°F), reducing to 15°C (59°F) after germination. Grow them on into small plants, harden them off for overwintering in a cold frame or cold glasshouse, to plant out the following spring.

Godetia.

Godetia.

The following hardy annuals probably will require protection at some point, unless you live right on the coast. If hard frosts are forecast, protect with cloches or horticultural fleece.

Ammi majus/Ammi Visnaga; Calendula officinalis (pot marigold); Centaurea cyanus (cornflower); Limnanthes douglasii (poached egg plant); Linum grandiflorum (flax); Hordeum jubatum (squirrel tail grass); Nigella damascena (love-in-a-mist); Papaver commutatum, P. rhoeas, P. somniferum (corn and opium poppies); Briza (quaking grass); Consolida (larkspur); Agrostemma githago (corncockle); Bupleurum; Iberis (annual candytuft); Scabiosa (scabious, a perennial often grown as an annual); Phacelia tanacetifolia (lacy phacelia); Malope trifida.

The following plants definitely need some protection from frosts. Cloches and horticultural fleece should be sufficient near the coast, sow in pots under glass inland.

Eschscholzia (Californian poppy); Gypsophila elegans; Lavatera trimestris (mallow); Cerinthe major var. purpurascens; Salvia viridis (annual clary); Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis (night-scented stock); Orlaya grandiflora; Nemophila; Adonis aestivalis; Godetia.

JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND

Start watering dormant cyclamen to bring them back into growth after their summer rest.

Keep picking autumn-fruiting raspberries and prune out fruited canes on summer-cropping varieties.

Summer prune apple and pear trees to encourage more fruiting spurs. Put grease bands on fruit trees to catch wingless winter moths.

Plant out rooted strawberry runners and pot some up to bring into the greenhouse later in winter for early fruits.

Vegetables to sow now include lettuce, spinach, land cress, purslane, beetroot, radishes, coriander, spring onions, calabrese, spring greens, turnips for their green tops, Swiss chard, winter spinach and hardy Japanese onions.

Harvest cucumbers regularly to promote further flower development.

Stop watering begonias and gloxinias so they die down after flowering.

Catch earwigs in upturned pots crammed with newspaper or straw on canes among dahlias, and destroy any you find.

Prune pyracantha and train shoots to supports.

Prepare soil to plant evergreen shrubs and conifers by digging it over and incorporating lots of organic matter.

Prune lavender to maintain its shape, and take lavender cuttings by pulling off sideshoots and insert in trays of gritty compost.

Prune rambling roses, removing shoots that have finished flowering.

Plant conifers, shrubs and hedging.

Remove suckers from roses, shrubs and around the base of trees.

Trim box topiary and hedging

Improve soil ready for sowing a lawn from seed during showery autumn weather.

Hoe and hand weed borders.

Pinch out the tips of wallflowers to promote bushier growth.

Buy spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, crocuses, narcissus and fritillaries.

Apply an autumn lawn feed.

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