CAN you believe it's just about time to get your summer bedding plants started?
Growing your own has many advantages. Perhaps the most obvious is that of cost, but there are many practical advantages such as the ability to plan in advance your chosen colour schemes and ideas, safe in the knowledge that the plants required will be available at planting time.
Starting from seed is only one option if you are thinking about growing your own.
There is an abundance of ready grown seedlings and plug plants about to hit the garden centres, which takes so much of the risk of failure away from traditional sowing.
With no need to buy and run heated propagators, maintain higher growing temperatures or worry about sowing techniques, growing from seedlings and plugs is easy provided you still have a warm enough environment to grow them on.
Seedlings are available in a wide range of varieties. Those who wish to grow specific colours to create schemes will not be disappointed as the range of colours available in some varieties greatly exceeds that of the seed offerings.
Some of the seedling varieties compare very favourably against the cost of buying and germinating seed - indeed in many cases, plant for plant, the cost of seedlings is often the same as buying from seed.
Consider further the cost involved in using seed sowing compost, buying and running a heated propagator, and seed trays when starting from seed, and it's little contest.
You will generally find that the greater the price of purchasing from seed the greater the chance of it being cheaper to grow from seedlings, and vice versa.
Geraniums, begonias, petunias, marigolds and impatiens all generally represent a very good buy to purchase as seedlings or plugs.
The seedlings will be purchased ready to move on ("pricked out") into either small pots or trays, ideally those divided into cells, within a few days.
Make sure you use reputable compost recommended for the purpose, such as Levington Multi-Purpose.
For those who have never tackled pricking out before the prospect can be very frightening, especially if you have fingers and thumbs the size of mine.
It is a very easy and enjoyable task. There is something tremendously satisfying about handling such young, delicate plants.
Make sure the seedlings are watered well beforehand and use a dibber or pencil to tease the seedlings apart, making sure you hold the leaf and not the stem.
Water your seedlings as soon as they are in their new location and place in a frost-free position away from a draught. Keep plants moist but not waterlogged.
When planting time approaches and you wish to produce plants quickly it is possible to purchase some varieties of bedding plants as larger plug plants.
Again at the stage of requiring moving on into trays or pots they will be further advanced than seedlings and supplied grown in individual cells so that each plant has its own self-contained roots system.
This makes them very easy to handle.