Mid-summer in the garden can sometimes feel like the run-up to winding down – a time for enjoying the lovely colour in the flower beds but with the knowledge the gardening season will soon be over. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, mid-summer is one of the best times of year to start sowing flowering plants all over again. From quick growing annuals, to long-standing perennials, now is the perfect time to put the seed in the ground.
Harness the warmth
Warm summer soils provide excellent conditions for the germination of seeds – no need for heat pads, overhead lights, or loading window ledges with seed trays. All you need do, is fill containers with quality seed raising mix, follow the instructions on the seed packets, and if conditions are dry, add moisture. At this time of year, your seed trays can be popped outside in a warm, sheltered position, well protected from birds or other animals.
Summer sown flower seeds sowing can be divided into 3 broad categories: 1. Seed to provide pretty flowers before winter comes calling. 2. Seed to provide colour over winter. 3. Seed to provide perennial flowers for next spring and summer (perennial plants are those that bloom year after year without the need to resow the seed). If you live in a warmer part of the country (where frosts are rare or very light), you can try all three categories of sowing. If you live in a cooler part of the country (where frosts are usual but not heavy) it can be best to skip category 1. And if you live in mountainous regions (such as Central Otago and the central North Island), stick to catagory 3, and employ your greenhouse or warm, sheltered positions when it comes to planting out or overwintering potted seedlings.
Quick-to-bloom flowering plants include nasturtiums (they come in so many shades, now, and are perfect for covering anything you’d rather not look at, or for filling a trailing flower basket). Pretty sky-blue cornflowers deliver blooms in just ten to twelve weeks, and keep on flowering if regularly dead-headed. Nigella flowers for briefer periods but brings frothy delicacy and is well worth sowing. Cosmos, in all it shades of pink, will bloom in less than two months, and often keeps flowering right through autumn. Sow it as a backdrop to shorter plants or mix it in with vegetable planting to encourage the bees.
Wish-for winter colour
Pansies often surprise us with their hardiness – they look so fragile but they weather the cold with ease, especially when a fungal watch is kept on them, and when any dying foliage or spent blooms are quickly removed. Sow the seed in summer and transplant the little seedlings as soon as they have two true leaves on them. This gives them plenty of space and time to start growing before the cold sets in. Primula malacoides (fairy primula) provide candyfloss pink and white colour in winter and early spring. Sow them now and place the seed in a coolish spot until it germinates. Calendula (marigold) and alyssum are a pretty combo, and although we often think of them as ‘common,’ in winter they are a real treat (what’s more, calendula now come in many different shades).
We are in awe of perennials when spring and summer come around, and often wish we had our own growing. If this sounds like you, now is the time to sow the seed of magnificent delphiniums, towering perennial phlox, stunning Echinacea, and dramatic, colourful lupins. Nurse these over the winter months, and watch them come to life in spring. They make for a perfect picking garden.
Use what is (in many parts of the country) the warmest month of the year to year-round colour.