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Easy Autumn propagation for fantastic flowers next season

The next couple of weeks will be a busy time for me.

On our Surrey Chalk, where the winters are comparatively mild, and the ground is very well drained, Autumn sowings of Hardy annuals are really important. But what about if propagation isn't something you are familiar with?

How can you get early fantastic flowers next season?

Overwintered cornflowers

I grow most of my plants from seeds, but seed sowing, and pricking on, and planting out needs some knowledge, and you need to get the timings right. One way of taking out one of those processes and so enabling you to have bigger and better plants without as much work , is to buy plug plants.

If you're anything like me, you'll have had several catalogues drop through your door this week trying to tempt you, but is it worth getting plugs of your Winter bedding, or perennials or hardy annuals for next year?

There are some amazing bargains to be had ordering plug plants online, in comparison to buying plants ready grown at the Garden Centre. But that's only if you can grow on all the plants to full size. If you get a 30% or 50 % attrition rate, then they become an expensive way of buying. Here are some hints and tips when ordering your mail order plugs.

1) Don't order them if you're going to be away on holiday, or give the mail order company your holiday dates so they don't arrive while you're away

2) As soon as you order them, make sure that you have appropriate trays or pots plus compost. If you ordered a pack of 144 plants, you will need 144 pots or trays with 144 spaces. (This may seem obvious, but you never have quite as many as you think)

3) The week they are likely to arrive, leave a note out for your postman so that they don't take them away if you aren't in. My lovely postlady knows to leave mine in the greenhouse if they don't fit through the post box. (some companies have developed clever trays that fit through the slot)

4) AS SOON as they arrive, open up the tray and check if they need water. The photo below shows how some of the plugs i've had arrived very dry and needed dunking in a bowl of water to re-wet them. Look at the difference in colour or the compost of the 2 plugs. Sometimes one end of the pack is fine, and the other dry. (These plugs are Sweet Williams. Order now for flowers next June)

Dry plug against wet one

5) pot them up ASAP. If you can get your plugs in bigger trays or pots the day they arrive then they'll have a fantastic chance of them all surviving. - If not the chances of them staying healthy diminish rapidly each day. (these are perennial Monarda plants, Hayloft plants gave me a fantastic deal on these, which I hope will be giving lots of flowers next July in soft pinks and whites)

Planting plugs into tray

6) I usually sieve my compost when i'm sowing seeds and potting on. This may seem like a lot of faff, but the compost has to make good contact with the root system of the plugs if it is to grow on quickly and give you the strongest and most floriferous plants. The 3 most important ways for it to do this are

  •  not to have any larger lumps in the compost so the contact surface is even
  • use finger tips to ensure the compost is pushed into contact with the plug root
  • water well

7) Keep your pots and trays well watered, and the plugs will grow on quickly and strongly. As soon as you can see roots at the bottom they can be planted out. This is often in as short a time as 2-4 weeks.

I've used

J parkers, Hayloft plants, Thompson and Morgan and Jersey plants for plugs in the past. - All have different systems, all have given me good results if I've managed to get them planted up straight away. The only difficulties come if the post system goes awry, or if I'm not organised enough to have compost ready.

If you want to do more propagation give some plug plants a try this Autumn, or if you're feeling even more adventurous, come and do a workshop with me to learn how to propagate cut flowers from seeds, cuttings and bulbs.



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