Sowing slow-maturing bedding
Some half-hardy annuals and other bedding plants take a long time to flower from seed and must be sown in January or February if they are to bloom by early summer. To be successful in this, you will need a heated propagator to germinate some of the seeds and a warm, light position to grow them on once they have pricked out. Indoors, good light is critical to avoid plants becoming pale and drawn, but seedlings and young plants must be shaded from strong, direct sunlight. Plants for early sowing include antirrhinums, African marigolds, Begonia semperflorens, gazanias, pelargoniums and lobelias. If you do not have the facilities for early germination, consider buying plants as ready-to-prick-out seedlings.
Seedlings started off so early in the year are especially vulnerable to the fungal disease damping off, which causes seedlings and young plants to collapse at soil level.
Always clean used seed trays and pots thoroughly and sterilise them with garden disinfectant. Sow seeds thinly, avoid overwatering and provide newly germinated seedlings with the best growing conditions you can.
Preparing new beds
Take advantage of any periods of dry, mild weather to dig new flower beds ready for sowing and planting in spring. Leave the final raking and levelling until later, as weed seeds are bound to germinate and can be removed in spring.