GROW your own flowers. It’s the simplest way to stop buying plants grown in peat compost and sold in plastic pots. It’s always tempting to fill the trolley with blooming bedding plants at the garden centre and plonk them in the garden. But sowing your own bedding plants is easy and much cheaper.

I always remember passing an old guy’s garden in Jedburgh. Every February, his greenhouse sprang into life, was soon crammed with seed trays and his trophies were duly planted out in June. And though I hated his choice of plants, he certainly showed what could be done.

There are two main groups of summer annuals: tender and hardy. You do need heat for tender ones and this will be a problem if you’ve very little space. But everyone can sow hardy specimens as they can be direct sown into a bed.

As I write, tender seedlings like Lobelias and Brachyscome are all vying for propagator space because they need warmth, 18-20C, to get going. Others, including Cosmos and Rudbeckia, are desperately waiting their turn.

Some bedding plants such as my favourite Nicotianas have dust-like seed: sowing isn’t at all difficult, it’s just different.

I use seed trays with enough space to very thinly scatter the seed on the surface. I’m following the golden rule for sowing: the larger the seed, the deeper you plant, so these specks of dust sit on the surface to get enough light to germinate.

Predictably perhaps, I use my own compost mix, but a peat-free alternative is equally possible. Water with a fine rose to settle seed into the soil and put on a cover.

Once seedlings emerge, let more light in during the day by removing the cover. Leave in trays till they have three pairs of leaves, then transplant. They often come out of the seed tray in small clumps. Pull away the weak specimens and plant in 5cm pots.

Separate plants once they’re large enough to handle easily. Wet the clump, hold by the leaves and gently tease apart. You can also identify and snip off less thrifty individuals.

The smaller the seed, the longer the growing time. Since it takes 3-4 months for tiny seeded ones to get large enough to plant out, we need to sow this month. I can leave big seeded Nasturtiums for several weeks to take some pressure off propagator space.

You could also sow hardy annuals in root trainers – they don’t need pricking out – and plant out sturdy little specimens. But why not sow directly into the ground in April once the soil has warmed up a little.

Cornflower, Centuarea cyanus, Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella, and Pot Marigold, Calendula, can all be sown like this.

Two or three weeks before sowing, trowel over your intended patch, level the ground and leave bare. Then just before sowing, hoe the ground to kill tiny emerging weed seedlings. This ‘stale seedbed’ method is great for giving your seed a head start on weeds.

Make a shallow slot 0.5cm deep or scoop out a thin depression, marking exactly where you’ve sown. You could make this easier to identify by sowing in straight lines, squares, circles or whatever you fancy.

Thinly sow seeds, water to let them bed in, and scatter a thin layer of soil on top. The seedlings are very shallow so should be watered regularly but not excessively. Only start thinning seedlings when large enough for you to easily identify the leaves.

Most, but not all, hardy annuals are sown like this, so check a seed packet to confirm what’s recommended. For example, Poppies, both Papaver species and the Californian Eschscholzias should be covered even more thinly than most.

Plant of the week

Iris reticulata ‘Blue Note’ has deep blue – purple petals and falls marked with white dashes; the neat foliage is grey green. Tougher and less susceptible to weather damage than some reticulata irises.