How to prick out seedlings (and other February gardening)

It feels strange to be writing about heat loving plants like aubergines as Britain is gripped by unseasonally cold weather. Kitchen gardening is about always thinking ahead, anticipating and planning for what is to come, so I have been happy thinking about warm summer days as I wrap myself up in layers of thermals and woollens!

In my previous blog I explained how I sow aubergine, chilli and sweet pepper seedlings. The first seedling germinated on 16th February – Pot Black F1 aubergine. Can you spot it, roughly in the middle of the photo?

By the 19th they were ready to prick out. These germinated noticeably faster than the other aubergine seeds.

Mr Fothergill’s Aubergine Pot Black F1

Two¬†cotyledons and little sturdy stems. These are Mr Fothergill’s seeds that I am trying out this year – a variety bred to grow outdoors in the UK. It is far too early to know how they might grow, but they certainly germinate well.

It was so, so cold outside that after filling the module tray I brought it indoors to prick out! I fill the modules with compost, press it down firmly with my fingers and refill, pressing down again. The compost needs to be firm not loose. Then the tray was watered before bringing it inside.

This tray a good size for my narrow windowsill heated propagator. I’ve had these trays for several years, it was second hand when I got it. One module is a bit split but still useable. The large plant saucer helped to protect my table from the wet compost.

Using an pencil (a cheap quality one that came free with some labels, quite useless as a pencil but great as a mini dibber) I made holes in the middle of each module for the seedling. Conveniently, there were exactly 12 baby seedlings, one for each module.

With the pencil, I carefully removed each seedling and very gently lifted it to the hole. I used the pencil dibber to gently push the root and almost all of the stem into the hole, tucking the seedling in firmly so that it was buried up to the¬†cotyledons. This method helps to ‘rescue’ any leggy seedlings, too.

When all 12 seedlings had been pricked out, they went onto the heated propagator with little lids on. I have a lid that more or less fits this size of tray, but I am not quite sure where it is!


Today (February 27th) many of the rest of the seedlings have germinated and can be pricked out soon. This photo was taken just before watering the seed trays. I use a small copper indoor watering can for the seedlings – it has a very gentle flow.

The frogs finally returned on February 16th – I am feeling rather sorry for the frogs and their spawn as the current very low temperatures means that my pond is solid ice.

On February 22nd, after being unable to do much garden for weeks due to the horrible flu bug, I took advantage of a sunny day to sow some peas, broadbeans, onions and shallots – they are on heat mats in the greenhouse, on a low setting just to take the edge off the cold. The lids were on for the first few days.


I harvested parsnips (this one was about 18 inches long) and decided to tidy up the area which had be smashed up by a January storm and then churned up by the guys replacing fence panels (see New Year Update). Sawing the two large lumps of concrete off old fence posts took ages and were very heavy: I could only roll them a short distance. They are next to a buddleia -not very attractive but I’ll make some kind of wildlife rockery out of them. There was a lot of broken up wood, so I spread some large sheets of cardboard on the earth (to stop weeds growing up) and stacked them as neatly as I could until I have the time to use them elsewhere in the garden – nothing will be wasted (as much as possible!) The rest of the ground looked very sorrowful and, as it had been understandably churned up by men erecting the fence, the disturbed earth will be covered with weeds as soon as the weather warms a little. Anticipating this, I decided that for now the best solution was to cover as much as I could with an old sheet of plastic (this is a groundsheet from an old tent) weighed down with stones, a metal dustbin and an old car wheel. One area left exposed is a small area of clover and wild strawberries that I always leave for wild life. And me, I eat the strawberries too.

Whilst working, I used my sprinkler to water the polytunnel. Afterwards, layers of bubblewrap and fleece were spread over more sensitive plants. The polytunnel offers some protection from weather but it still freezes and I knew that very low temperatures were on their way. All of the pelargoniums are now in the kitchen, I think it is going to be too cold for them even with fleece.

In the polytunnel the dwarf apricot Aprigold and the as yet unidentified potted tree are both in very similar looking bud. Outside, a Red Filbert Cob Nut has stunning pink catkins. Signs of spring … but winter is still very much with us. Today we have had some snow flurries here in Somerset and icy cold winds. There are weather warnings for more extreme conditions later in the week. Much as I love snow, I hope it holds off for another day so that I can get to London tomorrow for the Garden Press Event.



2 thoughts on “How to prick out seedlings (and other February gardening)”

  1. Hope you got to London ok today and more so hope you got home ok . We have about 8 inches of snow in Kent and the wind is just getting up now . Brrr freezing . Keep warm . I planted some onion seeds the other day and put them in my little plastic propagater . Let’s hope it protects them from the freezing weather . Xx

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