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Pricking out parsley seedlings

Your July seed sowing jobs

Published: Tuesday, 5 July, 2022 at 1:27 pm

Keen to keep sowing into summer? From winter radishes to honesty, there's plenty to start from seed in July for delicious harvests and beautiful flowers

July is a wonderful time to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the garden’s bounty. You might think seed sowing takes a back seat this month, but many vegetables and flowers benefit from the good light and warm temperatures of mid-summer. Sown now, relatively fast-growing crops such as peas and dwarf French and soybeans will be ready to harvest before the first frosts, while others like Swiss chard, sprouting broccoli and chicory can be sown for picking through autumn, winter and spring. July is also a great time to start off biennial flowers. So if you can spare a few minutes for seed sowing over the next four weeks, you’ll be reaping the rewards for many months to come.

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What to Sow in July - at a glance

Vegetables: dwarf French beans, carrots, lettuce, winter cabbages, turnips, radishes, corn salad, beetroot, calabrese, kale, peas, kohlrabi, sprouting broccoli, winter radishes, Swiss chard, endive, chicory, Florence fennel, Welsh onion, rocket

Herbs: coriander, dill, chervil, parsley, borage, sorrel

Flowers: forget-me-not, delphiniums, pansies, foxgloves, wallflowers, honesty, lupins, sweet rocket, bellis, aquilegia, echinacea, sweet Williams, Anchusa azurea, Arctic poppies, nasturtiums


Vegetables

Kohlrabi

This unusual-looking vegetable is more drought than most brassicas

This unusual vegetable might look rather like an alien (according to my kids), but it is a quick-growing, delicate-tasting, member of the brassica family. We often cook kohlrabi in one of our favourite simple soups, with onion, potato, cream and black pepper. It is also delicious grated or sliced raw in salads and coleslaws. Purple kohlrabi, like ‘Purple Delicacy’, ‘Kolibri’ and ‘Azur Star’ are hardier than the green varieties and are ideal for sowing this month for autumn and winter harvests.

Seed should be sown direct in July, as kohlrabi seedlings have a tendency to bolt if transplanted in warm weather. Make a 2cm deep drill in well-prepared soil and water the base. Sow seed thinly and cover. Once seedlings develop their first true leaves, thin out to 23cm apart and keep well-watered as they grow. It helps to sow in batches every fortnight during the summer. Plants can then be harvested when the swollen stems reach around tennis-ball size, before they become too big and woody.

Kohlrabi looks fantastic in containers. Purple varieties create striking edible displays, underplanted with purple and white summer-flowering herbs like creeping thyme and winter savoury.


Welsh onion

Harvested Welsh onions. Getty Images
Welsh onions are ideal in salads or used as an alternative to chives. Photo Getty Images

Traditional bulb onions have been ready to harvest since June, but you can still sow Welsh onions (Allium fistulosum) until the end of July. These perennial varieties, also known as Japanese bunching onions or stone leeks, are grown for their leaves and long white stalks rather than bulbs. They can be treated as annuals and grown in batches every few weeks for harvesting through the summer and autumn, or grown as perennials. If you harvest whole onions, cut off the lower half of the rooted bulb and replant in moist compost or in the vegetable bed and you’ll create a new bunching onion for free, alternatively, simply trim the leaves and it will regrow.

Sow seeds thinly in rows 1.5cm deep in an open, sunny vegetable bed with well-drained soil, raked to a fine tilth. Germination should occur in around 10-14 days. Thin seedlings to 2.5cm apart for the smaller salad onion varieties and 8cm apart for larger-leaved types. Avoid sowing in acid soil or in areas where onions have recently been grown, to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases.

‘Ishikura’ is a quick growing bunching onion with long stalks. It can be harvested young for salads or left to mature. ‘Red Ninja’ and ‘Welsh Red’ are decorative varieties with white shanks and attractive red bases to the stems.

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Swiss chard

Swiss chard grows well in pots or in the ground

If you’re after a versatile crop that looks beautiful and tastes delicious too, then Swiss chard is a superb choice. Not only that, it is easy to grow, slow to bolt and provides spinach-like leaves right through from early spring to late autumn. Sow this ornamental leaf beet in July for baby salad leaves in about eight weeks, or allow to mature and harvest next spring.

Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with fertile soil, and sow seeds in a shallow drill 1cm deep, thinning seedlings to 25cm apart once they are large enough to be handled. Cover plants with cloches over winter for the best crops. Leaves should be ready to harvest from March onwards.

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This low-maintenance vegetable thrives in containers filled with peat-free compost. Try sowing two or three varieties like ‘Rhubarb Chard’, ‘Bright Yellow’ and ‘White Silver’, each in a separate container for a bold, eye-catching display, or choose the cheery rainbow stems of ever-popular ‘Bright Lights’. We grow Swiss chard in our cottage garden border as well as the vegetable beds, where its vivid stems and attractive leaves easily hold their own alongside our ornamental plants.


Winter radishes

Winter radishes are fast growing and delicious in salads

For something a little different, we sow spicy winter radishes in July. These tasty additions to salads, soups and stews range from the long white roots of ‘Neptune’ to the huge inky globes of ‘Black Spanish Round’, which grow up to the size of a tennis ball and are extremely hardy. ‘Misato Rose Flesh’, also known as the watermelon radish, is another beautiful variety with a pale green skin and creamy outer flesh that flushes deep pink-purple in the centre. This radish looks spectacular sliced in salads!

Winter radishes are best sown in July and August, to provide a harvest throughout autumn and into the winter. Avoid planting any earlier to avoid the risk of bolting, and ensure all seeds are sown by the end of summer or your radishes may not have enough time to develop before the frosts. Winter radishes are ideal for planting where you have previously been growing vegetables like onions or broad beans, which are harvested in mid- to late summer. Sow seeds in a sunny spot outdoors in moisture-retentive, fertile soil, in rows 1cm deep, thinning to 15cm between plants. Space individual rows 30cm apart.

Unlike summer radishes, these larger, obliging cousins can be left in situ, once the roots have developed (in 8-10 weeks), until needed or lifted in November and stored in a cool, dry place through winter.


Parsley

Curley parsley is hardier than flat-leaved types

July is a great time to sow this nutritious herb for cropping through the winter and into spring. One method is to sow seed in plugs. Don’t worry if it takes a few weeks for seedlings to appear – parsley is notoriously slow to germinate. Plant seedlings out in moist soil or into large pots to allow them to develop good-sized roots. Parsley in containers can be moved under cover in cold weather.

Alternatively, sow in shallow drills, 1cm deep, in rich, moisture-retentive soil, perhaps where you have made space by harvesting a crop like basil or shallots. Keep soil well-watered until germination occurs and thin plants to 23cm apart. Take care not to harvest too many leaves during winter, as plants grow more slowly in the colder months.

Sometimes curly parsley gets a bad press, but it looks attractive in containers and edging vegetable borders. Chopped finely, it can be used in many dishes – we love adding fresh leaves to salsa verde and cheese sauce with fish. Compact varieties like ‘Champion’ can be grown on the windowsill, so you’ll have flavouring at your fingertips all year. At the other end of the scale, the flat-leaved variety ‘Giant of Italy’ develops into impressively tall, bushy plants with fantastic flavour.

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Sorrel

Red-veined sorrel
Red-veined sorrel has striking good looks and a lemony flavour

I adore everything about this perennial herb, from its upright green, often red-veined foliage to its refreshingly zingy taste. Sorrel has a long season, providing leaves for a wide range of dishes like salads, risottos and omelettes, from spring right through to autumn, when plants begin to die back for the winter. Although sorrel is often sown in mid-spring, you can still sow seeds in July into containers or well-prepared, moisture-retentive soil, in full sun or partial shade.

Sorrel belongs to the Rumex genus, which includes around 200 species out of which the three most often cultivated are buckler-leaved, broad-leaved and red-veined. Try planting red-veined sorrel in containers alongside compact nasturtiums like ‘Ladybird’ or ‘Chameleon’. The edible nasturtium flowers with their ruby-splashed petals complement the blood-red veining on the sorrel, creating a vivid, eye-catching display. Broad-leaved or common sorrel makes an excellent substitute for spinach, with its pale green leaves, best harvested while still relatively small and tender. Buckler-leaved sorrel, also known as French sorrel, has the best flavour of all and can be harvested for baby leaves as a zesty, lemony addition to salads.

Thrifty tip

Why not share your enthusiasm for gardening with friends or neighbours by pooling your resources and growing low-cost biennial seedlings this summer? 

I love to save self-sown seedlings throughout the year to share with friends. We always have an abundance of calendula, borage, rose campion, Mexican fleabane daisy and Cerinthe popping up in the borders. Once potted up, these plants grow strongly and are ready to give away within weeks.


Biennial Flowers to Sow in July

Sowing biennial flowers in July is a simple way to ensure a riot of colour and nectar-rich flowers for pollinators next spring and summer. There are many biennials perfect for sowing right now, either directly where they are to grow next year (ideal for seeds that need cold winter temperatures for germination), or in pots so seedlings can be overwintered under cover. Whether you’d like a blue sea of forget-me-nots to set off your spring bulbs or stately foxgloves in a shady corner, biennials are a superb way to add colour and interest to every area of the garden from next spring onwards.


Sweet rocket

The elegant spires of sweet rocket grow to around a metre tall

A warm early summer’s evening and the delicious violet fragrance of sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) drifts through the garden. It might be a member of the mustard and cabbage family, but this impressive biennial has an abundance of white or purple nectar-rich flowers that attract butterflies, moths and bees, so it’s an ideal plant for a wildlife border.

Sow seed directly into raked soil, in sun or partial shade. Cover lightly and keep well-watered, thinning out seedlings once they are large enough to handle. Leave some seeds to mature and Hesperis will naturalise, creating swathes of sweetly-scented flowers throughout the garden without any need to resow.

Our sweet rocket ‘Albiflora’ self-seeds all over the borders and even in the vegetable beds, but seedlings are easy to remove so it never becomes a nuisance. I love the way the magnificent scent of this stately beauty – also known as ‘Dame’s gillyflower’ or ‘Mother-of-the-Evening’ – stops me in my tracks every time I pass.


Honesty

How to grow honesty - honesty varieties to grow
The distinctive, flat seedheads of honesty look lovely dried and arranged with cut flowers

As a young child, I’d wander round my grandma’s garden picking the papery oval seedheads of honesty, peeling back the layers to collect the coffee-coloured seeds. I’ve always loved this old-fashioned favourite. A great way to introduce spring colour into a woodland or wildlife border, honesty opens its delicately scented flowers before many other plants have even woken up, and provides nectar for early pollinators like the orange-tip butterfly.

Seed is best sown in June or early July, in well-prepared, fertile soil, in partial shade, and thinned to 30cm apart. Honesty can also be sown in trays of peat-free compost and seedlings pricked out when large enough to handle. Plant out into the garden in the autumn.

You can mix up the classic purple-flowered variety with the whites and blues of ‘Alba Variegata’ and ‘Corfu Blue’. Another delightful honesty, ‘Chedglow’ has beautiful lilac blooms and glorious chocolate foliage. Honesty will gradually self-seed around the garden if you leave the translucent seedheads to develop. Then, in following years, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the sights and scents of spring.


Sweet Williams

Sweet Williams make wonderfully fragrant cut flowers

There’s something mesmerising about the exuberance of sweet Williams that always makes me smile. With their vibrant pinks, reds and purples, not to mention the more subtle white and green shades, these Dianthus brighten up sunny borders and container displays. The rich maroon flowers of ‘Sooty’ and ‘Monksilver Black’ with their deep purple-black foliage make a real statement in the border, while the pure white blooms of ‘Albus’ or ‘Green Trick’ with its funky globes of flower, look beautiful in more subtle schemes. Or why not add vibrant splashes of colour to the garden with ‘Electron Mix’ or ‘Auricula-Eyed Mix’? Compact varieties like ‘Indian Carpet Mixed’ and ‘Pinocchio’ are perfect for pots, where their spicy fragrance can be enjoyed all summer long.

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Sweet Williams are easy to grow and can be sown direct in July. With plants reaching around 45cm, these cottage garden stalwarts look great at the front or in the middle of a south or west-facing border. Sow seeds in moist, well-drained soil and thin out to 15cm apart. Alternatively, sow in modules or trays in a cold frame or greenhouse and plant out in early autumn or spring. They are technically a short-lived perennial, but are usually treated as a biennial.


Growing Greener

Sowing seeds in peat-free compost is a brilliant way to improve the sustainability of your garden. Either use a multi-purpose peat-free mix and sieve to remove larger particles or buy a peat-free seed compost, now available online and increasingly in nurseries and garden centres.

Alternatively, make your own compost for the most sustainable sowing mix around. Seeds don’t need high levels of nutrients, so a free-draining, low nutrient compost works best. Combine one part leaf mould and one part garden compost or garden soil, sieved to create a fine mix. 

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