It's around this time of year when thoughts of sowing seeds and striking cuttings occupy the minds of many gardeners - and what better way to give those seeds and shoots every chance of making it than providing them with a propagation bench?

Most plants benefit from a source of basal heat and will pop out roots far more quickly a a result and a propagation bench delivers this warmth right where it's needed! It's basically a heated table onto which you can stand seed trays and pots and the heat source is more often than not a soil warming cable (aka soil heating cable) laid out in loops and covered with a layer of sand.

PropBenchBlogGardeners are an imaginative, hands-on lot and as a result, home-made propagation benches crop up in all sorts of wonderful shapes, sizes and guises! Greenhouse staging and benching right through to redundant wooden drawers can be used and adapted to create your own seedling haven and with the addition of a little sand, some polystyrene sheets and one of the warming cables - plus a thermostat if you want to keep a real degree by degree handle on the temperature - you're away!

If you fancy having a go at making your own propagation bench and opening up your seed sowing and propagating options this spring, we've got some handy tips and advice on our soil warming cable product page. Not only that; our horticulturist Martin Fiddes is regularly answering e-mails on the subject at this time of year, and the following excerpt from one of his recent informative replies might also help...

Opinion is divided as to which type of sand is best to fill your bed with; some say that sharp sand is better as the more angular granules allow for better drainage and there’s also a train of thought that soft sand is the one to go for as the smoother grains sit together, providing better insulation and distributing the heat more effectively. I’ll let you decide but either way, your set-up will be efficient!

I’d also suggest introducing polystyrene to the base of the bench for additional insulation and to get the most from your heating cables, this layer should be sandwiched between the base (black polythene) and the sand. It’s also worth placing some polystyrene up the sides of the bench as well to plug another potential ‘heat leak’.

Finally, the thermostat! When setting up the cables it's best to position the thermostat sensor as near to the area the heat is required to achieve an accurate level of control. You're interested in the temperature of the soil in the seed trays around the root zone of seedlings, so pushing the sensor into the compost should give the best results...

If you've got any questions for Martin then just drop him an e-mail and don't worry if the thought of knocking up your own propagation bench doesn't appeal - we've got ready made, roll-out propagation heat mats for instant results. Just plug it in and off your seedlings go!