Sowing and Growing Garden Seeds


Sowing and growing on your own garden seeds can solve several issues for gardeners that would normally buy plants ready grown.

home grown seeds

Image by: flickrich

The first issue that sowing your own seeds solves for the gardener is the ability to control the varieties that you grow and plant in your garden.
OK, the garden centre has plenty of choice when it comes to plants but just you take a gander at the vast range of seeds and the number of seed companies supplying those seeds that will be on display and available for most of the year in those garden centres.

The second issue it solves is the ability to have healthy specimens of your choosing to plant in the garden, no matter how fickle the weather might have been previously.
Why? – Because you can if necessary sow (germination) many of your seeds indoors (or under cover) at just about any time, especially good for producing Herbs.

Finally the cost issue, many enthusiastic gardeners germinate their own seeds to reduce the overall costs of planting a large garden with multiple varieties.

Along with these there is an additional added bonus – Sowing your garden seeds also provides hours of free enjoyment for you the gardener and in some cases for the whole family as you get to watch your seedlings grow.

Every gardener has a different system or method of sowing, germinating and growing their seeds that they swear by.

Some gardeners take a very scientific approach and will ask you to germinate a small trial (10 seeds or so) in wet tissue and count the number of failures to get the rate of seed viability before you plant.
This is OK if you want or need to conserve seed or if you require an actual number of finished seedlings (plants). But this is a lot of effort to go to and is very rarely used in everyday garden practise.

TIP: Keep it simple – Seed is relatively inexpensive, so for a small outlay and a little effort you can have plenty of plants for your garden

If you are a home gardener enjoying the process you don’t have to be so meticulous as described above. Use thinning to get good spacing and good germination rates.

Better to focus all your initial attention on having the right equipment to start, learning to water and care for your seedlings after germination.

Many plants are easy to grow from seed.

  • Annuals
  • Biennials
  • Perennials

Spring is generally the best time for sowing but don’t sow to early, seeds sown when the air and soil temperatures are warmer and the light levels are higher have a much greater chance of success and the resulting plants will often be stronger.

Not all seeds should be sown in spring so it is always best to check with your seed supplier or check out the cultural information on the back of the seed packet.

Seed germination requirements

As a general rule of thumb, for seeds to germinate successfully most will require the following:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Light
  • Air

Garden Seed Germination – Your 3 Part Plan

Part One – Ordering

Seeds - Order your garden seeds in good time and if sowing indoors, order your trays and compost.
If ordering via mail order, when the catalogue comes in (normally early January or sometimes sooner) for spring planting or mid-summer for autumn fall planting. This is the best time to get your seed order in – Do it straight away - You will get the best discounts the earlier you order.

Once your seeds arrive always read the cultural instructions on the back of the seed packet.
Few seeds types require exactly the same germinating conditions, most have different requirements.
Some require light to germinate, some like it dark, some require pre treatment like stratification, some require their husks to be damaged for more reliable germination. Any particular characteristics and requirements should be clearly stated by reputable seed companies on their seed packets. This process, the sorting out of the seed is the most important bit and also considered the most interesting and educational.

plug trays

Image by: Leaf by Leaf

Seed Trays – Seed trays comes in a variety of types and designs. There are simple trays, trays with removable lids (called propagators), trays complete with lids and heating elements, either inside or as a mat that you place the tray onto.
Also available are plug trays, these are trays made up of individual cells.

Seed Compost - Seed compost is available from many companies. The range is large in both seed compost medium and also bag size. Most seed compost will be either peat or coir based but there are also some soil based seed composts available.

Expandable peat pellets

Image by: jenniferworthen

There are also ready formed expandable peat pellet blocks that you soak in water then add your seed.

Part Two – In or Out – Sowing – Seed Tray Placement

In or Out - Depending on your chosen seeds and depending on whether or not they are suitable for sowing outside or inside (time of year, temperature etc.) and also depending on your own particular preferences – You will need to decide whether the seeds will be sown in or outside, directly into the ground or into seed trays.

TIP: The garden seed suitability for in or out sowing should be clearly stated on the back of each seed packet.

Sowing - If you are seed sowing directly outside there is a wealth of information here for vegetable seed sowing outdoors and here for sowing flower seed directly outside.

Below is a brief outline of seed sowing in trays indoors, for more detailed and seed specific instructions go here.

Spread the seed compost out into the seed tray evenly to within about one centimetre from the top and firm lightly (in order to obtain a smooth, level surface). Water the seed trays well and leave to rest for a few minutes.

Watering is an art in itself but with seed trays you can either water overhead with a fine rose or mist or you can use the “soak up” method – Place the filled seed tray in a larger vessel containing a few centimetres of water and leave for a while to allow the seed tray with the seed compost to “soak up” the water.
This method also works well after the seed have been sown if the seed compost dries out.

With seed tray sowing, the seed compost is either place directly into the tray or added to pots that are then placed in the tray.

There is another method for use in seed trays as mentioned above, these are ready formed expandable peat pellet blocks that you soak in water wait for them to expand (soak up the water), place in the seed tray, then add your seed.

If you don’t want to use the expandable pellet, but still want individual containers then go for peat pots instead of plastic pots. These will make transplanting a lot easier later on. You won’t disturb the roots of your baby plants with this method.

Remember, all seeds types are different and some will require setting deeper into the seed compost (requirements normally on back of seed packet). Sow your seeds and then (in most cases) water lightly with either a fine rose fitted to your watering can or a misting nozzle attached.

TIP: For those just starting out – Whichever method you use for your seed germination do not worry too much as seeds are often far more robust than many think.

Follow the seed packet instructions on how to sow the seeds to the letter.

Seed Tray Placement - In most cases (always check the seed packet for cultural requirements) pick a good, bright growing spot indoors/under cover – Out of direct sunlight for your seed tray placement.
It is likely that the seed tray will have its “lid” on and depending on ambient temperature (seed temperature requirement on reverse of seed packet) the heating mat may be turned on.

Your seeds will need warmth and light to grow. At first, they won’t be needing too much light as most of the seed germination is done under cover (either a light dusting of sieved seed compost or vermiculite). However, the warmth is critical for germination, in most cases.

Keep them shielded from drafts and isolate the seedlings from your pets if they tend to get a bit nosy about your growing activities. The last thing you want is to find is your cat using the seed tray for doing its “business”.

Part Three – Waiting – Germination – After care

Waiting -  Hopefully, within a few short weeks or sometimes days (depending on seed type and conditions) you should start seeing the results of your efforts. You will find the expected seed germination duration shown on the back of the seed packet.

Germination - The process by which a plant grows from a seed. The first signs of germination will more than likely show as just a very few specks of green on the surface of the seed compost or peat pellet, very quickly, in some cases over a few hours these will develop into tiny growing seedlings.
On the other hand, for those that are sowing peas and beans they will be amazed at just how strong, and BIG these seedlings are as they emerge.

After care - Don’t let your seed compost dry out, if covered with a lid then all should be well. If you find the top of the seed compost drying then a very light misting should rectify the issue. Different seed varieties have different tolerances for lack of moisture. Also, too much moisture can result in seedling failure, fungal disease especially.

After a day or two if the seedlings start to get lanky and appear thin, it can be an indication they are not getting enough light.
Seedlings require a good light source but not direct sunlight.

Depending on the garden seed type, within a few weeks you should be able to “prick out” transplant your seedlings into a larger container, don’t go too big too quickly, better to pot on in stages.

Garden seeds, seed sowing, seed germination and seedling growing on information. Plenty of instructional videos offering practical advice.

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