Planting Seeds

hand seeds

Watching plants sprout from seeds you have sown yourself is an almost magical experience. You can grow just about any plant from seed: annuals, perennials, and vegetables— even trees!

What Seeds Need

Most seeds are easy to germinate if they are given the right combination of water, air, dark, and warmth. Some seeds require light to germinate and are sown on the surface of compost without covering. For best results, use good-quality seeds and clean equipment to avoid diseases. Seeds sown indoors require a fine compost that is capable of easily drawing up moisture—it should be firmed, rather than compacted, which inhibits the take-up of water. If you are sowing in the ground, weed first, remove stones, and create a soil texture that almost resembles fine breadcrumbs. 

Fl and F2 hybrids

Many annuals, perennials, and vegetables are classed "Fl hybrids." These have been bred for uniformity, health, vigor, and, in the case of vegetables, high yields. They are more expensive due to the breeding work that has gone into their development, but offer more consistent results. They won't breed true from their own seeds, so don't bother collecting their seeds to use the following year. F2 hybrids are the progeny of self- or cross-pollinated Pi. plants. They are less uniform and vigorous than their parents but often have desirable characteristics. 

"Hardening off"

Plants that are raised indoors but are destined for the garden will need to be hardened off to help them cope with lower temperatures and air movement. Acclimatize them to life outdoors two to three weeks before they are due to be planted out by placing them in a cold frame. Keep vents open during the day, but close them at night. If you don't have a cold frame, take trays outside during the day and bring them in at night. 

Inducing germination

Some seeds have hard shells or a chemical inhibitor in their seed that air and moisture cannot easily penetrate, making them difficult to germinate. Among them are beet, cotoneaster, euonyrnus, morning glory, and laburnum. You can help the process along by softening seed coats by soaking them in warm water, scratching them with sandpaper, or nicking them with a knife—this process is known as scarification.

Most sowings are successful, but problems can arise if you use old seeds or those that have been stored incorrectly, which may fail to germinate. Follow the sowing dates on seed packets and keep your seeds in a cool, dry, dark place until you are ready to sow them.

To prevent patchy germination of seedlings, rather than even distribution across the container, always firm and level compost carefully prior to sowing, and be careful to sow the seed evenly across the surface.

Seedlings can sometimes become leggy, but to avoid this, remove them from heated propagators as soon as they have germinated, and place pots in a well-lit place. This should ensure growth remains even. If seedlings appear to become lopsided, rotate the pot daily so they are evenly exposed to light.

Overwatering is one of the most common causes of seeds not growing well, while unclerwatering can cause them to wither; try to get the balance right. 

Sowing seed indoors (4 steps)

Prior to sowing, make sure your container is large enough for your chosen seeds and that it is immaculately clean to avoid spreading soil-borne diseases. Fill it with fresh multipurpose or, ideally, seed-sowing compost. If you are using seed trays, firm down the compost gently with a piece of fiat wood; use the base of another pot if sowing in traditional round containers.

After sowing, place pots somewhere where the seed can germinate. Some will benefit from a heated propagator, or a simple cover of glass, a clear plastic bag, or plastic wrap. After germination, water carefully with a watering can fitted with a fine rose. To avoid displacing plants or compost while watering, start by pouring the water away from the container, then move the spout methodically over the plants. 

  1. Take a clean seed tray that has holes in the bottom for drainage, and fill it with compost. Gently firm down the compost.

  2. Carefully scatter the seeds Lover the surface of the compost, following the instructions on the packet for sowing depth and distances.

  3. If necessary, cover the seeds with a thin layer of compost, sifting it to gently cover but not smother seeds. Alternatively, cover with a thin layer of vermiculite. 

  4. Water the soil and seeds gently, being careful not to displace the compost or seeds. Use a fine rose on a watering can to help you do this carefully.

Damping Off

Seedlings are vulnerable to damping off, a fungal disease that can overtake them and cause them to collapse at soil level. To prevent this, start with clean pots, sow thinly, and always use fresh compost and tap water, rather than rainwater. 


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