Start Growing: Sowing Seeds

From growing seeds to transplanting seedlings, these tips can help you start fresh crops each year. Your garden will benefit from this guide to sowing and growing.

| September 25, 2012

Plant problems can be prevented with appropriate preparation and attention.  The American Horticultural Society’s The New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques (Mitchell Beazley, 2009) gives a detailed look into planting from preparation to harvest. This discussion of sowing seeds is excerpted from Chapter 4, "Growing Vegetables & Herbs." 

Sowing & Growing

Fresh, high-quality seeds are an absolute necessity. Seeds that are stale or have been exposed to heat, damp, or sunlight are less likely to make a worthwhile crop than fresh seeds from a reputable supplier or your own garden. The difference between the best varieties and ordinary ones is often great, and varieties that thrive in one climate may perform poorly elsewhere. Seek varieties known to thrive in your area. Some gardeners favor flavorful old heirloom varieties; others prefer modern hybrid varieties which often produce heavier crops. Do not save seed from hybrid varieties because the characteristics of the resulting plants will vary.

Sowing seeds

Seeds can be sown either directly into the soil or in containers (see page 405). Direct sowing is much less time consuming, but in containers you have more control over the growing environment, where seedlings can be protected from pests, warmed for early crops, or given a head start if they need a long growing season.

Direct sowing into the ground

There are two methods: sowing into shallow grooves called drills (see below), or station sowing, also known as space sowing (see facing page). Always check the seed packet for sowing advice.

Sow as shallowly as possible; draw deeper drills for larger seeds with a hoe, and shallow drills of 1⁄2–3⁄4in. for small seeds by pressing a length of broom handle into the soil. Stretch a string between two pegs to get a straight, easy-to-hoe drill. Ideally, run rows north–south to provide even light, but this is not essential.

A simple method of sowing fine seeds is to hold a little in the palm of one hand and then take pinches between thumb and forefinger of the other hand and gently trickle them into the drill. Sand sowing is another method for sowing small, hard-to-handle seeds.

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