Undoubtedly, spring is the most popular time of the year for growers looking to sow seeds to grow in the coming season. We are sure, that if you are reading this, it is because you have considered sowing seeds, however may have wanted some more information to ensure that you are doing it right. There is an art to sowing seeds and a proper way you should go about it. This will ensure higher chances of germinations and the plants actually growing.
The harvest of the season starts at the seeds and you should find the best time of the year to sow the seeds. Some seeds are seasonal, while other varieties of flowers and vegetables are year-round. Hence, be sure to check the seasonality of your seeds prior to actually sowing them. This will give you a good overall chance of success.
With that in mind, let’s first dive into the various steps you should follow to sow your seeds properly.
How to Sow Seeds? The Proper Step by Step Process
These are the basics of properly sowing seeds. That being the case, if you’ve purchased a packed packet of seeds, you should always check the details of the specific seed on the packet. It should mention details such as sowing depth, germination temperature and the times of the year to sow. All of this would help you attain a greater success rate of germination.
Regardless, these are the steps you should follow to sow seeds properly.
Step 1: Harvest or Attain Seeds
As mentioned, you could attain a readily packed packet of seeds that would be ready for sowing, or you could harvest the seeds yourself.
If you are harvesting flower seeds, your best time to find seeds would be during autumn, when the flowering season is over. Wait for a dry day and go collect the seeds from the plants from which you desire to sow for the next season.
Once you have collected the seeds, place them in a paper bag or envelope and shake them. Refrain from using a plastic bag, as this could retain moisture and promote the moulding of the seeds. The shaking will enable the opening of pods to release the seeds into the bag or envelope. If after shaking, you still notice pods and not seeds, you may have to split open these pods yourself. Be aware, however, some of these pods are spring-loaded and they could fling seeds everywhere if you are not careful.
Carefully collect your seeds and store them in a cool and dry place until you are ready to sow them.
Seeds are ready for collection when they are dry and their ovaries are ripe. The best way to check if the seeds are ready for collection is to shake a seed pod to listen if it rattles. The rattling sound means that the seeds are dry and ready for collection.
Step 2: Prepare the Planting Pots and Tray
The best way to sow seeds uses proper seed trays that you can buy from a store. These seed trays are specially designed for the task and are usually at the best depth for germination.
That being the case, alternatively, you can also use a flower pot, an empty food container or something similar to sow your seeds in. However, you do have to note, that if there are no holes on the bottom of the container, make some holes with a 1/4 inch drill bit or nail. You can space the holes a few inches apart. This will allow for good drainage of water and prevent the seeds from rotting.
A trick you should remember when sowing seeds. If you find yourself with a lot of seeds and not enough trays, you can choose to sow a couple of seeds in each compartment of the container in case one doesn’t germinate.
Step 3: Use a Seed Starting Potting Mix
There are many benefits of using a seed starting potting mix in comparison to the soil in general. The sterile seed compost is much better than the soil dug up from your garden. The soil dug up from your garden will be lumpy and could contain lots of pests and diseases and could easily dry out quickly.
Some seeds don’t really fuss over what they are grown in and if you find yourself with plenty of seeds, you can try planting them in garden soil. Just make sure to crumble the soil with your hands into a nice and fine powder.
However, we are highlighting the proper way to sow seeds, hence we do highly recommend that you use a proper potting mix to maximise your chances of germination.
Step 4: Moisten the Surface Layer
You can use a mist spray to moisten the surface layer of the compost or mix. You can use a shower cleaner or a spray bottle for this. You could also use a watering can, however, you will have to ensure that the sprinkler has small holes to prevent water from flooding the compost.
A mist spray is the best way to care for the smaller seedlings. Using a watering can to wet the compost pre-germination is not recommended, even if the compost becomes dry. This is because too much water can wash away seeds or flatten seedlings. Hence, use the proper technique and use a mist sprayer.
Step 5: Sprinkle Seeds Over Compost
You can use your finger for this. Simply sprinkle small seeds over the compost. Don’t cover small seeds with soil as this could be too smothering for them.
When dealing with larger seeds, you can place them one by one into the compost and cover them with a sprinkle of compost.
If you are dealing with much larger seeds like that of sweet corn, sunflowers or tree nuts, you should push the seeds into the surface of the compost to a depth of about 1/4″/ 6mm.
A good rule of thumb to remember when sowing seeds is to sow seeds at a depth of two or three times the length of the seed’s diameter.
Step 6: Cover the Tray and Store
Cover the tray with a piece of glass, a magazine or even a piece of plastic or plywood. This will prevent the compost from drying out and will keep the seeds in a dark place which will help germination.
However, some seeds may require diffuse light for germination, hence be sure to check the packet or attain more detail on the specificity of the seed that you are sowing.
Seeds generally sprout the best at temperatures above 64F (18C). Hence, if you live in a country with cold winters and are looking to sow seeds during the cooler season, you may want to place the tray in a propagator. Otherwise, you could leave the tray close to a hot water tank or near a furnace or boiler.
Check the seed tray after a few days and look for signs of germination. Some seeds germinate quite fast within days, while some take weeks.
Step 7: Uncover the Seedlings After Germination
It is very important to not miss this step. Plants need light to grow. Hence after the period of germination in the dark, make sure to uncover the tray. Otherwise, the plants will become straggly with overly long and thin stems.
You have to care for the seedlings by keeping them away from frost if they are sensitive to it and store it indoors in full sun or in a greenhouse. During severe frosts, you may even have to cover the tray with insulation to protect the seedlings from the frigid temperatures.
It is good to leave the seed tray on a windowsill where there is ample light coming in. Each day, make sure to turn the tray, that way the seedling gets light evenly on both sides.
The compost should be kept moist using a spray mister. The tiny roots can dry out rapidly when they are exposed to the warm sunshine or even the warm air in a room. Hence, be sure to keep the compost moist. You could check daily and water if necessary.
Keep caring for the seedlings as such until they have a few pairs of ‘true leaves.’
When sowing outdoors, make sure to avoid strong sunshine as the compost could easily rapidly dry out, especially if it is windy. This could cause the seedling to perish. It is best to keep them out of direct sunlight until they have a few pairs of ‘true leaves.’
Step 8: Transfer the Seedlings to Pots
Once the seedling has grown a pair of leaves and is considered big enough to handle without causing any damage to the seedling, you can transfer them into pots. Some seedlings can be quite small and delicate, hence it is important to wait until they are big enough to be transferred to a pot.
Before transferring the seedling, water the compost to loosen it and gently tease the seedling out with a teaspoon or popsicle stick, or something similar. Do everything that you can to avoid damaging the delicate roots.
If the seedling is small, hold the leaves between your fingers and pull sideways instead of pulling upwards. This will allow you to gently disentangle the roots thereby preventing any breakage.
On the pot, make a hole with your finger or a popsicle stick and drop the seedling into the hole. Once in the hole, gently press the compost back around the roots. Do not apply too much pressure as this could damage the roots.
Step 9: Keep Transferred Seedlings Away From Direct Sunlight
The transferred seedlings will take some time to establish roots in the new compost. Hence, if it is hot and sunny, the roots could dry out rapidly, especially if there was no compost stuck to the roots when it was transferred.
To be safe, keep the transferred seedling away from direct sunlight, however not a dark or overly shaded spot. Keep it away from direct sunlight for about a week, which should be enough time for the roots to grow into the new compost. If you live in dull, overcast weather, you don’t really have to do this.
Step 10: Harden Off and Plant Out
When the roots of the plant have started to emerge from the bottom of the pot, it is ready to be transferred to its final location.
Plants that have been grown inside would require adaptation to the new environment before it can be planted in the final location. This is called hardening off and happens over a period of about a week to 10 days.
You should gradually expose them to direct sunlight, dry air and cold nights. This way, they don’t suffer shock from the sudden change in growing conditions.
You can hardened off plants by leaving them in a windy or sun-shaded spot outside, exposing them to these conditions for about an hour every day. You should extend the time gradually to allow them to slowly get accustomed to the natural environment.
Is Sowing Better Indoors or Outdoors?
Sowing seeds indoors give you the best chance of controlling the environment of the seedlings, thereby controlling the success rate. You can easily track the germination rate of the seeds and control the amount of moisture and warmth it receives. Further to this, in a controlled environment, seedlings are less prone to pests and diseases.
When you are sowing seeds, you could try sowing them straight into the location outside. This though practical does not always produce the best results, since you are not in control of the environment.
When you consider root crops and cold-hardy plants, they usually respond better to being sown directly outdoors. Hence, when you consider the truth of the matter, some seeds work better indoors as opposed to outdoors. Though sowing of some seeds is better outdoors, you would notice that on almost all occasions, indoor sowing brings about better results of success.
You can simply start the seeds indoors and transfer them when you are ready to move them. This enables you to grow long season crops in short-season climates.
Best Time of the Year to Sow Seeds
The best time of the year to sow seeds is usually between late March and late May. This solely depends on the yearly climate of the geographic location. Early spring or the onset of the sunnier months is usually considered the best time of the year to sow seeds.
That being the case, some seeds are seasonal and will only grow during a specific season during specific temperatures. Hence, be sure to check beforehand, the seasonality of the seeds.
If you have a greenhouse or enough space and light in the house, you can sow your seeds early. You can start the sowing of seeds in early January. While some seeds work at an earlier start date, some prefer later months, when the risk of frost has passed. Either way, when considering the best time to sow seeds, you should keep in mind that indoor sowing will allow for year-round sowing, with planting out only happening during the season.
With indoor sowing, you should plan ahead of time and consider how long it would take for the seedlings to develop before they can be planted out when the weather conditions are suitable.
Should Seeds be Soaked Before Planting?
You can soak seeds the night before planting to allow the water to penetrate the seed coat. This will allow the embryo inside to plump up. Presoaking seeds do help the germination process. Though it isn’t a necessity, some seeds germinate better when they are presoaked. It also enables you to weed out the good seeds from the bad ones.
Some seeds prefer soaking before planting. These include beans, peas, pumpkins, cucumbers, lupine, sunflower, beets, winter squash and chard.
Generally, most medium to large vegetable and flower seeds, especially those with a thick coat would benefit from soaking overnight.
Remember not to soak the seeds any longer than 24 hours. This could cause the seeds to rot due to excessive wetness and dampness.
The Water Test: Should Seeds Float or Sink?
Presoaking seeds is a great way of weeding out good seeds from the bad. The good seeds usually sink to the bottom, while the seeds that are unlikely to germinate float to the top.
This is also known as the water test. You can test the seeds to ensure that they have a good chance of germination.
You don’t have to presoak the seeds overnight to check if the seeds are good or not. The water test takes about 15 minutes. Simply soak the seeds in water for about 15 minutes. The seeds that sink after 15 minutes are viable seeds, while those that float are unlikely to sprout.
Is There an Expiry Date on Seeds?
Seeds do expire, hence opt for newer seeds when you are looking for better germination rates. Seeds after a specific time will go bad. They simply will not germinate if they are too old. This however is a long time. If you are working with old seed packets, there is a good chance that you find a high percentage of seed that will germinate just fine.
The best way to check if the old seeds will germinate is by relying on the water test as discussed above. The seeds that will sink are more likely to germinate, while those that float are unlikely to sprout.
Seeds that are a year or two old should germinate just fine. When we say too old, we speak of seeds that are about 20 years old. Such seeds may be too old and would have in essence expired.
What if My Seeds Don’t Germinate?
There could be many reasons why your seeds don’t germinate. The soil consistency could be wrong, there may be too much water in the soil. You could have watered the seeds too much or not watered enough. The seeds could have been exposed to too much sunlight or there could be pests and fungus which could lead to seeds not germinating.
With the variety of reasons behind why your seeds may not have germinated, there is not much that you can do but follow a methodology that is more proven for success. This is why we have provided you with a step by step process, which is considered the proper way to sow seeds.
If you are having trouble sowing seeds outdoors, you should try sowing them indoors where you have more control over the conditions to which the seeds and the seedlings are exposed to. This will give you are higher chance of success.
All in all, there are many parameters which you need to consider, and it is best that you follow the steps we have provided within this article to ensure that you get a good germination rate and a better chance at success.
Remember, when you are sowing seeds, especially indoors, not simply pour water into the tray, but spray water. Making too moist of conditions or moving the seeds around too much could be yet another reason why your seeds don’t germinate. In fact, this is the most common reason why seeds do not germinate.
Also, ensure that you don’t over soak your seeds when you presoak them. Oversoaked seeds simply may not germinate due to the fact that they were soaked in water for too long.
How to Speed Up Seed Germination
The best way to speed up germination is to presoak the seeds for 24 hours. The water will penetrate the seed coat and cause the embryos to plump up, leading to faster germination and greater chances of success. Be sure to not presoak the seeds for longer than 24 hours, since this could cause the seeds to rot. Once presoaked, you should plant the seeds immediately in moist soil.
Some seeds take longer than others to germinate, hence with certain strains you have to be patient to see results. Some seeds are known to take weeks to germinate, while others germinate within a day.
You can also try the wet tissue paper technique to germinate seeds fast. This usually yields results within 24 hours, however is specific to certain strains of seeds. Simply soak a paper towel under running water and squeeze most of the water out. Spread the towel on a plate and fold it halfway. Place the seeds on the towel and cover the seeds with the folded side of the paper towel. Within a day or so, you should start to notice results.
Certain types of seeds germinate much faster. For instance, you could get good results relying on the above technique when you germinate radish seeds or beets. On the contrary, tomatoes take a few days. Hence what is important is you check the amount of time each strain of seeds takes to germinate. That way, you should know how long of a wait to expect.
The Proper Way of Sowing Seeds
There you have it, everything you need to know with regards to sowing seeds and how to properly ensure that you attain results. Once again, not all seeds are created equal and some take longer than others to germinate. It is important that you don’t expect too quick results from strains that take longer.
If you are looking to plant a vegetable patch or a flower garden or love gardening in general, it is important that you use the proper technique when sowing seeds. This will ensure that you have a better success rate when trying to germinate seeds and grow plants.
We hope we answered some of your basic questions on sowing seeds and provided you with some good insight into what you should be doing to better your technique. Follow everything we have included in this article and you are sure to observe results.
Once again, results will vary based on various conditions. Just think about the environment in which you are sowing your seeds and opt to germinate them indoors before moving them outdoors and to their final location.
We hope that you found this article useful and that reading this word to word has helped you!