How to Direct-Sow Seeds in a Garden

With direct sowing (or direct seeding), you plant garden seeds directly in the ground right where you want them to grow. Some plants grow better when direct-sown because their developing roots don't adapt well to being transplanted from a pot to the ground.

All seedlings grow roots as rapidly as they grow leaves, and some annual flowers put an awesome amount of energy into roots right off the bat. Flowers that spend their infancy developing long, brittle, carrotlike taproots are often difficult or impossible to transplant, so they’re best sown right where you plan to grow them.

Follow these guidelines to make direct-sowing a pleasant and rewarding experience:

  • Give special attention to plants that must be grown from direct-seeding, such as poppies and larkspur.

  • Plant seeds of plants that you will recognize or that have a distinctive appearance. For example, nasturtium leaves look like no other plants, and mistaking a bean or pea seedling for a weed isn’t easy.

  • Soak large seeds in water overnight before planting them. This step really speeds things along when you’re sowing hard seeds, such as sweet peas and morning glories. Before soaking, break the hard seed coat by scratching or nicking the coat with a file. Doing so does a great deal in helping the seed take in moisture.

  • Sow seeds in the right season. Some direct-seeded annuals are best planted in the fall or first thing in the spring; others do best when they’re planted in warmer soil in early summer.

  • Prepare the planting bed thoroughly. Take extra care to rake smoothly — lumpy soil and clods interfere with germination.

  • Sow seeds in a definite pattern. When you see a pattern of little sprouts in your soil, you’ll know that those growths are flowers, not weeds. Some seeds are best sown in rows, but you can scatter others.

  • Sow large seeds by hand directly where you want them to grow. If seeds are too small for your fingers, gently tap them out directly from the packet. Mix seeds with sand to help you broadcast them more evenly, if you like.

  • Pay attention to the seed-packet directions for best planting depth. For many seeds, a light layer of sifted compost is sufficient coverage. At other times, you simply press seeds into the soil with the back of a hoe.

  • Water gently and with care. Keep the soil damp until seeds sprout.

  • Cover seeds with something for a few days after you plant them. Old blankets and cardboard boxes make an excellent seed cover. The coverings keep the soil constantly moist while the seeds are germinating. Remove the covering as soon as you see the first sprout.

  • Weed early and often. If you have trouble weeding around small seedlings, use a table fork to gently pull out awkward little weeds.

  • After seedlings develop two sets of true leaves, thin out those that stand too close together. Gently pull extra seedlings without disturbing the ones you want to keep.

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