Sowing seeds is an exciting and rewarding process, with endless seeds to try your hand at.
Give your seeds the right amount of heat, light and moisture, and they will germinate successfully. But there are some important rules to remember, which, when you get used to sowing seeds, will become second nature. They include good hygiene, using fresh seed and compost, and good soil preparation.
Before you get going, check out our guides to sowing small seeds and sowing large seeds, as the methods for both can vary.
Fancy growing your own cut flowers? Take a look at our advice on growing cut flowers from seed.
Follow these key tips for seed sowing success.
Practise good hygiene
If sowing under cover, always use very clean pots and trays and a new bag of good seed compost. Don’t use garden soil – it’s too variable and full of unwelcome organisms.
Adding new compost to a clean tray of seed pots
Sow fresh seed
For the best, fastest results, sow fresh seeds. Ideally, start each year with new packs of seed. Don’t discard part-used ones – reseal with tape, then store in a cool, dry place. Seeds are viable for different amounts of time – check our seed viability guide.
Packets of tomato seeds
Prepare the soil
If sowing outdoors, break down the soil with a fork before raking lightly to create a good seedbed. Don’t over-rake it, as that can cause the soil to ‘cake’ in the first shower of rain. If the soil is wet and/or heavy, cover the seeds with sand or vermiculite instead of soil.
Preparing a seedbed with a rake
Follow the instructions on the packet
Always follow the instructions on the packet regarding timing, temperature, light levels and sowing depth. Don’t be tempted to oversow.
Sowing seeds in a prepared tray
Label pots and seed trays
Even though you think you’ll remember what you’ve sown and where, it’s easy to forget. Be sure to label pots, seed trays and rows in the soil as soon as you’ve sown them.
Writing a label for planted seeds
Water newly sown seeds
Always water-in newly sown seeds, as they need plenty of moisture in order to swell up and start to grow. However, water carefully after that, so they neither dry out or are so wet that they damp off or rot. It’s a careful balance, so check seeds daily at this stage.
Watering-in a tray of newly sowed seeds
Cover to hold in moisture
Cover seed trays with a clear plastic lid (or plastic film) to hold in moisture. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the lid. This will ensure good ventilation and will help prevent damping off disease.
Placing a propagator lid over pots of germinating seedlings standing in a tray
Protect your seeds
Protect your sown seeds from cats, squirrels and mice with wire netting or mesh and protect seedlings from slugs and snails.
Adding beer to a slug trap
Prick out and transplant individual seedlings as they germinate, rather than waiting for the whole batch to be ready as germination can be erratic.
Pricking out seedlings