Most keen gardeners can't wait until spring arrives, bringing with it warmer temperatures. The opportunity to buy and sow seed for the coming season has arrived and David Hall explains how to do this successfully.
Seeds are the cheapest way to stock your garden and I always find it a satisfying and fascinating experience to watch the seedlings emerge and then grow into substantial plants.
Buying Seed Packets
When you're buying seeds, check whether they are in date, the packet is in good condition and there's a full set of instructions.
Don't buy seeds that have to be raised in a propagator or heated greenhouse if you haven't got one and double check that you have the correct soil conditions.
Keep the packets in a cool dry dark place. Some people think it's a good idea to put them in the fridge but this is false advice.
What does that mean?
Hardy Annual - plants that will tolerate temperatures as cold as -15ºC, the seed can be sown directly into the soil Half Hardy
Annual – these plants will not survive a frost, sow seed indoors during the spring and then plant out after the danger of frost has passed.
Biennial - plants that will flower in the year after being sown
Perennial - plants that live for more than one season although this does not mean for ever, many are short lived.
You may also come across Frost Hardy - plants will survive to -5ºC and Frost Tender - plants will be damaged below 5ºC.
If you've ever wandered what F1 hybrid means, these are seeds that have been created so that first generation only plants inherit certain favoured characteristics of two parent plants i.e. scent, colour or disease resistance.
Sowing the Seed
It's a good idea, and may be necessary, to soak certain seeds that have a hard outer skin, for example beetroot. Just put them in water overnight and they should be ok to sow the next day and will stand a much better chance of germinating.
Many seeds can be sown direct in a warm spring garden to create an informal effect. Rake the soil first and annuals such as Californian Poppies, Love in a Mist and Marigolds can be successfully sown in drifts.
Other seeds are sown in trays, cells or pots, preferably using using seed compost or you can sieve multi-purpose compost. Don't fill the tray or pot completely, level the compost and firm down gently. After shaking the seed packet to loosen the seeds, tip a few into you hand and scatter over the surface of the compost.
Cover the seeds with a layer of compost or vermiculite, generally to the same depth as the size of the seed.
Larger seeds will need to be sown individually, perhaps using a dibber. Again so that the depth of the seed is similar to its size. Fine seed should be scattered and covered only very shallowly using a sieve or not at all.
Water using a fine rose so that the seeds are not disturbed. Don't over water or compact the soil as the seeds need air to germinate.
Refer to the packet instructions as to whether the seeds need light or darkness to germinate and what temperature is necessary.
Don't be under the impression that you'l need a greenhouse or cold frame, you may only need a propagator or just a windowsill in a warm room. Many seeds will also germinate outside covered and placed in a sheltered spot. Just read and follow the instructions carefully.