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Growing plants from seed is one of the first memories that many gardeners have. Sowing mustard or cress onto wet kitchen towels and watching them on the window sill each day as the seed swells and germinates is a great way to get children involved - especially as the end result can be eaten!
Many plants, from colourful annuals to soaring trees and shrubs are easily raised from seed and it is an immensely satisfying form of plant production, as well as being one of the cheapest if a number of plants are required for large bedding schemes or to fill borders or containers, as well as for the vegetable garden.
Some seeds, including most vegetables and hardy annuals can be sown directly into the ground where they are to grow and flower. Others can be sown in a ‘nursery bed’ in spring and replanted into their flowering positions later on, for example Wallflowers and Brassica plants.
Prepare the ground well by digging it over and incorporating some fish, blood and bone or another fast acting fertilizer. Lightly dust the area with the fertilizer and gently rake it in, just before sowing.
Sow the seed in rows rather than scattering it. This way it will be easier to tell the seedlings from weeds once they have germinated. Sow a few short rows together to make a ‘drift’.
Make the seed ‘drills’ by taking out lines with a trowel or edge of a swoe. Water the base of the drills before sowing if the weather is dry.
Sow the seed thinly to the depth indicated on the packet and cover over. Water the area well and mark with silver sand and a plant label with the name and date if you are sowing in drifts. Mark straight rows at either end with plant labels.
Prepare the planting site by removing any perennial weeds and roots and digging deeply.
Dig a hole that is large enough to accommodate the roots and deep enough so that the tree can be planted to the same depth as it is in the pot or to the soil mark on the trunk, if it is a bare root tree. Fork over the base of the hole, so that the soil is loosened to give the roots a head start.
Sowing under protection
What will I need?
A propagator with a lid. This can be unheated or heated by mains electricity
Multipurpose compost Capillary matting (most propagators will come with this) A green house, sun room or sunny window sill
Seed trays or shallow pots Plant labels and a pencil Vermiculite (if used)
What do I do?
Wet the capillary matting in the base of the propagator.
Fill the seed trays or shallow pots with compost and gently firm down to make a level surface. Water well and allow the compost to drain through. Sow the seed thinly on the surface.
Barely cover the seeds with fine compost or Vermiculite, removing any lumpy bits. Very fine seed such as Lobelia and Begonia should not be covered. You may find it easier to sow fine seed by first mixing it with dry silver sand.
Vermiculite can be used to cover seed instead of compost. It holds moisture in and helps to prevent fluctuation in the compost temperatures. Once seedlings that have not been covered begin to germinate, they can be ‘anchored’ using a thin layer of fine compost or Vermiculite.
Water the seed trays when they look dry on the surface, preferably by wetting the capillary matting and allowing the trays to take water up from underneath.
By covering the propagator the air will stay humid and little watering will be necessary.
Once the seeds have germinated and the leaves have started to develop, remove them from the propagator to a sunny windowsill or leave them on a bench in the greenhouse to grow on. Water sparingly at this stage to prevent ‘damping off’, a fungal disease that will kill the seedlings.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, pot them individually and grow them on until they are ready to be planted out in your garden or containers.
By starting with a few types of seed that are easy to germinate, you will soon get used to watering, handling and growing on your plants. Once you have mastered the basics you will be able to grow more plants from seed to fill your own garden and give away to friends and plants stalls for others to enjoy!