Growing From Seed

Growing from seed requires a certain amount of patience, which is not something I have in spades. It also requires persistence and occasionally a good sense of humour.

I have a window sill in my utility room which gets pretty good sun and is ideally positioned for lavishing attention and expectation on lots of little pots of all shapes and sizes. Little pots of compost housing an optimistic variety of haphazardly labelled seeds . The utility room is conveniently next to the kitchen and has a sink so that means the little green munchkins that manage to get started shouldn’t theoretically be left to shrivel and die. I pop in and out of the utility many, many times a day to the fridge there, to do laundry or just to waft around with the first cup of coffee of the day. During these times I can sprinkle said seedlings with a teeny tiny watering can I keep right next to the tap. Foolproof! Even easy perhaps. I’ve often day dreamed of having a greenhouse, but I suspect I wouldn’t find the time each day to actually go in it, so the window sill is perfect for now.

All that being said and given that I’ve have arranged my seedy enterprise with absolute ease in mind, I get hilarious results. The Verbena below left has been carrying on for so many weeks now the compost has gone green. Aside from the one leggy weed (I really don’t think it is Verbena) and a few stragglers, nothing much happened with this effort. I really love Verbena and fancied having lots of little ones to plant out at the back of the borders in the walled garden, but I think I might give up on growing them from seed. To be honest they self seed all over the place in the garden so I might change tack and just carry on digging up those errant waifs and strays and replant them where I want them. They grow in the garden path a fair bit and seem quite tough in terms of pulling them up and relocating them. The back of the seed packet mentioned possibly putting them in the fridge if they didn’t germinate uniformly. I did do that, but to no avail. I might chuck the rest of the pack on the garden path, that seems like a more fruitful plan.

However, compare that to the tray on the right, which is Echinacea and this is a different story. I’m feeling quite smug with this tray of little seedlings. I’m hoping they grow on strongly and I can pot them on and get them out in the walled garden this Summer. I already have Echinacea there and I would love to have lots more. Given that this pack of seeds behaved themselves, I shall see what other types and colours are available and see if I can repeat the process.

I guess you never know what you might get with seeds. Not even in terms of what appears. I had a bit of a double take moment recently with a little tray of chilli plants and saw what might be a Dandelion, I’m not sure. I’m growing my little usurper on. I need to know what it is and commend it for it cuckoo skills. Last year I sowed half the veg beds with Swiss Chard and the lion share of it turned out to be Beetroot which was interesting. I’m the only member of my family that actually likes Beetroot, but even I can’t choke down that much of it.

Er and who might you be?

Despite these minor bumps and blips, I’ve still managed to get my hands on loads of plants by growing from seed, so having a go at it is a no brainer. If you have a bit of space and don’t want to pay several pounds for each plant then this is a great option.

What to grow in:

I like seed compost because it is quite fine. Some bags of regular compost have quite chunky bits and between those chunky bits, teeny tiny seeds and my sausage fingers the whole enterprise of trying to sow anything goes awry. That is with the exception of Sweet Pea seeds which are a really decent size, easy to see, easy to sow and I sow loads because they also have a great rate of germination so rarely disappoint. Sweet Peas like to grow really long roots, so I often save loo roll tubes and grow them in those.

Aside from my preference for seed compost the actual pot to grow in doesn’t matter too much. All you need is a pot with a hole in the bottom for the water to drain. I keep these on trays or old plates so I don’t soak and spoil my window sill.

How to grow your own plants:

If you want to have a go at growing from seed, the first thing to do is buy some and read the packets. They all give the same basic information, albeit in a slightly different way.

You are looking for:

  • When to sow indoors or outdoors depending on your preference and plan
  • How to sow: how deep, how far apart
  • Where to eventually plant out: Full sun, partial shade, for example
  • The eventual height and spread of the grown plant

Once you have gathered your chosen seeds, the timing is right, you have some compost and something to put it in, it’s time to have a go. Seeds need water, oxygen and the right temperature to germinate, as well as a bit of patience.

Once you have sown your seeds, water them, wait and hopefully a seedling will appear. Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and if you like play around with the temperature. Sit your trays next to a radiator or I sometimes put pots next to the Aga overnight. It’s a bit of a game. You can also pick up seed trays with clear plastic lids. These help keep the temperature and moisture levels even. I have one and it’s worked fine nicely so far.

Seedlings pop up with baby leaves and after some time will grow a true leaf, which will look like their proper leaves. When you see a leaf that looks a bit different to the first leaves grown, then you can prick them out. This is simply forking them out of their seed tray and putting them into a pot of ‘grown up’ compost to grow on. Regular compost has more nutrients than seed compost. Typically a seed has everything it needs to germinate so doesn’t need a nutrient rich compost to germinate. However, once you have a baby plant they can use the nutrients so then is a good time to use regular compost.

Thinning out is similar. If the seeds are particularly fine and difficult to sow one by one, then you will end up with lots of seedlings crammed together. Once they are big enough you can gently prick them out and plant them with greater spacing, hence thinning out.

More Tips:

  • Don’t over water. This will block out oxygen from the soil and might cause the seeds to rot. Keep the soil moist, but not water logged.
  • A little watering can with a very fine rose head is helpful to avoid overwatering and sloshing seeds or seedlings away with a deluge.
  • You can also put shallow water in trays and put your seed pot in the tray. The seed pot will suck the water up from the bottom and this avoids any surface disruption.
  • You can add vermiculite, which is a fine horticultural gravel, to the top of the tray or pot. This helps keep in moisture and deters surface growth of that yucky green fungus.
  • When handling seedlings try to hold a leaf, not the stem. There’s only one stem. If it gets damaged, that’s the end of it.

Now What?

Once you’ve nurtured your little plants into life and if you’ve grown them indoors, you will need to introduce them to the great outdoors slowly. This is called hardening off and I’m a bit rubbish at it if I’m honest. It will be next year’s New Year resolution. This means taking your plants out in the day to start with and bringing them in at night and watching out for frost. Lots of plants are tender and need to get used to the cold after their cozy life on a window sill. Indeed many won’t tolerate freezing temperatures and rather than being a bit fussy about it would just flat out die.

Don’t forget that for lots of seeds you can just sow direct and cut out any faff. It is worth sowing onto some kind of a prepared bed if you want to hedge the odds in your favour for getting a nice show of flowers (or veggies if that is what you are growing). The picture below is of a lightly dug over and then raked over bed where I had thrown down a bit of extra compost. It’s right next to a low wall so you can see there are pebbles and dashes or mortar about. It’s not perfect, but it’s OK. The seedlings are from a pack of mixed cut flower seeds I picked up from the garden centre. I would really like to find the time to thin them out if possible as they are quite close together, but so far so good. Lots have germinated. I am sure some are weeds, but we shall see…

Do you have any great tips for sowing seeds?