Posted on

how to grow seeds

How to grow from seed – a beginner’s guide

How to grow from seed – a beginner’s guide

Do you know how to grow from seeds? It’s something we all think we can do but when it comes to it, we can lack confidence to try. We might pick up a seed packet, read the back with a furrowed brow, possibly put them back again or, worse still, buy them but never sow the seed.

You can buy garden ready plants from garden centres or mail order but if you learn hoe to grow from seed there are thousands more varieties to choose from. Plus its cheap. Best of all there is real magic in seed germination.

If you’re one of these people and are looking for a no fuss demystification of the magic that is seed sowing – read on.

Read your seed packet and work out how to achieve this in your own contextTomato seeds in trug

Most seed packets give you the basic information you need to grow from seed. They will tell you when to sow, ideal germination temperature, how to grow on and when you can expect flowers or harvest. The detail varies from brand to brand and can be minimal or diagrammatic in some internationally traded brands.

It’s easy to be put off by the detail (or sometimes lack of detail) on a seed packet but read this and you’ll begin to understand what your plant needs. You can then think about how you can provide this in the context of your own home. Not everyone has a greenhouse, or propagator but given a bit of thought, anyone can grow all but the tricksiest of seeds.

What does this seed packet tell us?

Here’s a seed packet which I have annotated to show how to grow this tomato from seed. There’s allot of information but if you learn to read a seed packet carefully, you’ll have great success growing from seed.

If you are finding this difficult to read, click on it and it will open up larger on your screen…

Tomato seed packet

What kit will I need to grow from seed?

The answer to this is very little. Garden centres and online catalogues abound with seed sowing kit. All of this has a purpose which can be useful in some circumstances but isn’t essential.

My essential kit for seed sowing

  1. Seed trays or pots – I like sowing in trays – they give space to the seedlings, giving them air and light which will make them grow strongly and avoid problems with fungal infections. As well as standard sized trays, I have also bought some small ones – to use when I don’t want to sow many of a certain seed. Bigger seeds such as peas, beans or squash can be planted in individual pots. To avoid buying single use plastics, it’s worth paying up for thick plastic seed trays that will last a lifetime. For larger seeds instead of buying individual plastic pots you could use coir pots or cardboard tubes or store and reuse old plastic pots from plants you have bought.
  2. Compost – you can buy special seed compost which is lower in nutrients than other composts and is usually soil based and has a fine texture. However, multi-purpose compost does what it says on the bag – it can be used for many plants and certainly most seeds. If you haven’t got the desire to but lots of types of compost – or more likely – haven’t the room to store them, buy multipurpose.
  3. Little sieve – these are cheap but invaluable. Modern multipurpose compost can contain chunky lumps. These are fine in a pot of bedding plants but sieving these out provides a lovely base for the new seedlings to run their roots through. You can also use the sieve to cover your seeds in a fine layer. You can also buy a light granular substance called vermiculite for this but that’s another bag to store somewhere. If you see vermiculite suggested to cover your seeds, you can usually substitute sieved compost.
  4. Labels – if you’re sowing a few packets you WILL forget which is which even if you think you won’t. Use any way of labelling that works for you but do try and do this.
  5. A light place – some seeds need light to germinate, some don’t but ALL need good light to grow strongly without getting leggy. You’ll need a light place inside, protected from cold, for some seeds and also one out in your garden, balcony or wherever you’re growing your seedlings.

How to sow

First decide how many seeds you want to sow. The packet of Lizzano tomatoes has 25 seeds in it but few of us have the room or appetite for 25 tomato plants. Think about how many plants you want – say 3, then sow that number plus a few extra in case they don’t all germinate.

Next, knowing how many seeds you’ll be sowing, choose your pots or trays. Only with large seeds such a beans, peas and squash do I sow in individual pots. Otherwise I sow in a seed tray or plastic pot, a small one if I’ve only a few seeds I want to sow, a bigger one if I want more.

Fill your seed tray with sieved compost then gently pat down and smooth off the surface. Open your packet and using your fingers pinch and spread the seeds evenly across the surface. You can sow in an even pattern if you want as this will help you to see where germination has failed. For small seeds this isn’t easy so I don’t bother unless seeds are easy to handle.

Cover the seeds with a light sprinkling of sieved compost. Some packets will tell you NOT to cover the seed (for example snapdragons) as these require light to germinate well but if the packet is not explicit, then I always cover the seeds. LABEL you seeds whichever way suits – you will forget what you have planted – especially if you have a few packets to sow.

The seeds will need moist compost to germinate. You could water in with a watering can with a fine rose but try to avoid any strong flow from the can as this will move the seeds around. For ease, I usually stand my seed trays in a deep dish or tray of water which slowly gets drawn up into the compost and doesn’t disturb the seeds. This takes 15-20 minutes and you can tell when the water reaches the top as the compost darkens on the surface. Then take the tray out, let it drain for a short while and place it where you want it to germinate – indoors or in a greenhouse or propagator if it needs warmer temperatures, outdoors if not.

Wait for germination

Seed packets usually say how quickly germination will occur but not always. Tomatoes can take as little as 4 days if the conditions are right but some seeds can take months. If you’re not sure it’s worth trying to find out as it is easy to give up on a seed tray, thinking nothing is happening when in fact it just needs your care for a bit longer.

What next for your seedlings – click here to read more about pricking out and growing on. Article contains a you tube clip and step-by-step photos on pricking out your seedlings from their seed tray.

Are you a beginner gardener wondering how to grow from seed? This guide shows how to read the seed packet and how to get sowing with minimum fuss.

Common Mistakes Made While Growing Seeds Indoors

Guidance on Watering, Lighting, and Other Growing Factors

  • Pin
  • Share
  • Email

The Spruce / K. Dave

It is quite economical to start seeds indoors, especially when the seedlings grow into robust plants. However, growing seeds indoors can be challenging. To significantly increase your chances of success, avoid these common seed-starting mistakes.

Watch Now: Mistakes to Avoid When Growing Seeds Indoors

Not Supplying Enough Light

Seedlings need a lot of light to grow into sturdy, healthy plants. No matter what anyone tells you, chances are that you do not have enough natural light in your home to grow robust seedlings. Even a south-facing window usually will not do. You can, however, use artificial light to achieve the right amount of light required by seedlings. To do so, obtain grow lights explicitly designed for plants. Or, for a more economical solution, purchase large fluorescent shop lights outfitted with one warm bulb and one cool bulb.

Suspend the lights from chains so that you can raise the lights higher as the seedlings grow. Keep the lights as close to the seedlings as possible without touching them (2 to 3 inches). When seedlings first appear, keep the lights turned on for 12 to 16 hours per day. To reduce your hands-on time, use a timer to turn the lights on and off automatically.

Applying Too Much or Too Little Water

The amount of water you supply can make or break seedling growth. Watering is one of the most challenging aspects of seed starting. Because seedlings are so delicate, there is very little room for error when it comes to watering. You must keep the sterile seed-starting medium damp but not wet.

To increase your chances of getting it right, here are a few things you can do:

  • Create a mini-greenhouse to keep soil moist: cover the container with plastic until the seeds germinate.
  • Water from the bottom to enable the seedlings to soak up water through the container drainage holes. There is less chance of over-watering when you use this approach. Add water slowly for 10 to 30 minutes, and use your finger to touch the top of the soil to ensure that moisture has reached the top of the container.
  • Check soil moisture at least once a day.
  • Buy a self-watering, seed-starting system.

watering seedlingsThe Spruce / K. Dave

” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />

The Spruce / K. Dave

Starting Seeds Too Soon

Many plants do not tolerate cold temperatures, and exposing them to chilly air or cold soil will stress them out. Chas Gill, who runs the Kennebec Flower Farm, agrees that one of the biggest mistakes people make when starting seeds is starting the seeds too early. Stressed-out plants are more susceptible to pests and disease. Most plants are ready to go outside four to six weeks after you start the seeds.

Planting Seeds Too Deeply

Seeds are finicky when it comes to how deep they are planted. Some seeds need complete darkness to germinate and others require light to germinate.   Proper planting depth is usually provided on the seed packet. If there is no information on the packet, the rule of thumb is to plant seeds two to three times as deep as they are wide. Determining depth can be a challenge, but if you are not sure, err on the shallow side.

For seeds that need light to germinate, make sure the seeds are in contact with the seed starting medium but are not covered. To do this, gently press the soil medium to create a firm surface. Then, place the seed on top of the medium and gently press down, making sure the seed is still exposed.

Moving Seedlings Outdoors Too Soon

There is no benefit to a tough-love approach with seedlings when they are young. They will either instantly die or become weak and then fail to thrive. Even the most stalwart plants, when young, need a considerable amount of coddling and attention.

When your seedlings are large enough to plant outdoors, you need to prepare them for the transition by hardening off.   Hardening off gradually prepares them for outdoor conditions like wind, rain, and sun. The hardening-off process is simple, though it can be time-consuming; it involves exposing your plants to the elements gradually. The first day of hardening off, place your seedlings outdoors for one hour, and then bring them back indoors. Gradually increase the amount of outdoor time every day for 6 to 10 days. You will need to make some judgment calls based on the outdoor temperature and the fragility of your seedlings. If it is a particularly cool day or very rainy, you will want to decrease the time of that hardening-off session.

Sowing Too Many Seeds

When sowing seeds, begin modestly if you are a beginner. If you sow more seeds than you can reasonably maintain, it will become challenging to nurture the seedlings into adulthood. Depending on the type of plant you want to grow, you might be able to direct-sow seeds in outdoor containers or in the ground when outdoor temperatures warm up.

too many seeds in a planting trayThe Spruce / K. Dave

” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />

The Spruce / K. Dave

Keeping Seeds Too Cool

For seeds to germinate, most must be kept warm: about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. A favorite place to keep seeds warm in order to germinate is on top of the refrigerator. Or, you can purchase seed-warming mats to place under the seed trays. Once a seedling emerges, they can tolerate fluctuating temperatures (within reason). Whatever type of light you use, natural or artificial, make sure it produces enough heat to keep the plants in the 65- to 75-degree range.

Failing to Label Seeds

To be able to identify seedlings as they grow and to know when they will be ready for transplanting, you should label the seed containers as you are sowing. For every type of seed sown, use popsicle sticks or plastic plant markers and permanent ink pens to record the plant name and date sown. Insert the plant labels into the soil near the edge of the container or tray.

making sure to label seedlngsThe Spruce / K. Dave

” data-caption=”” data-expand=”300″ data-tracking-container=”true” />

The Spruce / K. Dave

Giving Up Too Soon

Starting seeds can be a difficult process. However, one of the most satisfying benefits of this labor of love is eating a tomato or marveling at the flowers that you nurtured from day one. Growing plants from seed takes dedication, attention, and time. Recognize that you might make mistakes along the way, but you should not give up. The results outweigh the challenges along the way.

Growing seeds indoors isn't hard, yet keeping them alive can be challenging. You can save a lot of money by starting plants from seeds.