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How to sow seeds

Seeds or plants? Most garden vegetables can be directly seeded where they are to grow, including: lettuce, beans, carrots, beets, chard, spinach, peas, cukes, and squash. Starting with small plants rather than seeds is a good idea for crops that take longer to mature.

Purchase transplants for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and melons (or start your own indoors 6 to 8 weeks before planting them outside). Also, if you wish to speed up the season, consider a raised bed garden as the soil will warm up more quickly.

If you decide to grow from seed (versus young plants), be sure to buy high-quality seeds. If seeds don’t germinate, that’s time and money wasted. A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds will pay off at harvest time with higher yields.

Germinating Seeds Germination is affected by four environmental factors: water, oxygen, light, and temperature. Manage them correctly and your seeds are sure to sprout. Read your seed packets to know the requirements of each crop.


It’s important to know how much water to give your seedlings; they will remain dormant if they are too dry and can rot if too wet. Adequate and consistent moisture is ideal. A gentle daily misting with a spray bottle should do the trick. Covering seeds with a thin layer of vermiculite or peat moss also helps.


For seeds to get enough oxygen, your soilless growing medium needs to drain well. Heavy, wet media cause anaerobic conditions, which inhibit germination.


Plants’ light requirements vary from crop to crop; where you locate your seeds will determine how much light they receive per day.


Temperature affects the number of seeds that germinate and how quickly they germinate. Some seeds have a very specific temperature range for germination, while others will germinate over a broad range of temperatures. A 65° to 75°F range is typical for most seeds.

Selecting Seeds

  • Buy from a reliable source. For a list of garden seed catalogs and mail-order sources, go to Almanac.com/seedcatalogs
  • Choose quality seed. It will be true to cultivar/variety name, and will not contain contaminants, such as weed seed, insect casings, soil particles, or plant pulp.
  • Choose varieties suitable for your area that will reach maturity before frost, survive heat, and tolerate your growing conditions.
  • Purchase only enough seed for use in the current season (viability decreases with stored seed).

Potting Soil for Starting Seeds

When it comes time to start seeds, plan to use a sterile, soilless potting medium. Sterile mixes have been treated to be free of weed seeds and disease organisms. Do not use garden soil—it’s much too heavy and holds too much water for germination. A fine, uniform texture is what’s needed. If you are up for a little experiment, you can even make your own . . . For a basic mix, use:

  • 1 bucket (2½ gallons) peat moss
  • 1 bucket(2½ gallons) vermiculite or perlite
  • A half bucket (1¼ gallons) screened compost or composted cow manure
  • 2 cups fine sand
  • 2 cups pelleted time-release fertilizer
  • ½ cup lime (to counter the acid of peat and keep the pH level near neutral) Mix thoroughly. Makes enough to fill two 14-inch tubs. Double or triple recipe for bigger containers.

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