What’s it to be: bought plants or growing plants from seed? Buy seeds would be my suggestion.

Why? Well, the range of varieties to choose from is much greater and seeds are cheaper to buy. What’s more, growing plants from seed will give you a greater sense of achievement.


Growing plants from seed is not difficult. However, you do need to pay attention to a few points so that grow strong, healthy plants.

Simple Instructions For Growing Plants From Seed

1. Seed Raising Mix

You need to prepare a bed for your seeds, in the garden, or in suitable containers if you plan to germinate the seeds indoors. If you’re sowing seed in containers you need to use a good commercial seed raising mix or make one of your own. If you are making your own here’s a standard recipe:

3 parts peat or coir
3 parts compost or, preferably, vermicompost (from worms)
1 part coarse sand or perlite
A sprinkle of well-rotted, very finely chopped manure

Mix the ingredients well and make sure there are no lumps. Moisten, but don’t let it get soggy. If in doubt leave it in a pot with drainage holes overnight.

Put the soil in the container and pat the mix down to make an even surface but don’t compact it.

You are now ready to sow the seeds.

2. Pre-treatment of Seeds

Most seeds can be planted straight from the packet but a few species need to be prepared in one of several ways.

  • Soaking. Seeds with thick skins, such as peas, germinate faster if they are soaked overnight first. Usually, they are left to stand in a container of room-temperature water. Occasionally hot water is recommended.
  • Scarifying. The seeds of a some species, like nut trees, are enclosed in a very hard, woody case. To help germination they are often rubbed with sandpaper or a file until the seed it exposed, then soaked in water
  • Stratification.  Aquilegia (Columbine) seeds and some others germinate better if they are pre-chilled or stratified. The seeds are first planted in a damp growing medium (or layered in damp sand). The container is then placed in a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 weeks. With some seeds, such as the rose, a longer stratification period of 2 – 3 months  is required. of 2 – 3 months. In a few instances just placing the seeds, in their packet, in the fridge is suggested.

3. Sow the seeds at the correct depth

Seeds planted at an incorrect depth are less likely to germinate. There is no one-depth for all, and near enough is not good enough.

When you think about it, that’s obvious. Planting all seeds at the same depth is like a gym instructor expecting all members to lift the same weights. If small seeds are planted too deeply they fail to sprout or if they do the young plant may not have sufficient energy to push through an excessive depth of soil.

However, if you plant them too close to the surface they can dry out too quickly. In that case, they don’t germinate, or young sprouts dry out and die. This happens whether you sow the seeds indoors or outdoors.

  • Some seeds don’t want to be covered

Some seeds need light to germinate, some need darkness, and some aren’t fussy. How do you know which is which?

Instructions on seed packets will usually tell you if the seeds need light. These seeds should be pressed into moist mix but not covered. You can sprinkle a light coating of vermiculite (available at garden shops) over them to help retain moisture. Or, instead of using vermiculite you can place the container in a plastic bag or cut a piece of bubble-wrap to fit and lie it on top of the seeds.

  • The size of the seed determines how deeply it’s planted

In general, seeds that need darkness in order to germinate should be covered with soil 2- 3 times as deep as the thickness of the seeds. That means that large seeds like beans need to be planted more deeply than, say, carrot seeds.

You can treat this rule as a guide – measuring the covering of each seed would be ridiculously time-consuming and is unnecessary. However, until you learn to estimate accurately the depth required it’s a good idea to mark depths on something hard, like an ice block stick, and use this every few centimetres to check that the depth of the trough.

You can cover the seeds more accurately if you use fine soil. If you can sieve the soil, do so. This will make it easier for germinating seeds to send out roots and stems that are unobstructed by large fragments of soil.

4. Waiting for Germination

Don’t forget to check the container, if you are using one, to see when the seeds start to break though the soil. These seedlings are plant babies that need special care:

  • You need to ensure that they are in a bright spot. During winter a windowsill facing north in the Southern Hemisphere or south in the Northern Hemisphere is ideal. Nearing spring, as the heat of the sun gets stronger, you will need to move them back out of direct sunlight.
  • If the room is unheated germination will be slower or may not even take place. If you have a heating pad or incubator you could use that. Otherwise place the containers of seeds on top of a refrigerator, a television set or in a warm cupboard where the air temperature is higher.
  • Remove the plastic covering, if you’ve used one, as soon as the seeds show through
  • Take care that they don’t dry out. Water them as required and make sure they have very good drainage. Wet the soil to the bottom of the container. On the other hand, don’t let the soil become soggy or the roots could rot and the seedlings die. Allow the surface of the soil to dry – this will help to prevent the growth of moulds or fungi.
  • If you are using tap water, let the water stand for 24 hours before using it so that any chlorine dissipates.

5. Thinning or Re-potting

Once the first pair of true leaves appear, the seedlings can be transplanted. Alternatively, you could thin them. To transplant or “prick out” the seedlings, loosen and lift each plant with a spoon handle. a knife or something similar. Gently pick up the plant by one of its leaves and carefully place it into a prepared hole in the new container. Backfill the hole. Once the new container is full, spray the seedlings with room-temperature water and put in a warm place.

6. Moving Plants from Indoors to Outdoors

Most gardeners growing plants from seed will keep them indoors for faster germination. This also lets them become established sooner than growing them outdoors would permit. The seedlings are able to grow without being set back by cold and fluctuating temperatures and by exposure to hot sun or winds before they are strong enough to cope with them.

If you are growing plants from seeds indoors and put them outside without hardening they will, at least, suffer a setback in growth; some or all of them might die. Hardening plants simply means preparing them gradually for a change of environment, thus helping them to adapt to their new growing conditions. The time this process takes depends on the plants and variations in weather. It can take from several days to a week or two.

Silverbeet (chard), for instance, is a hardy plant and needs only 2 – 3 days hardening (maybe longer if the seedlings are still small) before you can carefully transplant the young seedlings into the prepared garden bed. During those 2 – 3 days check that they still look healthy. If they become limp or look weak in any way take them inside, water them if necessary and wait until they perk up before putting them outside again. Once they look consistently healthy they are ready for planting.

Tomatoes, on the other hand, are tender and need to wait until the night temperatures are around 10ºC (50ºF) before they are planted outdoors. You can leave them out overnight in their pots if the temperature will be 8 degrees C or more (47 degrees F) above frost level and they are in a sheltered place. If in doubt, take them indoors or cover them with frost cloth or newspaper.

7. Planting

When the plants are hardened they are ready for planting in a prepared bed. If the plants are frost tender you need to wait until the risk of frosts has passed, unless you have protective covers on hand to use if the temperature drops too low.

Water the plants well and make sure they don’t get too dry, especially for the first week or two after planting. And feel proud of your achievement. These are young plants that you have nursed and grown; they are not anonymous products of some strangers’ work.

Final Points

Have I made the process of growing plants from seeds seem difficult? I hope not. I find it more personal than planting seedlings that some unknown nurseryman (or woman!) has grown. Has it something to do with the female nurturing instinct, or am I just being fanciful? Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy growing plants from seeds as much as I do.

Do you have any experiences concerning growing plants from seed that you would like to share? Comments and questions welcome.

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