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Get Set – Get Sowing by Catherine Norman

Posted by sheiladearing on 27 Mar 2013 at 09:26 AM

Now is one of my favourite times of year as spring starts and the days are getting longer  it is time to start seed sowing and all the promise that holds for the coming year.

I have been busy on the nursery getting the seeds sown ready for the planting season. It started with sowing sweet peas, one seed into a 7cm pot on 15th February but there is still plenty of time to get them going. Ours will soon need potting up into 1 litre pots and tying into canes. Many people set their sweet peas off in the autumn but ours are ready and waiting to get out in the garden by the end of May and always put on a good display in the garden.

Germinated Sweet Peas

Most of our seeds are sown in 1 litre pots which provide us with enough plants for our needs in the garden. We make up our own seed mix which has plenty of perlite in to keep it open and light; it also has a low nutrient base as too many nutrients can scorch young roots so always use compost designed for seed sowing.

Fill the pot with compost and then give it a tap to settle the compost, it wants to be a ‘firm’, level surface but not compacted. Water the prepared pots well and allow it to drain. Then you are ready to sow.

Nicotiana seeds are so small they are like dust, but quickly produce plants with large leaves. Larger seeds such as lupins are easier  to sow and make sure that they are well spaced; no matter the size of the seed you want to get the seed well-spaced over the surface of the pot, this helps when it comes to pricking out in a few weeks’ time. It also helps to keep the emerging seedling healthy as they are not competing for the light, and there is more air movement around the seedlings which helps to prevent disease.

We cover our seeds with vermiculite which helps to keep the seed in contact with the compost and prevent drying out; light can also pass through for those seeds that need it.

Seed pots covered in vermiculite 

Watering is an important thing to get right; our seed germinate on a heated bench with capillary matting between the heat and the pots by keeping the matting moist this is usually enough for the seeds to germinate, just watch out on very warm days that the top of the pots don’t dry out, if they look dry some careful light watering using a gentle spray from your watering can will be enough. Always remember that it is usually over watering that kills plants, so keep it to a minimum.

We sow our poppies onto 7cm pots, a small pinch of seed in each; I divide the packet seeds between the 30 pots. This is because they don’t like their roots being disturbed and they can be a bit erratic to germinate. So by doing it this way the young plants can just be potted on without damaging the roots. The seed is again covered with vermiculite and the pots placed on the heated bench.

Germination is quicker with the use of a heated propagator but an unheated one with vents in the lid will also give good results. As the seeds germinate and their first leaves unfurl they can be removed from the heat ready for the next stage of pricking out.

Young seedlings awaiting pricking out

I am always amazed at the range and diversity of the types of seed, they vary so much in size, shape and colour. This year as well as growing our usual plants for the garden we have also had lots of seed from different botanical gardens around the world so I have had lots of new seeds to try – Why don’t you have a go too, whether its flowers or vegetables  it is a lot cheaper than the cost of buying the same number of plants and you can even swop plants that you have spare with friends and neighbours.


mikesdesk said:

Thank you for the many useful tips in this article, great photo's. Not sure what vermiculite is, I shall have to check it out see if we have it here in New Zealand.

Thanks again


on 03 Apr 2013 at 10:39 PM