How to Plant from Seed

Summary: Information and help for novice gardeners on how to grow varieties of herbs, flowers, veg and fruit from seed.

It is very gratifying to see seeds break the surface of the soil and start to grow towards the light. This is one of the reasons schools often get children to grow cress – they get very quick results, and they can also eat the crop if they want to too.

As an adult you may experience a similar excitement over growing seeds. You can start seeds off on a windowsill, in a propagator or if you have room you can easily build a cold frame, which is like a miniature greenhouse and keeps the seedlings protected from wind, snow and animal damage.

Garden Cold Frame
Garden Cold Frame

If you decide to start planting seeds make sure they are new seeds – seeds have a use-by date on them, to ensure best results. You get a lot of seeds for your money and most will germinate so you may like to share some of your seeds with a friend or friends to share the cost and the experience of growing different crops and flowers.

4 Easy Food Crops to Grow from Seeds

Beans – all are quite readily available and are quick to grow, they provide you with a great tasting food crop that can be eaten straight from the plant. Look out for disease resistant varieties, and they can be planted directly into the garden. Be aware that they become very thirsty as they grow, so in dry conditions you will need to ensure they are watered regularly and thoroughly. Beans will grow happily in containers, but watering is especially important if you grow then in containers. Sow April-July.

Broad Beans
Runner Bean Plants Grown From Seed

Squashes – these are really easy to grow, but the plants can get quite big as they sprawl along the ground. Squashes are also plentiful fruiters, which is very pleasing for beginners and will give excellent return on investment, because shop-bought squashes are surprisingly expensive considering the ease with which they grow. You can get lots of different shapes, sizes and colours to suit your preference. Refer to your packet for planting instructions as these will vary.

Selection of Squashes
Squashes Grown From Seed

Beetroot – these are so easy to grow and you can eat the leaves as well as the root. Pick some of the young leaves from the top of the beet as it grows, and add them to salads. You can pull the beetroot up when they are quite young and small if you prefer, ad this means you don’t have to wait too long to harvest your crop. Try roasting small beetroot whole with the skins on, then once cooled peel them and toss them in vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Sow April-July.

You can also leave the roots to grow bigger if you prefer. Look out for golden varieties of beetroot as well as the more traditional purple coloured ones.

Peppers and chillies – these need quite warm conditions so you may be best to grow these on a windowsill or conservatory. Otherwise they can be grown in containers that can be left outside in the warmer Summer months, but brought indoors if we get a cold snap. Use a small variety of peppers to make this possible. Check on your seed packet for sowing instructions but generally, the earlier in the year, the better. They often crop quicker than you can use them, but you can freeze chillies, and peppers can be bottled to preserve them.

Easy Herbs to Grow From Seeds

Coriander - is very simple to grow and will easily germinate. Sow it in successive sowings – sow small amounts each week to stagger your crop as coriander has a tendency to ‘bolt’ and turn to seed particularly in warm weather. Sow March-August.

Fennel – this is easy to grow and once you have it in the garden it will readily self seed each year. But it is not so invasive that it will drive you mad pulling out self seeded seedlings. You can also grow bulb fennel which will allow you to use all the plant, the bulb in stews, soup and salads and the feathery tops as a seasoning for fish and other dishes. Make sure that the ground is well soaked for Bulb Fennel before sowing the seeds April-July, herb fennel is easier to germinate and can be sown from early spring.

Fennel Bulb
Fennel Bulb

Flowers From Seeds

Flowers can be annual, perennial or biennial.

Annual flowers are sown and flower in the same year, and then usually die down as the frost hit them, they may self-seed to create more flowers the next year.

Biennial flowers are sown one season, and grow leaves and roots that first season, they then flower the following year. Again these plants may self-seed once they have flowered and so you may get a ongoing crop.

Perennial plants once established will flower each year. Obviously there are conditions that could mean the plant dies.

  • Annual Flowers
    • Marigolds – these are bright golden flowers which will brighten any part of the garden, they are attractive to pollinators and they also help to repel greenfly so they are great to grow in the vegetable garden.
    • Nasturtiums – Very quick and easy to germinate these creepers will tumble over paths and over the edges of hanging baskets, and containers. There are variations in colours although mainly in the yellow, orange red end of the scale. The flowers are also edible, and can be added to salads, they have a sharp peppery taste a bit like watercress.
    • Sunflowers – they grow to incredible heights in a short space of time and you can have competitions between family members or neighbours. They are great for children to grow because you can almost see them growing. You can eat the seeds (save some for planting the following year). You can leave seed heads on the plant for the birds to feed on during the winter months.
    • Sweet peas – these are very pretty flowers, that climb quickly up a support and can be cut and brought into the house. They come in a large variety of colours, and some are highly fragrant. They can be trained up a wigwam or obeslisk to make a great garden centrepiece. Make sure they get plenty of water.
  • Garden Obelisk
    Sweet Peas Growing up an Obelisk
  • Biennial flowers
    • Foxgloves – there are many varieties of foxglove with their impressive spikes of flowers which are attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. They are easy to grow, sow seeds in May or June to flower the following early summer. Be aware that the plants and flowers are poisonous though.
    • Stocks – highly fragrant flowers which can be cut to bring their heady scent indoors. Colours are mainly purples and pinks through to red, and white. Sow in May/June to get flowers the following June/July.
    • Honesty – This flower is better known for its seedheads which dry to a papery ‘monocle-like’ form on tall stems. Sow seeds in April, May or June to get flowers 12 months later and seed pods for drying at the end of that second season. Cut the seed heads to dry and bring inside in late Autumn, or leave in the flower beds for winter texture in the garden.
  • Honesty
    Honesty Flower and Seeds
  • Perennial Flowers
    • Perennial Poppies - There are annual poppies and perennial poppies. The perennial varieties have large, showy flowers and clumps of dense feather foliage. They come in many colours and sizes. They are not strictly ‘easy’ but are easy to germinate, sow in seed trays indoors in February – May, once they are big enough to handle transplant them to pots and once frosts have passed put them out in a protected environment – unheated greenhouse or cold frame, before planting them in their final flower bed in May.
    • Echinacea or ‘coneflower’ - These have great clumps of purple flowers which are attractive to garden wildlife and are said to have medicinal properties. Echinacea tablets are sold as a boost to the body’s immune system. The easiest way to grow them is to sow seeds in late spring/early summer directly into the border where you want them to flower, thinning out the seedlings to about 45cm apart once established. This is easier then growing indoors earlier in the year and transplanting them in the Spring/Summer.
    • Hellebores – if you have a semi shaded spot under trees or shrubs you might like to try growing Hellebores, there are different varieties depending on when you want them to flower and which colour you prefer, but one of the nicest spring flowers is the purple Helleborus purpurascens. Refer to the seed packet for the best place to sow, as varieties vary.
  • Hellebores
    White Hellebores

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