An easy way to grow your own fruit, vegetables and flowers
A gardening activity that the whole family can enjoy, growing plants from seed gives a great feeling of satisfaction that’s hard to beat. But not only that, growing your own flowers, vegetables, salads or herbs is a cost-effective way to fill your outdoor space with colour, scent and delicious food.
You can grow seeds almost anywhere – some annual seeds can even be put straight into the ground. In this guide, we'll talk you through how to sow your seeds in a seed tray, one of the easiest ways to get your plants started. Just be sure to research the plants before you buy so that you know:
- When to plant your seeds (and when you can expect them to bloom)
- What conditions they need
- How big they’ll get
Reading up on your chosen plants will ensure that you have the space to accommodate them for the duration of their germination. And our helpful guide will help ensure that you sow them correctly and, eventually, end up with beautiful results.
Tools & materials required
- Seed tray or pots
- Seed sowing compost
- Tamper – a piece of wood to press down into the soil in order to level it
- Folded piece of paper
- Shallow tray of water
- Labels and pen
It’s always best to use a compost specially formulated for sowing seeds in order to ensure that they get all the nutrients they need.
Fill a seed tray with compost before levelling off the surface – you can do this by running a piece of wood over it to scrape off the excess.
Use a tamper to gently compress the compost evenly.
Prepare your seeds. Large seeds are often found loosely in the main packet, but small ones are usually inside smaller sachets. Carefully open seed packets or sachets by tearing or cutting off the top with scissors. Place smaller seeds inside a folded piece of paper – this will help you sprinkle them evenly across the compost. Larger seeds can be planted individually, just push them in place with your finger.
Remember to not overcrowd them, as this could mean that they won’t grow. Space out your seeds at the suggested distance (see the packet for instructions) over the surface of compost, and always avoid sowing too thickly.
Top tip: Saving spare seeds
If you have spare seeds, fold down the edges of packets and place them in a sealable sandwich or food box. Keep this in a cool place, like the salad drawer in the bottom of your fridge. Check each pack for the expiry date - you may be able to keep for sowing next year, or for a second batch of some crops later in the growing season.
Depending on the size of your seeds, sieve compost over the top so that they are lying at the correct depth below the surface. Some of the smaller seeds need light and so should just be on the surface – check the instructions on your seed pack.
Water your seeds (see below) and if you have sown a lot of seeds, consider labelling them with the plant name and other information, such as the sowing date. You may find this useful later on if you're sowing multiple batches to flower or fruit at different times throughout the growing season.
Watering your seeds
Larger seeds can be watered from above, but fine seeds will be disturbed and could float away. Instead, spritz them with a water spray (fine mist only) or place pots or trays in larger trays filled with warm water, leaving in place for 5-10 minutes to allow compost to absorb water. This will also draw the seeds down into the compost.
You'll notice the surface of the compost turning a darker colour when moisture reaches it – you can then remove the pots or trays from the water.
Where to grow your seeds
Warmth is an important factor when it comes to growing seeds – so while some can be planted straight into the ground, others would need to be placed inside a heated greenhouse after being sown. Heated propagators with a transparent lid are also a good choice, but don’t fret if you don’t have the space, or the budget, for either of these. A DIY option is to cover each pot/tray with a sheet of cling film - twist it around the edges to produce a tight seal, or use an elastic band to hold in place. This conserves the moisture, preventing compost around the seeds at the surface from drying out.
Keep pots in a warm position with a minimum temperature of around 21˚C (70˚F) to encourage germination. Again, if you don’t have a heated greenhouse or propagator, consider keeping them indoors during cold weather. If the weather is warm enough, you can keep them in a growhouse or a cold frame. For those who don’t have gardens, a sunny windowsill will do – just be sure to turn them regularly so that they don’t grow lopsided.
Once seedlings emerge remove the clear film covering pots, and then place them in light – but do protect them from scorching sunlight. Leave seedlings to develop their first true leaves before gently potting them up individually into small pots or trays, or moving them into a bed or border. Always handle seedlings by their leaves, never by their stems as they are easy to crush and damage.
Moving your seeds outdoors
Before they can be planted outdoors, your seeds will need to go through a period of adjustment or the change in temperature could kill them. This is known as hardening off.
Start by placing them outside in a sunny sport for part of the day. If you have a cold frame move the trays or pots into here, and open the top for a little while each day. Gradually increase how much time your seeds are exposed before planting them after the final frost.
Top tip: Feeding your seeds
Most compost only contains enough fertiliser to keep plants growing well for about 4-6 weeks. After this it's important to start regular feeding. Add an all-purpose plant food to one watering a week, following pack instructions for the correct dilution rate.