If there’s one thing well worth doing in these dark times it is sowing some seeds. We’re seeing so many people doing it metaphorically in terms of kindness and love (the more of that the better!), but this is the perfect time to do it with most plant seeds, too.
It is so satisfying to watch something that starts as little more than a dry husk then grow – thanks to you – into glorious, healthy plants, bringing joy and welcome distraction.
Choose your seeds well and for just a few quid you could have hundreds of plants by midsummer covered with bees and butterflies, bringing life to your gardens, balconies and roof gardens. With online stores still open (at the time of writing), there is chance to buy now and get sowing.
However, growing plants from seeds can be seen as something of a dark art. Let’s bust that myth – I don’t consider myself to have ‘green fingers’, but I’ve grown thousands of plants over the years and most of the plants in my garden are from seed. All you need is to follow some golden rules.
So, I headed out early this morning to sow a load of seeds and show you the steps I follow that will greatly improve your chances of success (first of all in brief, and then if you’d like a longer read I explain each in more detail further down the blog). Plus I suggest some of my top choices for seeds to try:
Sowing indoors: golden rules
1. Use fresh seed
2. If you can, use fresh compost (make sure it is peat-free, of course).
3. Fill a seed tray or pot with the compost (sieved if possible). Lightly compress it.
4. Sit it in a tray of tap water to let the water soak up into the compost from below until the surface is glistening.
5. Sow the seed thinly. Cover it only to the depth of the seed with a light covering of compost or horticultural grit. (A few seeds need to be treated differently, so always read the packet).
6. Label clearly.
7. Put in a warm, light place but not in direct sunlight.
8. Check them daily – TLC will be rewarded! Keep the compost moist but definitely not waterlogged.
9. Once the seeds have germinated (some will do so quickly; some will keep you waiting until you have given up hope and then amaze you) and have at least two true leaves (not the first two ‘seed leaves’), transplant them (‘pot them on’) into separate pots.
10. Plant out in the garden only once they are robust, healthy plants.
Oh, and I have one important secret to impart. They won't all work! Even for the professionals, they don't all germinate. Just celebrate the successes rather than worrying about the mis-hits.
Here is one of my previous blogs about how to plant and grow beds of annual flowers from seed outside, which can be just as thrilling.
What seeds to sow?
Here are my top tips for plants that are easy to grow from seed right now and should give you colour by summer. All the choices below are excellent for various types of bee; butterflies are more picky, so I’ve marked those that are likely to be used by butterflies for nectar.
If growing with children, then sunflowers are my top choice – kids will love seeing how fast these grow, and it can become a competition as the season progresses. But definitely don’t plant your seedlings outside too early or slugs and snails are likely to get them.
Adrian's award-winning RSPB Gardening for Wildlife has a whole section on his top 500 plants for wildlife, all with photos, to help you choose.
Other wildlife-friendly activities you might like to do in the garden this spring:
Here are links to some of my previous blogs to give you more ideas:
Creating a border for bees
Adding nesting boxes to your garden
Letting parts of your lawn grow to create a pop-up meadow
Using a trail cam to see what is visiting at night
Adding a birdbath
Making a small pond
And of course there are plenty of activities to try that I wrote for our Giving Nature a Home webpages here.
And here’s my ‘long read’ to successful seed sowing:
I cut up the plastic milk cartons to make labels for seed trays and plants.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654