Planting by seed is a rewarding way to start plants and satisfy that green thumb urge. It's important to know how to direct sow seeds, and if and when to sow seeds outdoors. Temperature is an important factor to seed germination, and seed starting times vary from zone to zone. Gardeners in short growing zones will want to start by planting seeds indoors, while those more fortunate warm zone growers can begin by sowing seeds outside. Either way, with a few rules under your belt, a successful crop will be achieved by early planting and proper sowing information.
What is Direct Sowing?
Not all gardeners will opt for direct sowing. What is direct sowing? This is when you plant seeds directly out into prepared garden beds. That is a fine solution for gardeners in the warm climates, but northern gardeners have to cheat a bit and start earlier indoors. Seed packets have good guidelines for the different zones but waiting until May or June for cold climes can result in poor crops with plants that take several months to produce from sowing date. A better option is to plant seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the date of the last frost. That gives you a jump start on plant maturity by the time it is safe to put them outside in the garden beds. Timing is everything with direct sowing. Soil temperature is a crucial factor for when to sow seeds outdoors. The optimal range varies from seed to seed but amongst the vegetables between 60 and 70 degrees F. (15-21 C.) seems to be the best. Some plants will germinate at cooler temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees F. (7-12 C.). Among these are:
These early bird seeds can be direct sown outdoors once the soil is workable. Know when to sow seeds outdoors by using package directions and time to produce. Some seeds, like carrots and radishes, can be successively planted for a crop all season long. Sowing seeds outside will give you a jump start on healthy plants and early produce.
How to Direct Sow Seeds
Prepare a garden bed by loosening soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches (20-31 cm.). Incorporate generous amounts of composted organic matter to enrich soil and improve percolation and tilth. Rake the bed and remove roots, rocks, and other impediments to tiny seedlings. Plan the garden space so that taller plants are not shading the lower specimens and use markers so you don’t forget where you put each variety. Make sure you weed the area so you can discern which new greenery is a seedling and which is a weed. This also removes competitive plants that would leach soil of nutrients and moisture needed by the seeds. Plant seeds at the depth recommended on the packet. Keep the area lightly moist. Germination will vary by seed variety, but most will sprout within five days to two weeks. Planting seeds outdoors early is not always an option but even short season gardeners can get a jump start by sowing in flats indoors.
Care After Planting Seeds Outdoors
Once you see signs of life, a few other steps need to be taken. When seeds have all sprouted, thinning is an important step. Remove excess plants to give the saved sprouts room to grow. Some of these aborted seedlings make great salad additions and shouldn’t be considered a waste. Keep a careful watch out for weeds and deal with those little devils as they appear. New plants may need the protection of a collar to keep birds and cutworms from chomping off the tender bits. Some plants need to be pinched back when young to promote bushier forms. Provided you amended the soil with plenty of organic matter, many varieties will not need fertilization. However, bigger yields and tastier veggies result from the application of compost tea, worm castings, or even side dressings of manure once the seedlings have a couple of sets of true leaves. Don’t fertilize seedlings initially, as they may become burned. Watch the plot carefully for signs of insects and combat these appropriately. In just a month or so, you could be eating and sharing the fruits of your victory.
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Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.