Many annuals, wildflowers, and vegetables can be seeded directly in the garden, either broadcast over a bed to give a planted-by-nature look or sown in the traditional rows of a vegetable or cutting garden.
Many other plants, however, are best raised from seed sown in containers. These include slow-growing perennials, plants with expensive or very fine seed, and warm-season vegetables and annuals that you want to start when the garden soil is still too cold and wet for in-ground planting.
Flowers and vegetables to direct-sow
Certain easy-to-grow plants do best when sown directly in the garden, because they have delicate root systems or taproots that make successful transplantation from containers difficult.
Such plants include:
- sunflower (Helianthus)
- sweet pea (Lathyrus)
- love-in-a-mist (Nigella)
- nasturtium (Tropaeolum)
Whether you're sowing a wildflower mixture or several kinds of annuals for a showy border, start by preparing the soil. Remove weeds, then loosen the soil and work in amendments with a spading fork, shovel, or rototiller.
Add a complete fertilizer in the amount directed on the label. Finally, smooth the soil with a rake.
If rain doesn't do the job for you, moisten the bed thoroughly a few days before you intend to plant. At sowing time, the soil should be moist but not soggy.
Next: How to plant in rows
Planting in rows
To grow vegetables or annuals in rows, prepare the soil (see video), but do not dig in fertilizer; it will be applied later.
Next, make furrows for the seeds, following the packet instructions for depth of furrows and spacing between them. If possible, lay out the rows in a north-south direction, so that both sides will receive an equal amount of sunlight during the day.
Form the furrows with a hoe, rake, or stick; for perfectly straight rows, use a board or taut string as a guide, as shown at right. Now dig two furrows alongside each seed furrow--one on either side, each 2 inches away from and 1 inch deeper than the seed furrow.
Apply fertilizer in these furrows, following label recommendations for amount of fertilizer per foot of row. This technique puts the fertilizer where plant roots can best use it.
Sow seeds evenly, spacing them as the packet directs. You can tear off a small corner of the packet and tap the seeds out as you move along, or pour a small quantity of seed into your palm and scatter pinches of seed as evenly as possible. Larger seeds, such as beans, can be placed individually by hand.
Water the furrows with a fine spray; then keep the soil surface moist but not dripping wet until the seeds sprout. Thin overcrowded seedlings while they're still small; if you wait too long to thin, the plants will develop poorly, and you'll have a harder time removing an individual plant without disturbing those around it.
Buying, storing, and broadcasting seeds
Be sure the seeds you buy are fresh; they should be dated for the current year. For many plants, seed may be sold in three different forms: loose, pelletized, and in tapes. Loose seeds, traditionally sold in packets, are familiar to all gardeners. Pelletized seeds, also sold in packets, are individually coated (like small pills) to make handling and proper spacing easier. Seed tapes are strips of biodegradable paper with seeds embedded in them, properly spaced for growing to maturity. You just unroll the tape in a prepared furrow and cover it with soil.
Store extra seeds in an airtight jar or other container in a cool, dry place. With proper storage, many kinds of seeds remain viable for a year, and some stay good for several years.
Broadcasting seeds in a prepared bed
1. For a patterned planting, outline the areas for each kind of seed with gypsum, flour, or stakes and string. You may want to put a label in each area.
2. To achieve a more even distribution, shake each kind of seed (or an entire wildflower seed mixture) in a covered can with several times its bulk of white sand.
3. Scatter the seed-sand mixture as evenly as possible over the bed or individual planting areas; then rake lightly, barely covering the seeds with soil. Take care not to bury them too deeply.
4. Spread a very thin layer of mulch (such as sifted compost) over the bed to help retain moisture, keep the surface from crusting, and hide the seeds from birds.
5. Water with a fine spray. Keep the soil surface barely damp until the seeds sprout; once seedlings are up, gradually decrease watering frequency.
6. When seedlings have two sets of true leaves, thin those that are too closely spaced. Transplant the thinned seedlings to fill empty spaces in the bed.