Gardening for Beginners: 10 Easy Steps to Sowing Seeds

Updated on February 26, 2018
eugbug profile image

Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for nearly 40 years. He also has a keen interest in DIY.

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Growing Plants and Harvesting Seed

You can buy "ready made" plants in a store, but it can be much more fun to grow them yourself from seed. The magical phenomenon of seed germination and transformation into an adult plant is entertaining for both adults and children alike!
In this article I have concentrated on growing oriental poppies which produce lots of seeds every year when they finish flowering. They are herbaceous perennials, which die down in winter but regrow again, year after year.

If you find this guide useful, please take the time to share it on Pinterest, Facebook or other social media.

Oriental Poppies - I harvested seeds from these in the late summer
Oriental Poppies - I harvested seeds from these in the late summer | Source
Seed containing ovary of a poppy plant. Seeds can be harvested on a dry day when pods have lost their green color and dried out
Seed containing ovary of a poppy plant. Seeds can be harvested on a dry day when pods have lost their green color and dried out | Source

How to Sow Seeds

  1. Find some trays or pots
  2. Fill the seed tray with seed compost
  3. Moisten the surface of the compost
  4. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the compost
  5. Cover the seed Tray
  6. Place the seed tray in a warm place
  7. Uncover the seedlings once they germinate
  8. Transplant the seedlings
  9. Keep transplanted seedlings in the shade
  10. Plant out into the flowering position

Is it Easy to Grow Plants From Seed?

Many flowers, trees, and vegetables are easy to grow from seed if you take a little bit of care while sowing, and provide the basic requirements for germination; warmth, moisture and oxygen. One obvious advantage of growing plants from seed is that it works out much cheaper than buying them. Also many plants produce lots of seeds which can easily be harvested and sown, and you can collect much more seed than would ever be in a packet bought from a shop.

The Essential Requirements for Seed Germination

Seeds are dormant once they "leave" their parent. This means that they do nothing and in effect are asleep as long as they are kept in a cool dry place. Some seeds have a "best before date" in the sense that they eventually deteriorate over time. However other seeds can be stored for decades before germination. In fact the oldest known seed was from a date palm estimated to be 2000 years old. This was successfully germinated in 2005.
A seed is an embryonic plant in a capsule, with all the DNA information present to eventually develop into a full grown "adult".
Seeds have three major requirements for germination; water, oxygen and warmth (the temperature depends on the specific seed). Some seeds also require light but others require dark conditions.

The requirements for seed germination
The requirements for seed germination | Source

How to Sow Seeds

Steps 1 to 10

Step 1: Find some trays or pots

You can sow seeds in a proper seed tray bought from a store. Alternatively you can make do, and use a cookie tin, flower pot, butter spread container or similar. If there are no holes in the bottom of the container, make some with a 1/4 inch drill bit or large diameter nail. This allows water to drain from the container and prevents it collecting at the bottom which would make the seed compost overly wet. Space the holes a few inches apart.
You can also sow seeds individually in plant trays like the ones which annual plants are sold in from stores. The advantage of these is that seedlings don't need to be transplanted.

Source

Step 2: Fill the seed container with seed compost

Use a sterile seed compost if possible. You can also use a combined seed/potting compost.
Don't use soil dug up from your garden as this will be lumpy, contain lots of pests and diseases, and dry out quickly. Some plants aren't "fussy" about what they grow in, and if you have lots of harvested seed, you can try sowing it in soil which you have crumbled up so that it's nice and fine in the tray. From my experience however, it's best to buy proper compost to increase the chances of germination if only a small number of seeds are supplied in a packet.

Fill the seed tray with seed compost
Fill the seed tray with seed compost | Source
The seed tray doesn't need to be totally filled because seedlings will eventually be transplanted
The seed tray doesn't need to be totally filled because seedlings will eventually be transplanted | Source

Step 3: Moisten the surface of the compost

Moisten the surface of the compost with a mist spray. I just use an empty bottle from window cleaner, shower cleaner or similar. Make sure to wash it out fully before using. You can use a watering can but unless it has a fine rose, it will tend to flood the compost. Don't use a watering can to wet the compost pre-germination if it becomes dry, or to water delicate young seedlings, because it will wash away seeds or flatten the seedlings.

Moisten the surface of the compost with a water spray mister
Moisten the surface of the compost with a water spray mister | Source
Poppy seeds
Poppy seeds | Source

Step 4: Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the compost

Sprinkle the seeds over the compost from the palm of your hand using your finger. Don't cover small seeds as it can smother them. Larger seeds can be placed one by one on the compost and then covered with a sprinkling of compost. Much larger seed such as sweet corn, sunflower seeds and nuts from trees can be pushed down below the surface of the compost (about 1/4" / 6 mm)

Sprinkle seeds evenly over the compost surface. Small seeds don't need to be covered...........
Sprinkle seeds evenly over the compost surface. Small seeds don't need to be covered........... | Source
.......larger seeds can be covered with a thin layer of compost. A flower pot acts like a pepper pot and is useful for sprinkling compost
.......larger seeds can be covered with a thin layer of compost. A flower pot acts like a pepper pot and is useful for sprinkling compost | Source

Step 5: Cover the seed tray

Cover the seed tray to prevent the compost drying out. This also keep the seeds dark, which aids germination. You can use a piece of glass and a magazine, a slate, a piece of plastic, plywood or whatever.

Cover the seed tray. I found this scrap piece of thin plywood which will do nicely
Cover the seed tray. I found this scrap piece of thin plywood which will do nicely | Source

Step 6: Place the seed tray in a warm place

Seeds germinate best at a temperature above 64 F (18 C ). In the northern hemisphere, it's best to sow seeds in early spring around February or March so that plants can avail of the full growing season. If you live in a climate with cold winters, the temperature may be too low for germination. So you can place the seed tray in a plant propagator or alternatively locate it in a hot press close to a hot water tank, or near your furnace/boiler. Check the seed tray after a few days as some seeds can germinate quite quickly.

Step 7: Uncover the seedlings once they germinate

It's important to uncover the seedlings and expose them to light once they germinate, otherwise they will rapidly become straggly. You can place the seed tray on a windowsill where it should get enough light. Keep the compost moist with a spray mister. This is essential, especially if seeds have just been sown on the surface without being covered, as the tiny roots can dry out rapidly when exposed to warm sunshine or warm air in a room. In retrospect, I think it would probably have been better to cover these seeds with a thin layer of compost. If the plants are half-hardy, i.e. they are sensitive to frost, they will need to be kept indoors in full sun, in a greenhouse or under a cold frame. During severe frosts, seed trays should be brought indoors or covered with insulation to guard against frost.

The seeds germinated after about a week and reached this size after 18 days
The seeds germinated after about a week and reached this size after 18 days | Source
43 days after sowing. Looks like I sowed the seed too thickly! It's always a dilemma if you have a lot of seed whether to sow some or all. If you only sow a few seeds, none of them may germinate. The alternative is everything comes up!
43 days after sowing. Looks like I sowed the seed too thickly! It's always a dilemma if you have a lot of seed whether to sow some or all. If you only sow a few seeds, none of them may germinate. The alternative is everything comes up! | Source

Step 8: Transplant the seedlings

Once the seedlings have a few pairs of "true leaves", they can be transplanted into individual pots or plant trays. Water the compost before transplanting, and gently tease the seedlings out of the compost using a popsicle (ice pop) stick, teaspoon or similar. Try to avoid damaging the delicate roots. Make a hole a with your finger or the popsicle stick in the compost in the pot, drop the seedling into the hole, and gently press the compost back around the roots.

True leaves
True leaves | Source
Fill some pots with potting compost or use your own homemade stuff like I did
Fill some pots with potting compost or use your own homemade stuff like I did | Source
Tease out the seedlings
Tease out the seedlings | Source
Try to leave as much of the compost stuck to the delicate roots as possible
Try to leave as much of the compost stuck to the delicate roots as possible | Source
Make a hollow in the compost
Make a hollow in the compost | Source
Drop the seedling into the hole
Drop the seedling into the hole | Source
Pull the compost back around the seedling
Pull the compost back around the seedling | Source
Water gently from the edge of the pot
Water gently from the edge of the pot | Source
Alternatively you can transplant into plant trays
Alternatively you can transplant into plant trays | Source

Step 9: Keep Transplanted Seedlings in the Shade

This is important if the weather is dry and there is strong sunshine. If you didn't manage to keep a little piece of compost stuck to the roots and they became bare during transplanting, the delicate seedlings can dry out rapidly in strong sunshine. So keep them in the shade for a week until the roots grow into the new compost and have a better chance of absorbing moisture.

3 months since the seeds were sown, plants have reached this size.
3 months since the seeds were sown, plants have reached this size. | Source

Step 10: Plant Out

Once plants have reached the stage where roots are starting to emerge from the bottom of the pot, they can be planted out to their final location. If the plants are half hardy annuals (e.g. marigolds, petunias, asters), wait until the danger of frost has passed before planting out.

The poppies I sowed earlier in the year.
The poppies I sowed earlier in the year. | Source

What Flowers are Easy to Grow From Seed?

Annuals:

  • Sunflowers
  • Candytuft
  • Petunias
  • Marigolds
  • Calendula.
  • Asters
  • Annual poppies

Biennials

  • Wallflowers
  • Canterbury Bells
  • Foxgloves

Perennials:

  • Delphiniums
  • Aubretia
  • Oriental poppies

Alternative Methods of Propagating Plants

Some flowers, shrubs or trees are difficult to grow from seed because of the length of time or strict conditions required for germination. So sometimes it's easier to make new plants by taking cuttings. A cutting is a short section of plant that's rooted in a medium such as potting compost. You can read all about it in this guide:

7 Easy Steps to Taking Plant Cuttings

The advantage of growing from cuttings is that the new plant is like a clone and genetically identical to the plant it came from. Plants grown from seeds don't necessarily "breed true", and just like humans can be somewhat different to either of their parents. Also it takes longer for a plant to grow from seed.

Questions & Answers

  • How do seeds grow?

    Basically, a seed is like an embryo, the plant equivalent of a fertilised human egg, with genetic information from both parents. A seed is dormant in the absence of warmth and water, but once it's sown and detects moisture (it also needs oxygen and heat), it begins to metamorphosise into an adult plant. This involves using instructions in the DNA in its cells on how to grow roots, stems, leaves, and flowers.

  • Is it ok to grow the seeds at home? How big should the container be? Should I leave it by the window with it open for some oxygen?

    Yes, anyone can grow seeds at home, it's really easy.

    The container size depends on how many seeds you want to sow. If you're going to sow lots as I did in the photo above, a tray, box or tin is best. If you only want to sow a few seeds, you can use a flower pot, yogurt carton, plastic cup, food container (wash it out first) or anything similar. Seed trays are usually about 1 1/2 inch / 40 mm deep, so seedlings need to be transplanted when they're tiny so that their roots have a chance to spread out and get bigger. If you use a deeper box, flower pot or container, you can allow the seedlings to get much bigger before transplanting.

    You don't need to leave seeds near an open window to get oxygen! Oxygen is all around us. In fact, it makes up 19% of the air. And it'll also permeate down through the seed compost to reach the seeds. Seeds should be kept in a warm place at a temperature of at least 18 degrees C (64 F). Once they germinate, they need to be moved to a window, bright conservatory, etc. so they can grow properly. In dim light, seedlings rapidly become straggly as the stems grow long and thin as the plant searches for light.

  • The seed packets sold in stores are dated. Do the seeds really "expire" after the date?

    It's probably an estimate assuming that moisture in seeds, combined with bacteria and molds will eventually lead to their demise if they aren't given the opportunity to germinate. However, I've never really checked packets to see whether the expiry date on some is further into the future than on others. Everything now seems to have an expiry date, so maybe the seed packers are just covering themselves to avoid people complaining about seeds not germinating. Apparently keeping seeds in the fridge prevents them attempting to germinate and then failing and dying when there's no growing medium present, so that may extend the lifespan. Some seeds have a very long lifespan, perhaps hundreds of years. If you have a packet which has gone past the expiry date, all you can really do is sow them and see what happens!

  • I germinated some seeds on a paper towel. Do I plant the seedling with the pod down or the shot down?

    The shoot should point upwards and the root downwards. Even if they don't and the germinated seed is planted "upside down" and before leaves appear, the shoot and root eventually reorientate themselves. So a shoot will turn around and travel upwards towards the light and the root will detect gravity and grow downwards.

© 2014 Eugene Brennan

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    • profile image

      Andre 

      3 months ago

      Thanks for the great tutorial! Looking to grow some herbs with the kids and teach them how to grow. This was more than perfect, thank you!

    • profile image

      Daniel 

      5 months ago

      Thank you for the information, I’ve recently been saved by our Lord Jesus. And feel that he’s calling me into a discipleship, Anyway I was researching on an effective way of planting seeds being the Word and couldn’t believe how remarkable this reminded me of my own experience. Thanks again! Peace and love to all.

    • profile image

      Bob Webster 

      11 months ago

      Thank you,you make it look so simple,i'm definitely going for it

    • profile image

      Yo hey whoa 

      15 months ago

      Pretty good. I have planted so many herbs and flowers thanks.

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      15 months ago from Ireland

      Hi Anna,

      You can transplant from trays when the plants have a couple of pairs of true leaves. If you sowed seeds in pots, you can let the plants get somewhat bigger and transplant when the roots start to poke out through the drainage holes in the pots. Alternatively slip the plants out of the pots and if the roots have spread throughout the compost (as in the photo above), then it's time to give them more space. You don't need to trim any leaves.

      Hope this helps!

    • profile image

      Anna Carlson 

      15 months ago

      Thanks Eugene, I just received a greenhouse for my birthday and am struggling to know when to transplant to bigger pots before planting in the garden. I have done all what you said and now have plants that I needed to put into bigger pots. I guess I am wondering when to transplant into bigger pots and should I trim off the litte starter leaves?

    • profile image

      RAGAVIN 

      18 months ago

      Excellent !!!!

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you Roberta!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      2 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats your Hub of the Day award for this neat post on growing plants from seeds. You've made it easy for the least knowledgeable person to have success in starting a little (or big) garden from seed.

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Susan! Lots of growth here also as it becomes milder. Spring is my favourite part of the gardening year!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      2 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Excellent tutorial! Good timing for Hub of the Day (congratulations!) as our planting and growing season is gearing up quickly. Time to go get my hands dirty!

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Hi Kyra! Covering the tray keeps seeds moist, but the covering, if its opaque, blocks light. I have always sown seeds and kept them in dark conditions pre-germination, but I think its seed specific, and some seeds need sunshine as an essential element for germination. So its best to check the germination requirements on the packet or Google the flower/vegetable to see what the story is. I've tweeted some of the major seed suppliers to get more info on this.

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Kristen! I had planned to grow some tomatoes this year, instead of buying them in a store. I need to get cracking now and sow the seeds plus clear out the greenhouse which has been sadly neglected for the last few years! It's hard to get around to doing everything!

    • profile image

      Kyra 

      2 years ago

      I was surprised at "cover the seed tray". I thought it needed all the elements to grow - including sunshine.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Eugene, this is great hub and just in the nick of time for spring, Beautiful photos and easy instructions to grow and sow seeds for your own home. I'm getting ready to start prepping my container patio garden at my apartment this April. Congrats on HOTD!

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      2 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks a million Chitrangada! Hopefully it will help those who have absolutely no knowledge of gardening and want to learn the basics!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Congratulations for the HOTD!

      Very useful hub with step by step instructions on sowing seeds. The pictures are particularly helpful. Even if one is already doing gardening, your hub provides some very useful tips and suggestions.

      Thanks for sharing--pinning it!

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      3 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks a million Susan! Producing plants from seeds is quited tedious but of course more economical. Just watch out for slugs when the seedlings are small! If you go to the trouble of growing from seed, its worthwhile growing perennials which regrow every year.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Hopefully I'll be doing more gardening using seeds in the future, so this article will be very helpful. Pinned to my gardening board (and followed you while I was there, by the way). Thanks for sharing good gardening advice!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 

      4 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Ah, Eugbug, the abundance of the wise and generous!

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you techygran! I now have loads of these poppies potted but no room left in my garden to plant them. Looks like I'll have to give them all away!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 

      4 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      What a great review and instructions! I am going to share this online, but also with my granddaughters!

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Kim for the comments! I just added another photo. These seedlings are getting to the stage where they badly need transplanting into pots (If I can get the time to do it!)

    • profile image

      Kim Smith 

      4 years ago

      Good suggestions. Very interesting. Your pictures are so simple, anyone can do it.

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Beth! Many seeds are easy to grow, once the basic principles as shown above are followed. Hopefully these seeds will grow and I will have more photos later.

    • Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

      Beth Eaglescliffe 

      4 years ago from UK

      This article is full of useful advice for new gardeners. The photos are just right and help to get the information across clearly. Great hub, voted up.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 

      4 years ago

      You are most welcome. Thanks for the great post! :-)

    • eugbug profile imageAUTHOR

      Eugene Brennan 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks a lot! Glad you liked it and thanks for the fan mail!

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 

      4 years ago

      Fabulous post. I love your suggestions for starting seed. Voted up!

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