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What’s the best time to plant seeds in spring in the UK?


Photo: Seedlings in the greenhouse

Photo: Seedlings in the greenhouse

Fuelled with optimism I sowed a lot of seeds in January – hoping to get a head start. Most of them germinated and a few thrived. But the seeds that I sowed in February did much better and March sowings have really taken off well – developing much faster with the longer days – they have overtaken the weedy January and February sown cousins. I suppose if I was seriously into growing plants all year round it would be worth investing in one of these –  or construct my own using daylight lamps.

Magic Cochin mentions on her blog that her father always told her not to be too quick to sow seeds and next year I’m going to take this advice. With the exception of the pepper, aubergine and chilli plants which have to be sown in very early. Last year I was late with my peppers and they were just flowering in September – too late in the season to develop decent fruit.

I ordered some seeds from the Sarah Raven website and they came with instructions of how to get the best from your seeds. Again she says don’t sow too early, suggesting a few early sowings in March and the rest in April. This gives six weeks for the plants to develop and be large enough to plant out after the likelihood of frost is past. She recommends using tweezers to set the seed! I must admit, I wouldn’t go as far as that, and have had good results from sprinkling the seed finely on 9 cm pots filled with a mix of multipurpose compost and vermiculite. Sarah Raven also suggests using multipurpose compost. Up until this year I’ve always used seed compost but I ran out and laziness took me down the multipurpose compost path and I have found that it gives good results.

We have a cheap electric propagator which is invaluable for germinating tomato and pepper seeds. However I’ve discovered that I get great results from sowing seed in pots and covering the top with a grip seal plastic bag – although I haven’t tried this with peppers ot tomatoes yet. These sit on sunny windowsills and germination is very fast. Once this has happened the plastic bag is removed. The seedlings are pricked out into individual cells when large enough to handle. I was sent a mini dibber and a widger as a gift a few years ago and they have really come into their own this year – particularly the widger as it doesn’t damage the delicate roots of seedlings.

Incidentally I sowed a row of pak choi in October under cloches. These have survived the slugs and snowy weather and are now chunky plantlets which almost makes up for the fact that the slugs have guzzled my yellow carrot seedlings.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna

    Brilliant idea! I use my finger – fine at the time but awkward if someone drops by and I have a black fingernail…

    Hi Paula

    Same here. Depending on how the summer goes – selling veg and flowers wise – I might invest in some daylight lamps to get a head start next year. I agree, gardening is a constant learning curve.

    Hi Kate UK

    Your idea of a silver foil reflector box is excellent – I’m definitely going to do that next year. I hate having to buy plants to replace the ones that have failed. Sowing a bit later seems to be the best option.

    Hello Ann

    Good idea to keep some spares waiting in the wings. I’m finally going to direct sow some seeds this week. Like you I have baby plantlets to get a head start. Mine include beetroot, turnips, carrot, calabrese, cauliflower, Brussels’ sprouts, lettuce etc. Exciting stuff. It will be interesting to compare the later direct sowing with the ones that I have been cosseting for weeks.

    Hi Su

    Yes lesson learnt here too.

    Hi Amalee

    Yes this rang a bell with me and has been double checked by Liz. Good advice. Next year I’m planning to hibernate in January and February…

    Hi Belinda

    Yes I do direct sow when the weather is warmer. I much prefer this method of sowing as the plants just get on with it. But I’m impatient and like a head start. It will be interesting this year to see whether I actually have made a good head start or whether later sowings will develop into sturdier, healthier plants.

    Hi Liz

    Thanks for that! It’s a great tip.

    Hello Tracy

    Thanks for your tip about peppers in full sunlight. Our greenhouse is at the bottom of a slope – south west facing but doesn’t get sun all day. So I’m going to try growing them in the front garden this year as it has sun for most of the day. Thank you.

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