The Cottage Smallholder

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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. Tracey

    I tried sowing seeds in early February (in the greenhouse) last year to get a headstart however my seedlings faired the same as yours as when I sowed my March seeds they caught up with my February ones.

    As this year was very cold in February, I wimped out of trying this again and I have just sown my first seeds (some direct in my beds and tomatoes & peppers in the greenhouse) at the end of March beginning of April.

    I find if I put my pepper seedlings in full sunlight I still get a harvest in late August from a late march sowing. Fingers crossed for some full sunlight this summer!

  2. Amalee, worry not about your imagination! Unless it was a shared halucination… Monty Don said he’d been advised not to bother sowing “into ground you wouldn’t want to sit your bare bottom on”! That amused me, and made me reconsider my sowing times…

  3. Belinda

    Fiona – do you do any direct (where they are to grow) sowing?

    I have had good results with chard, parsnip & pak choy… have just tried it out with green sprouting broccoli & there are quite a few little green sprouts cvoming up.

    Thinning can be troublesome… I need to thin the parsnips but am waiting for another week or so.. first frost will see me ripping out the basil, tomato & zucchini plants.. they are starting to look very sad as we have been cold for a few weeks already but the rain has prevented frost.

  4. Like everyone else, I used to sow much earlier than I do now. I don’t even start aubergines and peppers before March nowadays because I’m lazy, although I agree that they can do with a slightly longer growing season. It’s not getting seeds germinated so much as keeping them growing steadily in the variable weather – there always seemed to be a few frosty nights when they were well grown and too big to get in the propagator.

  5. amalee issa


    I have an awful memory that Monty Don advises sowing seeds once it’s warm enough to sit on the ground with your bare bottom. Awful, because this might be a figment of my sick imagination…


  6. I’ve always been too eager to sow seeds to, and this year is no exception! The ones I sowed later though are much sturdier and less leggy. I must remember this and not get too eager next year.

  7. I sowed seed 4 weeks ago and today I planted half the seedlings out and have potted the other half on – just in case the cold nights this week mean the seedlings don’t last out in the garden.

    I’ve now got leek, cabbage, broccoli, 2 types of beetroot, carrot, salad leaves and rocket all out in the garden – and I’m nervously watching the weather forecasts!

  8. kate (uk)

    Yes, better to sow later- so easy to get tempted and start straight away, but unless you can really pamper them and give them the light they need the seedlings won’t thrive. Peppers and aubergines need the time to develop, so worth making a silver foil reflector box for them to grow in,or just buy ready grown plants, but best to wait with everything else- when conditions are right, they will romp away. I think we all learn this the hard way! So easy to get carried away in January as the day gets ever so slightly longer…

  9. Actually, I was going to try to get some seed sown today, as a lot of the stuff I sowed earlier in February is too leggy to plant because it was still too cold/rainy to get outside with it. Learned a lot this spring…

  10. Joanna

    A special dibber, I use a pencil – very handy always one lying around :D. I don’t sow seeds very early either, just got ours started yesterday but then again our season starts later so the ground will be just warm enough by the time they are due to go in.

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