Thompson & Morgan®: Seed Germination Guide
As with many other aspects of life, preparation is an important factor in successful seed raising. For seeds that can be sown directly into the soil, preparation involves ensuring the site is in a suitable condition. The soil should be free of weeds, large stones and debris and be broken down as finely as possible to what's called a fine tilth. This is achieved by forking over the top few inches of soil, then raking it to as crumbly a texture as possible.
For many vegetables, some hardy annuals and tree seeds a special seed bed is prepared in an open but sheltered position. The seed is sown thinly in drills made to the recommended sowing depth for that particular variety. To make the drill you can use the reverse side of the rake head to make a V-shaped drill following a taut garden line.
Alternatively, you can lay the rake, teeth uppermost, along the garden line and gently press the handle into the soil to make a U-shaped drill.
The important thing is that the seed should be in good contact with the soil. In dry conditions it is advisable to moisten the drill thoroughly before sowing, and some gardeners believe that lining the drill with moist peat is an aid to even germination.
After sowing the seed, rake soil over the drill or cover with peat and firm it with the flat face of the rake. The final touch is to mark the drill with a plant label giving the type of seed variety and date sown.
Annual flower seeds can, or course, be sown directly into those parts of the garden where they will flower.
For best results choose sunny areas that are well drained. At sowing time the soil should be moist and at a minimum temperature of 50F (10C). Annuals don't need a nutrient-rich soil, so dressings of artificial fertiliser aren't necessary. All soils and plants benefit, however, from organic matter that has been dug in to the top few inches of the soil early in the year.
The most effective technique when sowing a range of annuals is to sow the seed in patches, rather than in regimental lines.
It's helpful to draw a plan of your intentions, placing the various varieties according to their height, spread and colour scheme you are aiming for.
Prepare the soil as described above, then mark out the groups with a trickle of silver sand or flour. Sow the seed by sprinkling it as evenly as possible. One way of doing this is to put the seed into a triangular wedge of paper, hold in one hand while tapping it with the fore-finger of the other hand.
Annuals need only a light covering of soil which can either be sieved over the seed or the soil can be raked gently after sowing then firmed with the flat face of the rake.
When the seed has germinated it will be necessary to thin out any seedlings that are overcrowded. Do this as soon as possible after emergence, but a further thinning out might be needed when the plants have developed several pairs of true leaves.
Remember that in the early life of the seedlings adequate space is a key factor in determining the plants' subsequent development, so weeds must also be kept under control.
Detailed advice on sowing vegetable seeds is given on separate pages (see Table of Contents) and Tree and Shrub Seeds.
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