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How to sow seeds outside

An easy way to grow your own fruit, vegetables and flowers

Growing plants from seed gives a great feeling of satisfaction that’s hard to beat, and it’s a fun way to get the family involved in gardening.

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Not only that, growing your own flowers, fruit, vegetables, salads or herbs is a cost-effective way to fill your outdoor space with colour, scent and delicious food. You can grow seeds almost anywhere, you don’t need a huge outdoor space to have a go.

In this guide, we'll show how to sow seeds outdoors, straight into the soil in your garden or container (known as direct-sowing). This is one of the easiest ways to get your plants started so that eventually you'll end up with beautiful results.

In this guide, we'll show how to sow seeds outdoors, straight into the soil in your garden or container (known as direct-sowing). This is one of the easiest ways to get your plants started so that eventually you'll end up with beautiful results.

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How to choose seeds

Reading up on your chosen plants will help you check that you have the space and suitable environment to help them thrive. You’ll find this important information on the back of the seed packet. When selecting seeds, it's important to find out:

  • When to plant your seeds
  • When you can expect them to bloom or fruit
  • What conditions they need
  • How big they’ll get


Some to try

Plenty of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers will germinate well when direct-sown. Some easy ones to try are:

  • Sweet peas (sow in March or April)
  • Radishes (sow from February)
  • Sunflowers (sow from March to May)
  • Nasturtium (sow from April to May)
  • Marigolds (sow from February to May)
  • Parsley (sow from March to May)


Preparing the soil

If you’re sowing your seeds into the ground and not into a container, taking the time to prepare the site will give you a much higher chance of growing a gorgeous crop. As long as the soil is warm and moist, seed can be sown and it should germinate quickly.

  1. Two to three weeks prior to sowing your seeds it’s time to prepare the garden beds. With a garden spade, turn over the soil to the depth of the spade.
  2. Remove any weeds, rocks or debris. When weeding, make sure you remove the roots too.
  3. Scatter general-purpose fertiliser over the soil and add some organic matter such as compost and rake it into the soil. Level the prepared bed with the rake.
  4. If the ground is still cold and wet from the winter, cover it with horticultural fleece to warm it up before you start sowing. Either peg in the fleece with the pegs to stop it blowing away or push the edges in to the soil with your spade to secure it.
  5. Leave the area to settle for two or three weeks and remove any new weeds before sowing. Don’t forget to water your prepared bed during dry spells.
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Sowing in drills

Drills are shallow lines made in rows in the soil, these can be made to the depth and length required for the specific seeds you are planting.

Sowing seeds in drills means you will end up with a more ordered row of plants, giving you a defined area of growth in your garden.

If you sow your seeds the correct distance apart in the drills, they’re less likely to have to compete for nutrients and space.

Step 1:

Use a garden cane or a draw hoe to make a shallow drill in the soil. Use a piece of timber laid across the ground to keep you in a straight line.

Step 2:

Water along the length of the drill with a watering can.

Step 3:

Sow the seeds into the drill evenly, following the specific instructions on the seed packet. For example, peas can be placed one at a time about 8cm apart. Radish seeds can be lightly scattered along the drill, and these will require thinning after a few weeks, more about this later...

Step 4:

Draw back the soil over from the sides of the drill to completely cover the seeds.

Step 5:

Before you forget where your seeds are, place plant labels at the end of each row. Label them with the plant name and date of planting.

Step 6:

Don’t forget to water the bed in dry spells and remove any weeds that appear outside of the seeded drills.

Broadcast seedingBroadcast seedingBroadcast seedingBroadcast seeding

Broadcast seeding

Broadcast sowing involves simply scattering the seeds by hand onto the prepared soil.

It’s a simple method which is great if you’re sowing something to cover a large area, such as wild flowers, that don’t need to be in regimented rows.

You’re more likely to end up with clusters of growth by using this technique, and it’s difficult to give the area uniform coverage.

Step 1:

Use a fine rose attachment on a watering can to moisten the area first, be careful not to soak the ground.

Step 2:

Prepare the ground for seeds, remove large stones and rake the soil so the level is even and there is a crumbly surface.

Step 3:

Scatter the seeds in a thin, even layer. Very small seeds can be mixed with dry sharp sand so you can see where you are scattering them.

Step 4:

Gently rake the soil back over to lightly cover the seeds.

Step 5:

Don’t forget to water in dry spells.

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Thinning out your seedlings

Even with the most careful planting it’s difficult, especially if you have small seeds, to sow your seeds evenly and at the correct spacing, so each has it’s own space to grow. More likely than not you’ll notice that you have clumps of seedlings in some areas.

Thinning out means removing some of your seedlings to give the remaining ones room to grow strong and healthy. If you leave them overcrowded, they’ll compete for light and food, and you will end up with a weaker crop. Remove the scrawniest, smallest plants so you’re leaving the amount of space between each one required for that specific plant.

Grow your own

For more information about how to grow your own fruit and veg, visit our Grow your own help and advice pages.