What is Direct Seeding or Direct Sowing?

Mature man planting seeds, close-up
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Direct seeding or direct sowing just means that you start planting seeds in the garden, rather than buying small plants or starting seeds indoors earlier and transplanting them outside.

Many seeds of both flowers and vegetables can be started outdoors, at the start of the growing season. Starting seeds indoors may give you a head start, but some plants don't like being transplanted and will grow better if you seed them in the bed where they will be grown without disturbance. This is especially true of plants that have long tap roots, such as butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Oriental poppies, (Papaver orientale), dill, and parsley.

Often you won't lose any time when you direct sow instead of starting seeds early indoors. Plants that are seeded and grown in place won't experience the stress of transplanting and will not need time to adjust to their new growing conditions and you won't even have to harden them off. However, some plants that take awhile to grow, like tomatoes and peppers, are best started inside if you live in an area with a short growing season.

Tips for Direct Sowing Successfully

You can't just plop some seeds in the ground and leave them to fend for themselves. You will still need to give your direct sown seeds some special attention. Follow these tips for success when direct seeding:

  • Make sure the area is weed free before you plant any seeds. Besides the competition for water and nutrients, it's easy to mistake sprouting weed seed for your flower or vegetable seeds and accidentally pull them out.
  • Most of the sowing information will be on the seed packet if there is one. The rule of thumb is to plant seeds 3 times as deep as their circumference, but some seeds require light to germinate. If that is the case, gently press them into damp soil, so that they are making good contact.
  • Pay special attention to the information on the packet about when to sow. Some seeds or seedlings won't survive frost. Some require a cold period to germinate. Most need warm soil to germinate, so plant after danger of frost has passed.
  • Mark the spot. You may think you will remember where you planted, but there's a lot going on in the garden in spring. You'll forget.
  • Water gently. Don't wash the seeds away or have them all flow into a pile. Better still, dampen the soil before you plant. Then water gently as needed, until you see germination.
  • Keep the soil moist until the seed germinates, then be sure to water whenever the surface soil looks dry. Seedlings don't have much of a root system and they can dry out within hours. Pay special attention to young seedlings if it is very windy or if the weather suddenly turns hot and sunny. Both of these weather conditions can dry the soil and desiccate the seedlings.
  • If you've had good germination, you'll need to thin the seedlings, to give them airspace and room to grow. You can pull the unwanted seedlings when they are a couple of inches high. If that seems to disturb the roots of the seedlings you want to keep, you can snip the extras with a small scissor or simply pinch off the leaves with your fingers. (Depending on the vegetable seedlings, you can snip them and save them to eat in salads. Do not eat seedlings in the nightshade family.)
  • Some plants benefit from being pinched back once they have developed about 3 sets of true leaves. This will encourage the plant to send out more branches and become a fuller, bushier plant.
  • Continue to pamper your seedlings until they become established plants. Be on the lookout for four-legged pests. Tender young seedlings can be eaten in one bite.