When & How To Direct Seed In Spring
Posted by Hilary & Christopher Mueller on
Spring is here & it’s time to get seeds into soil! In this article we explore the how-tos of direct sowing so you can get the most out of the earliest parts of the growing season.
What Is Direct Sowing?
For those of you who are new to the gardening world, direct sowing simply means sowing, or planting, seeds directly into the Earth as opposed to starting seeds ahead of time in pots or seedling trays.
What Plants Should Be Direct Sown?
Many garden vegetables, as well as many annual, biennial & perennial flowers, do best when they are direct sown rather than started as transplants. The following is a list of cold weather crops to plant in early Spring:
* The Potatoes link showcases our favourite organic seed potato grower Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes. xox
Cold Weather Veggies & Leafy Greens
It may be obvious for root vegetables to be direct sown but for the others listed above, direct seeding is beneficial for a few reasons. With direct sowing there is no need to make space indoors for plant babies, no hardening-off to be done & no risk of root damage, stunted growth or worst of all, bolting due to transplanting stress.
Our Seeding & Transplanting Cheat Sheet has a complete list of how & when all the veggies we offer!.
When Can You Direct Seed Outside?
There are a few things to consider before you break ground in the Spring; Soil moisture & temperature, local last-expected-frost dates, the upcoming weather forecast & predicted temperatures.
Soil Moisture & Temperature
When the ground thaws in early Spring the soil is generally saturated with water. It is so important to WAIT before working the soil for a few weeks after the Spring thaw. Digging, tilling or ploughing fully saturated soil can compact it, damaging the soil structure. This is bad for soil ecosystems, hinders root growth & can limit the uptake of nutrients in a garden.
A common mistake with direct seeding is planting seeds too early, when the soil is still too wet & too cold. Seeds need moisture to germinate, but they also need warmth. Often, when seeds are planted before the Spring Earth has drained & warmed up, the seeds sit in heavy wet soil & because the soil temperature is too cold for germination, the seeds rot. The natural draining of the soil after the Spring thaw coincides with warmer soil temperatures.
The warmer the soil temperature, the more quickly your Spring seeds will germinate!
You can help to warm your soil faster by covering your garden beds with a dark bedsheet, floating row cover or a mini hoop tunnel. Learn about these tricks & more in our Guide To Season Extension.
If you follow gardening groups on Facebook or Instagram you’ll know that in Springtime, everybody & their dog is talking about frost dates! If you aren’t sure about when your local last-estimated-frost-date is, we recommend getting to know your neighbours & the Moon’s cycle.
The internet can tell you about your region’s Hardiness Zone (which can be good to know) but the seasoned gardeners in your community carry with them a wealth of knowledge about gardening in your local area. When it comes to frost, neighbours who garden will know all about your area’s unique micro-climates, soil type & frost dates.
You’ve likely heard the old saying, to plant frost sensitive plants “after the Full Moon in June”. Many of you may live by this rule & many of you might be shaking your head. There is however a reason why humans, since the beginning of time, have oriented their gathering & then agricultural habits around the Moon’s cycles.
Just as the moon’s gravitational pull affects the ocean’s water, it also affects moisture in the atmosphere. Moisture, in the form of clouds & dew, protects plants against frost. When the Moon is full, & especially when the skies are clear, moisture is pulled off the ground, making conditions favourable for frost to form & possibly damage young plants.
Low elevation, high elevation, proximity to a body of water & South/North orientation are also things to consider when it comes to assessing your properties frost dates.
Optimal Weather & Air Temperature
It’s always better to work with Nature. When it comes to direct seeding this means planting days where the weather is cooler, overcast, with light rain or drizzle in the forecast or when the soil is already moist.
Light rain will gently water your seeds; a coming downpour will wash them away!
Thinking of the opposite, hot, dry & windy conditions are not the best. Wind gusts can blow lighter seeds off course. If the soil is dry, it will take more water to actually water your seeds, as most of the water will go to saturating the soil.
If you do find yourself planting on a hot, sunny day, we recommend deeply watering your seeds in the evening, when evaporation will be less of an issue.
The Unexpected, Late Hard Frost: What You Can Do
- Bring back the season extenders mentioned above (sheets, floating row cover, mini-hoop tunnels)
- Water everything thoroughly right before the temperatures drop. Increasing soil & surface moisture creates a buffer so that the water in the plants takes longer to freeze.
- Hope for the best! There are no guarantees, but these little tricks can certainly help! xox
Preparing Soil for Direct Seeding
One of the pillars of health & vitality is good nutrition. This is true in the garden too!
The ideal way to prep & replenish your garden for Spring planting is to bulk it up with plenty of organic matter before putting your garden to bed in the Fall. More on that in our article Replenish Your Soil For Fall Gardening.
Don’t worry! We know it’s already Spring & it’s not too late!
So, after the Spring melt & drainage, build up the soil in your gardens with lots of organic matter. Organic matter is anything that was once alive. This could be compost, aged manure or pelletized chicken manure, rain-rinsed seaweed, crushed shellfish or alfalfa (meal or pellets). For best results, use all of the above!
For more on making compost, read our Guide To Backyard Composting.
*Note about manure: Fresh manure may be okay to add in the Fall as it will rot over the winter. Adding fresh manure in Spring will burn plants & likely introduce pathogenic microbes that could make you & your family sick. When choosing manure, we recommend chicken, goat, cow & sheep manure. Because horses have less complicated digestive tracts, horse manure often contains viable seeds & can introduce weeds to your garden. Only use well rotted horse manure, even in the Fall.)
How Much Seed Should You Plant?
There are many factors to consider when figuring out how much to plant; how big is your garden, how many people you'll be feeding & how you'll be enjoying your garden's bounty (fresh eating, preserving or BOTH).
Regardless of how you'll be utilizing your garden, there are some basic rules of thumb when it comes to how close to plant you seeds. If you plant your seeds too closely together, each plant will be competing with its neighbour for water & nutrients. Allowing optimal spacing for each plant will result in bigger, tastier crops & guard against pests & disease.
If you're unsure of how far apart things should be, there is detailed information about ideal seed depth, seed spacing & row spacing on each seed packet. Details on spacing for veggies can also be found in our Seeding & Transplanting Cheat Sheet.
For most crops, with the exception of peas, it makes sense to over-seed in the beginning. This can ensure good coverage & mitigate slug damage. For crops like carrots & radish, thin around the stronger seedlings once your row is established. For greens, including beet greens, intentionally thin your bed as you harvest. For peas, plant seeds 1-2" apart.
You've Planted Your Seeds. What Now?
Maintaining a veggie garden can be pretty easy once you've got a good handle on the basics; weeding, pest control as well as maintaining moisture & soil nutrition.
Weeding can seem like an endless chore, but if you get a handle on things in the beginning, weeding can end up being pretty manageable for the rest of the season. The key is to do a meticulous, thorough weed in the beginning, when all the baby weeds have started to grow. Pull them all out! This will allow your plants to become strong & out compete the weeds. Going forward, doing a little hand weeding & hoeing between the rows once each week should be enough to keep things under control.
In the early Spring slugs will be the main thing you’ll have to contend with. We recommend sprinkling crushed roasted eggshells or diatomaceous earth on top of the soil to deter slugs.
Maintaining Moisture & Soil Nutrition
This really is the underlying key to garden success. If your plants have access to enough nutrients & water, they will thrive, even in the face of weeds, pests & disease. Preparing your garden soil before planting your seeds (as talked about above) definitely will get your plants off to a good start. We recommend side-dressing with powdered kelp, alfalfa meal & pelletized chicken manure a couple of times over the Summer to keep your beds going strong. Mulching your beds with rain-rinsed seaweed or straw will keep more moisture in the soil & help to block out the weeds. Deep, even watering, especially when done in the evening, will give your garden the moisture it needs to thrive. You can even take things one step further by watering with a well aerated compost tea.
We hope you've picked up some good tips for direct seeding your Spring gardens. Happy Planting!