Handling Small Seeds


Many plants, both hardy and tender have extremely fine dust-like seeds. They are produced in copious amounts to ensure that at least a few germinate, for if they become covered with soil, or are dispersed into other unsuitable conditions they may fail to grow. This is what happens in the wild - as a gardener you have only minute quantities of seeds, perhaps a mere trace of dust in a small packet! Therefore they have to be handled and sown extremely carefully. It is worth bearing in mind that fine seeds have a lower germination and survival rate compared to larger seeds.


Sowing: Small seeds must be sown very evenly over the surface of the compost. Fine seeds must not be covered with compost otherwise they will not germinate. But to ensure they are in close contact with the compost, and are therefore able to absorb moisture, lightly press them into the surface. To make them easier to handle the seeds should be mixed with finest sand or talcum for an even sowing. Do not cover with compost, only press them in gently. Irrigate from the bottom or with a hand-sprayer, so that the seeds will not be washed away.

There are several different ways of scattering the seed/sand mixture over the compost surface, but whichever you use sow half the quantity in one direction and the other half at right-angles, as this helps to ensure very even sowing. If you have sown well, the surface of the compost should be lightly and evenly dusted with the sand/talcum.

Watering: The compost should be watered, but not overhead as this will disturb the seeds. A gentle fine mist spraying is acceptable. It is recommended that you add some fungicide to the water to prevent the seedling disease, damping off, which can rapidly destroy a complete batch of seedlings. If compost becomes dry it will delay or often prevent germination altogether.

Light: Small seeds are generally photo-sensitive. Most of them need light to germinate, however, some of them need total darkness instead. This is stated in the planting and growing guide. As soon as germination occurs the containers must be placed in maximum light to prevent the seedlings becoming weak and leggy. However they must be shaded from the sun, which can scorch and dry them up. 

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