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Seed sowing guide

Seed sowing guide

Sowing seeds into seed trays and pots, pricking them out and then eventually planting them out seems like three times the work of simply sowing seeds directly into the garden – so why bother? Some seeds require warm temperatures to germinate successfully and, if you grow them in containers, you can move them into positions that have the required warmth. Also, as seeds and seedlings are delicate, you may enjoy greater success if you place them in containers where you can care for them better, rather than subject them to the vagaries of a garden bed.

Why grow from seed?

  • Most vegetables grow readily from seed.
  • Growing plants from seed allows you access to many more varieties.
  • Seedlings can be expensive. Seeds are much better value, and if you save your own, they are free.
  • Seeds can often be easily collected, allowing them to be saved, stored and swapped between gardeners and regions.
  • Some vegetables, such as carrots and radish, transplant poorly at the seedling stage and must be grown from seed sown directly into the soil.
  • Growing plants from seed allows you to get a head start on some crops, as they can be grown under glass and then transplanted into the garden as semi-advanced plants.
  • Growing plants from seed is fun and satisfying, and great for children and adults alike.

By Annette McFarlane 

Here’s a sowing guide to help with the planting of seeds at the right time and with appropriate spacing for happy growing. This guide was compiled by Phil Dudman and first appeared in ABC Organic Gardener in Issue 77.


Tomato, capsicum, chilli, eggplant Best in containers to control conditions. Prick out seedlings at two leaf stage and transfer to pots or garden if conditions are okay. Press into surface. Cover with 5mm of mix. Soak seeds in warm water an hour before sowing. Keep seed-raising mix moist. Plants 60cm; rows 60cm.
Peas & beans Direct sow or start in containers in rainy weather to avoid seed rot. Sow in shallow drills or holes. Cover with 2cm of soil. Soak seeds overnight. Water seeds in once, then avoid rewetting until germinated. Plants 5-10cm. Rows 100cm (climbing) or 50cm dwarf.
& beetroot
Silverbeet best sown in containers to control conditions. Beetroot is best sown direct. Cover seeds with 1.2cm soil. Corky seed-like formations are clusters of seed: soak in warm water overnight. Silverbeet: Plants 30cm; rows 40cm. Beetroot: Plants 10cm; rows 20cm.
Lettuce Sowing in containers makes it easier to keep soil moist. Pressing seeds into soil surface is normally adequate. Avoid burying lettuce seed too deep. Mist surface regularly to keep moist. Plants 20cm; rows 30cm.
Carrot Direct sow. Mix seeds with dry sand in a jar and pour along rows. Need to backfill as sandy soil fills grooves. Mist regularly to keep surface moist. Shade soil with hessian/shade cloth until germination. Plants 4cm; rows 20cm.
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale Sowing in containers gives greater control over conditions. Press seeds into the surface and cover with 6mm of mix. Keep soil evenly moist. Seeds germinate readily. Plants 40-60cm; rows 50-70cm.
Sweet corn Direct sow or start in containers in rainy weather to avoid seed rot. Sow in shallow drills or holes. Cover with 2cm of soil. Soak seeds overnight to speed germination. Water in, then avoid rewetting until germination. Plants 20cm; rows 50cm.
Onion & Spring onion Sowing in containers helps to control moisture. Transplant into garden when 5-10cm tall. Press into the surface and cover with 5mm of mix. Seeds have a short viability so check ‘sow by’ date. Mist containers to keep medium moist. Onion: Plants 10cm; rows 20cm. Spring onion: Plants 2cm; rows 10cm.
Pumpkin, melon, zucchini, cucumber Direct sow to avoid root disturbance. Sow in containers if conditions are very wet. Pumpkin, melon, zucchini 2cm. Cucumber 1cm. Soak seeds in warm water overnight. Sow 2 seeds per hole (remove the weakest later). Pumpkin & melon: Plants 100cm; rows 100cm. Zucchini: Plants 70cm; rows 70cm.
Cucumber: Plants 40cm; rows 100cm.