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Planting seeds or seedlings?

Its taken me a little while to learn this, but I think I've now figured out which veges to sow directly in the soil as seeds and which to raise as seedlings and then plant in my garden, so I thought I'd share with you what has worked for me so far.

radish seedlings peeping through the mulch

At first I tried to plant everything as seeds directly in the garden, but I wasn’t happy with the results, too much work to thin the seedlings and some didn’t sprout at all.  So then I tried raising seedlings, it took me a while to realise that I needed to use a good seed-raising mix, and I prefer to use toilet rolls than the seedling trays that bought seedlings come in.  I wrote more about raising seedlings here.

starting veges in pots and toilet rolls (photo from last spring)
Then I decided that I wanted to grow root crops, and they don’t transplant well, so I had to think about how to do this.  I observed that tiny brassicas were popping up through the mulch, and they must have come from the ones that I’d left to go to seed.  Previously I had thought that seeds couldn't sprout through the mulch, but I was wrong.  This is the method that I use to plant carrots, swedes, turnips and radishes:
  • Push mulch aside and dig a shallow trench
  • Fill trench with seed-raising mix
  • Sprinkle seed thinly as humanly possible so you don’t have too much thinning to do later
  • Pat the seeds in the seed-raising mix and lightly cover with a little mulch
  • The seeds will sprout through the mulch and then you just need to thin them a little
  • I try to write down what I’ve planted where so I know which seeds didn’t sprout (and should be thrown out), and which were good.
For more about growing and using root vegetables, see my post here.

For brassicas, I throw a few seeds around the brassica area of the garden.  If I have new seeds that I want to try, I’ll plant them in a shallow tray of seed-raising mix first, to see how they sprout and then transplant them later.  If we are having a bad year for slugs, I start the brassicas outside the garden to give them a chance to get bigger.

The entire bed, planted with carrots, radishes, onions, turnip and swede
Plants like tomatoes, capsicum, beans, peas, basil and other herbs, I plant in the toilet rolls, and if there’s no room in the garden yet, or the weather isn’t quite right, I keep potting them into larger pots until I’m ready to plant them in the garden.

Do you plant seeds directly in your garden? 


  1. I plant practically everything (usually) as seedlings, even carrots. I find that using my compost and worm castings to raise seedlings up to quite advanced, then planting them out is a good way to distribute compost round the garden. And it means I get maximum use out of my the garden area. You can't transplant carrots, but you can plant seedlings out with their own little pocket of soil very successfully.

    1. that is a good point Linda, it does allow you to keep more mature plants in the garden while seedlings are developing in another area.

  2. This year I have started sowing directly and have found it so much easier and successful, but this has just been for my winter veg, so it will be interesting to see what happens in summer!

  3. Hi Liz,
    I went through a phase of guerrilla gardening, make seeds bombs (handful of different seeds) that you scatter around. You'll end up with a crazy mix garden, use only seeds that propagate easily then properly sow the fussy ones.
    But most days, I plant my bigger seeds directly with a handful of compost in a thick layer of mulch. I do put up a little stick as a marker so they don't get threaded on. Beans and peas are sown directly with their support stakes and wire.
    For root crops I use the same technique as you do. Something worth trying for your smaller seeds (like carrots) pre-mix your seeds with some sand, makes it easier to sow even thinner.
    The rest gets sown in styrofoam boxes, then planted out.
    Happy gardening! Cheers, Marijke

    1. Hi Marijke, I should try the sand, I've been told before and this year as I was thinning the carrots, I thought maybe I should have tried it!

  4. I have been sowing seeds quite successfully this year. I was gifted some seed tape and that does space the plantings out quite nicely. That might be a good idea to make my own with toilet paper and flour/water paste. On the other hand with leafy greens, since I like to pick the leaves quite small I just throw a whole bunch of seeds in a big area :) I am really liking that idea. I really dont start seedlings in little pots as I always forget to keep them watered! I have never thought of mulching right on top of the seeds, but I like that idea!

  5. I find I start most seeds in trays. I remember to water them then as I can keep them right near the tap on the back veranda.
    Which reminds me I need to start some more seeds off.

  6. I seem to have more luck with planting directly. I think, like Africanaussie, I don't look after them well enough. They are so dependent when they are in a container! Though I always plant tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant in pots first. Great post. It's good to hear the different methods and thoughts.

  7. I tend to start most things off in pots as with our weather the frost would kill seedlings off,we are still having cold nights at the moment so am holding back with a lot os things,believe it or not we still have daffodils flowering!!!!

    1. that's true too, in spring, starting in pots lets you start a little earlier...

  8. lovely post last year I did a bit of a mixture and all was well but so far only my salad leaves are doing well and last years fruit trees some I re put in from old garden

  9. I had great success with seeds I had saved from my last years tomatoes and replanted them this year in the toilet rolls. Im trying broccoli and broad beans at the moment from seed, I have planted carrots but no sign of shoots yet. I just love your blog xx

    1. thanks Milow! make sure you keep your carrot seeds moist after sowing....

  10. I seem to have better luck sowing directly, mostly because Sophie likes to tip trays of soil out. Lately I've been letting everything go to seed and then grabbing the seeds and sprinkling them in any bit of bare dirt. I've got lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, leeks and broccoli popping up all over the show.

    1. that is the most unique reason to use direct seeding!

  11. Thanks for all the comments, its really interesting to see how different methods work for different people for different reasons. Happy gardening!

  12. I do a mix. I tend to put silver beet and chard seeds in the garden, parsley, nasturtiums too...everything else I either start as seedlings indoors or I buy as more advanced seedlings. My tomato growing season is shorter, so I need advanced plants and I just don't have the set up with heat mats and grow lights to get them to a big enough size to produce in enough time.

    Last xmas I was given a beautiful wooden tool, that allows you to make news paper pots to raise seedlings in. This has been super successful for me! Our loo rolls end up as craft mainly...three homeschooled kids who always have projects on the go!

  13. ...this looks to be a bit of a hot topic Liz. I loved the rational in your post - it made sense to me. I have planted 100% in selfwatering containers this year as an experiment, so everything was transplanted as this method needs a reasonable sized root structure to work. I have only had 1 failure which was my beans, the rest have gone mad.


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