Some People Are Trying To Sow Seeds And Others Are Saying It’s Too Early. Here’s My Answer To When To Start Sowing & Planting In UK Gardens. Hint, I’ve Been Sowing All Winter.

Every social media group seems to be full of the same thing this time of year, is it time to start sowing and planting or is it too early? And there are countless variations to the question. Variations that start with When To Start Sowing & Planting and then include the time to plant potatoes, plant garlic, sow onion seed, sow vegetables, sow tomatoes, and a host of others.

The answers given include telling people to read the seed packet and commentators own advice but without saying where they are and what their local conditions are. Both of these pieces of advice are totally useless to the new gardener and even well established gardeners can be lead astray by them .

How to Grow Lettuce, From Butterhead to Cos
How to Grow Lettuce, From Butterhead to Cos

For example lettuce seed packets and seed company websites give advice such as lettuce should be sown between late March and early July or March and September …. so there we have two UK based sites giving different advice. And if we just Google the question we are likely to get sites giving some very strange advice. For example one told me to sow in the winter months and to avoid the months I’d sow in!

The problem is seed companies advise sowing in the months when it is very easy to germinate seed because they don’t want us to fail and complain that the seed is no good. And some sites we find aren’t giving advice about growing in the UK, they are most often American where the conditions are very different. And the one I was shown was Australian! I realised it was wrong but would a new gardener?

How To Tell When To Start Sowing & Planting In UK Gardens

Well firstly clearly we need to ensure the advice we get is from UK based sites and not stray onto American or other sites. The thing is the conditions are very different elsewhere and don’t apply here.

camellia

But it’s more complex than that. Not all seeds need the same conditions.

Take lettuce and tomato for example. Both are salad crops and both are usually grown in summer. But lettuce can actually be sown every day of the year by gardeners but they would struggle to successfully sow tomatoes every day of the year.

Lettuce, when small, can tolerate freezing conditions. I used to sow my early outdoor lettuce crops in January and would often be planting them outside in Bedfordshire in early March. They would “suffer“ frost, snow, rain etc and we’d still be harvesting in May.

But tomatoes can’t tolerate much cold. Where lettuce are a “cold“ crop, tomatoes are a “warm“ crop. It’s a crude definition but sufficient to explain the difference. Other warm crops include cues, peppers, chillis, courgettes, and even sweetcorn. They either prefer warmth our will die from the cold.

Lettuce, many oriental brassicas and traditional European brassicas, leeks, onions and shallots are all in the cold crop category. Some more tolerant than others it must be admitted. But all cold weather tolerant crops.

Local Conditions Matter

Your local conditions matter a lot. I’m in a fairly mild part of East Devon. A mile away, on the cliff plats, potatoes were planted in the frost free conditions in February. Here, just a mile away they would not survive the frosts that early. Before moving here I was still in East Devon, just a few miles away. But I was at an altitude of 850ft and it was much colder with much later seasons.

And of course there are frost pockets that can be very local, even within a garden. One side of my small garden is often frost free when the other side is frosted. Where cold air can be trapped by a fence, hedge to similar it can develop a frost pocket.

So how can we tell when to sow and plant if conditions and advice is so variable.

Simple.

We let nature tell us.

Nature’s Seed Sowing Clues

In my garden at present the weeds are germinating and beginning to grow. And if weeds will grow, often from very small seed, most of my larger veg seed will also germinate. It’s that simple.

Speedwell weed seedlings in early March

Plus I look at the flowers. Flowers such as daffodils and snowdrops often come first, usually before the first weed seeds start to germinate. In my garden in early March I have camellias in flower. They usually come at the same time as my primroses. Both coincide with speedwells germinating in the leaf detritus in my flower beds. For me that’s the time to start sowing outdoors. And I’m warned that it’s nearly time by the chaemomales flowering before the camellias.

However don’t be fooled by single observations. In 2023 some of my primroses flowered in November and were a picture in December.

Each garden is different but if you start to understand the cycle that plants go through you’ll notice that your garden is very much like mine. It doesn’t matter if we are north out south, at high altitude or low, the plants tell us when to start sowing. And the message they give is for your plot and not a theoretical one from a book or seed packet.

Helping Nature In Our “When To Start Sowing & Planting” Quest

Several of my online gardening friends are offering advice on seed sowing at this time of year. For example Charles Dowding is using a hot bed to germinate seeds in his greenhouse. His advice is excellent and really works. Huw Richards is doing something similar outdoors with a hot bed. Again it’s good advice.

When To Start Sowing & Planting, seeds grown in an unheated greenhouse in /march.

I’m less energetic than both of them. I know hot beds have been around for centuries and that Victorian gardeners used them a lot. But I take a less “high tech” approach and don’t bother with the hot bed.

I still sow seeds, but I do it with less effort. In my unheated greenhouse I have several trays of brassicas, lettuce and beetroot germinating. the temperature has been down to -5C a few times but they are still germinating. Of course they are much slower growing than the seeds growing over hot beds. But they are still germinating. Look at the image. There’s a healthy seedling growing in every module. And it’s not a fluke. I set seed every month last year and germinated them in an unheated greenhouse. They were slow growing but very hardy plants that romped away when conditions improved.

And outside I’ve laid a couple of recycled double glazing units on the soil to warm it up a bit before sowing. It could be called lazy gardening, But I prefer to call it wise, stress free and efficient gardening!

Tag: When To Start Sowing & Planting

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One thought on “When To Start Sowing & Planting In UK Gardens

  1. Angela says:

    Excellent advice. getting to know your plot and the amount of time and other resources available to you are all important factors for success

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