5 Gardening Hacks for Seed Sowing Success

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Pre-sprouting seeds for surer germination

It’s sowing time! If you want to improve your success with seed sowing, we’re here to help. We’ve got five top tips from the pros that will boost germination rates, save time and simply make seed sowing easier.

1. Make Your Own Seed Tapes

Do you find it hard to space out your seeds accurately? Then make your own seed tape. This method is perfect for spacing out smaller seeds. For this you’ll need some toilet paper, a paste made from equal parts flour and water, and your seeds. Start by rolling out enough toilet paper to run the length of your row. Place a daub of paste at the correct spacing on the paper using an artist’s brush. Drop two seeds onto each daub of paste. Then fold over the toilet paper. The paste will help to hold it all together.

After drying, the seed tapes can be labelled then rolled up and stored until you’re ready to sow. To sow simply unravel the tape into the seed drill and cover to the correct depth with soil. Water along the row and, hey presto, they’re ready to grow!

Making seed tapes and seed mats

You can also make squares of pre-sown seeds using paper towel. The same method applies: daub on your paste, add your seeds, then sandwich with another layer of towel. These squares are great if you grow your plants in blocks, for example if you’re using the square foot gardening method.

2. Sow Tiny Seeds Successfully

Tiny seeds such as carrots are notoriously tricky to sow evenly. Make the task easier by mixing the seeds with fine, dry sand. Thoroughly mix together a pinch of seeds with a couple of teaspoons of sand, then sprinkle along your seed drill. Now fill in the seed drill.

Mixing small seeds with sand to make sowing easier

3. Scarify or Soak Big Seeds

Large seeds or seeds with a tough seed coat will germinate quicker if their coats are first punctured or softened, just before you want to plant them. This allows the water and gases necessary for germination to enter the seed faster. A simple way to do this is to gently roll your seeds between two sheets of sandpaper until the seed coat just starts to rub off. Stop at this point or you risk damaging the seeds.

Scarifying beans and other large seeds improves germination

Alternatively soak your seeds in a bowl of lukewarm water for 24 hours. This method is great for seeds of beans, peas and okra. Parsley seeds also benefit from soaking for 48 hours, with a change of water halfway through.

4. See Your Seeds and Get Rid of the Weeds

Some seeds are hard to make out against the dark soil. A simple way around this is to line your seed drill with toilet paper. The white background makes it easier to see your seeds and to space them evenly along the row.

Lining a drill with toilet paper makes it easier to see seeds as you sow

Using a label will help you to locate rows of seeds, but if you want to be certain you can backfill your seed drill with compost so that it stands out from the surrounding soil. This is particularly useful once they start to grow, as it helps you to differentiate seedlings you’ve planted from weeds which need removing.

One other method is to mix quick-growing seeds such as radishes with slow growers like parsnips. The radishes will germinate within a few days to mark the location of the row. They’ll be harvested long before the parsnips grow big enough to need that extra space.

5. Pre-sprouting Seeds (Chitting)

Another way to work with seeds that have a long germination time is to chit them – that simply means encouraging the seeds to sprout before planting them in the soil. This method works particularly well for those seeds that can take weeks to germinate, especially in cool weather. You can also use it for any early-planted seeds to speed things up.

Pre-sprouted parsnip seeds

Start by lining a sealable container with a couple of sheets of damp paper towel. Space out the seeds over the surface then add two more layers of damp paper towel over the top. Press on the lid. Keep the container in a warm place at about 8-21ºC, or 65-70ºF. As soon as the seeds are showing tiny roots they are ready to plant. Don’t delay planting or the roots may end up distorted or forked. You needn't worry about planting them the right way up - the seeds will naturally send the roots downwards.

Do you have a seed-sowing hack? If so, don’t keep it to yourself – share it by dropping us a comment below!

Plants Related to this Article

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"An ex-girlfriend of mine used to put the seed under her tongue and continue doing odd jobs for a half hour or so before trying to germinate! (gets them nicely warm and moist..."
Tim on Thursday 19 May 2016
"That's certainly a highly original way of preparing the seeds!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 19 May 2016
"This looks interesting. I haven't grown, or tried to grow, veggies in years. Been thinking about it and may just try again but in containers."
Robert. Burroughs on Friday 4 November 2016
"Give it a go Robert - you won't regret it!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 7 November 2016
"Re: Robert. I like to drill many, many large holes around the pot (in between the lip and base) to give the plants as much oxygen as possible... Saves money purchasing the fabric ones!"
Tim on Monday 7 November 2016
"to sow small seeds in pots: I pour some out onto a paper plate, put some water in a cup, take a wooden toothpick and dip in the water, touch the tip of the damp toothpick to a seed, and it will adhere instantly, touch the seed to the planting medium, and it will adhere to the potting soil. this is especially effective for nearly dust-like seeds like petunias and begonias, but works well at least up to the size of cole seeds. pinpoint control "
lemonfair on Sunday 17 June 2018
"Hi Lemonfair. I've never tried this technique before - what a great idea! I'll be trying it out in future - far better than clumsy fingers!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 June 2018
"I put all my bean and pea seeds in separate plastic bags with a little water and place them on a window sill. Within a week or so they have usually germinated. Do not allow the bags to dry out. This method ensures all the seeds I plant out have germinated, as often a number of seeds fail to germinate, wasting spacing, time and effort."
Malcolm Gibbs on Sunday 18 April 2021
"Hi Malcolm. I'm tempted to try that technique next year. This year's beans have been very slow and erratic in germinating, and I like the transparency of the method you use."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 19 April 2021
"I wonder if you can use dog pee pads. they wont let water or weed through, and seeds would be able to absorb moisture from the top layer? "
scphil on Friday 16 July 2021
"I think that could possibly work, yes. But kitchen towel/paper would be a lot cheaper."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 18 July 2021

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions