Tag Archives: direct sowing

Basics: Direct Sowing Tips

Direct sowing crops is one of my favorite parts of spring. I get to get out into the garden and put something in the ground before many of my transplants are ready to go out. In the spring, I direct sow cool-weather crops like radishes, greens, peas, and turnips. As the spring progresses into summer, I begin direct sowing warm-weather crops like cucumbers, squash, corn, and beans. Here are a few tips to ensure you have success direct sowing crops.

Prepare Your Garden Bed

As discussed in our previous article, How to Prepare Beds, you should prepare a garden bed. Ideally, your soil should be rich, loose, and moist. This will help ensure your seeds have soft soil to push their roots into, moisture to germinate, and nutrients to grow.

Know Your Planting Date & Watch the Weather

The best time to direct sow specific crops depends on where you live and your first and last expected frost dates. For a quick look at what to plant when, you can try our garden planner app or the Farmer’s Almanac planting list by zip code. If you live in zone 7, as we do at SESE here in Virginia, you can check out a list of our recommended planting dates.

You should also keep an eye on the weather. While rain can be ideal for helping water in crops, you may want to avoid planting small seeds like lettuce right before a heavy rain which could uncover or dislodge them. A severe cold snap can slow or halt germination even with cold hardy crops. Check the forecast before planting and consider how the following days may affect your crops.

Prepare Your Seeds for Direct Sowing

Before your intended planting date, review your seed packets or look up information about your chosen crops. Some seeds need to be treated beforehand. For example, we recommend soaking Sweet Pea seeds overnight before planting.

Mark Your Rows

It’s a good idea to mark your rows carefully. This will allow you to easily weed in between rows before your crops germinate without fear of disturbing your seeds.

Plant Seeds at the Proper Depth

Your seed packet should indicate a planting depth for each crop. If you don’t have this information, a good rule of thumb is to plant your seeds at a depth equal to two or three times their width.

Be Consistent with Watering

Watering while seeds are germinating is critical. For best germination, keep the soil consistently moist. If you have a rainy spring, you may have minimal watering to do, but if not, you should check your soil everyday and water as needed. Keeping the soil consistently moist will improve germination rates.

However, you don’t want the soil to become water-logged. Your soil should feel moist after you water, but if you grab a handful and can squeeze water out of it, you have overwatered. Some seeds, like summer squash, are susceptible to rot when overwatered.

Thin Your Crops

Many crops like onions, radishes, carrots, and lettuce should be thinned as they get larger. It may seem like a waste, but your vegetables won’t properly mature if they don’t have adequate spacing. Baby greens and small onions can be harvested and used for salads at a small size.

Stay Diligent About Weeding

Weeds are fast-growing, and it’s often easy for them to overtake tiny seedlings. Keep your beds well-weeded as seedlings get established for the best production.

Add Mulch

Once your plants have grown to a couple inches, it’s a good idea to mulch around them. Mulch will save you work by suppressing weeds and keeping the soil moist.

Direct Sowing: Extra Tips & Tricks

Here are a few tricks of the trade to help you get the best results when direct sowing crops.

Cover Carrot and Lettuce Seeds with a Board or Cardboard

Carrot and lettuce seed germinates best when kept moist. After sowing carrot seeds, water them carefully and cover the rows with boards or cardboard. After a couple of days, check on them each day and remove the boards or cardboard as soon as they have begun to germinate. 

Use Radishes to Mark Rows

Radishes germinate very quickly. You can toss a few radish seeds in with lettuce, carrots, or other seeds to help mark and keep track of the row while you wait for the other seeds to germinate. 

Use Row Cover if You Have It

Row cover is a great way to give young seedlings a little extra protection from cool temperatures, heavy rains, and drying winds. Consider using row cover as you get crops established. 

Learn to Direct Sow in Hot Weather

Later in the summer, check out Lisa and Ira’s other tips for direct sowing in hot weather. These tips are helpful for getting your fall crops started.


In some ways, direct sowing is as simple as plunging some seeds into the dirt. However, for a healthy, productive garden, it’s best to keep these tips and methods in mind as you sow your spring garden. Happy growing!

Direct Sowing Roselle

Now that the hot weather has really begun to set in it’s time to focus on heat loving crops. While many people will be setting out peppers and seeding melons there’s another summertime crop that deserves a place in your garden, roselle. The roselle plant is a member of the hibiscus family grown for its flavorful calyxes (part of the flower). It’s not as showy as ornamental hibiscus varieties but it is extremely useful.

It offers a citrus flavor earning it another common name, the Florida Cranberry. Roselle can be used for candies, syrups, or jam but it’s probably best known for its use in making delicious, bright red tea called Red Zinger. The tea has more going for it than just being tasty though. Roselle has long been used to safely lower blood pressure and is full of vitamin C.

The young leaves and stems of the roselle plant can also be used as salad or cooked greens or be made into jam as well. The leaves are naturally high in pectin, prefect for jam.

While Roselle is technically a perennial it is extremely frost sensitive so here in Virginia (zone 7a) it’s grown as an annual. Roselle can be started early and transplanted, much like tomatoes, or it can be direct seeded during hot weather. It requires temperatures between 75°- 85°F to germinate but germinates readily outdoors making it an ideal candidate for direct sowing.

Roselle will do best in well-drained, fertile soil. Compost amendments are fine but beware of over-fertilizing. Too much nitrogen can cause it to put energy into growing a very large plant instead of many calyxes. Be sure to keep your roselle plants well weeded until they’re established and can shade out weeds by themselves.

Tips for Direct Sowing

  • Plant extra seeds and thin later choosing the best looking plants to keep. This will ensure you get a good crop of healthy, hardy plants.
  • Water, water, water! Do not forget to water your roselle especially while the seeds are germinating.
  • Watch the weather and make sure your area has warmed up enough!

If you’re going to direct sow and thin your plants (or have plants ready to set out) it’s important to give Roselle a lot of space. Plants should be thinned to 3 ft apart in rows 5 ft apart. It sounds like a lot but plants with less space will produce less calyxes.

Pests aren’t typically a big problem with roselle though it can be susceptible to stem and root rot. Both are easily avoided by planting in well drained soil and carefully monitoring watering to avoid over doing it.

Thai Red Roselle, the variety grown at Southern Exposure, should begin flowering in the mid summer. Calyxes can be harvested after the blooms drop off and are most easily harvested when full grown but still tender. If they’re not tender enough to break off by hand you can use clippers.

For high quality tea calyxes should be removed from the seed and dried out of direct sunlight. A dehydrator can be helpful especially in very humid weather. Once completely dry they can be stored in airtight jars for making tea throughout the year.

If you’d like to try your hand at growing roselle there’s still time to direct sow! Find Southern Exposure’s Thai Red Roselle seed here.