Sowing seed

Source seeds through plants grown In the garden, or buy seed packets sold through nurseries or mail-order companies or websites. Collecting seed from the garden is the cheapest way, of course; however, there's very little guarantee that plants will come true from seed, because certain herbs may cross-pollinate or simply not represent the parent plant.

For ease of growing, particularly for new gardeners, packet seeds provide good value and instructions that indicate when, how and where to plant. In addition, the plants will be true to type, and are available in the right season.

The required depth of planting will vary, depending on seed size. In general, the finer the seed, the shallower it should be sown; sowing at a depth of about twice the diameter of the seed is a good gauge. It is easier to spread fine seeds, such as marjoram, savory and thyme, more evenly if you mix them with a little sand.

When to sow

When you plant your seeds will depend on your climate and the advice given on the seed packet. If your chosen seeds take 6 to 8 weeks to germinate, start them indoors or in a glasshouse about this far ahead, before the final frosts. Once the good spring weather starts, the seedlings will be ready to transplant. Some annual herbs can be sown successfully in autumn but, to achieve best results, follow the packet instructions.

Sow seeds in cell packs or seed trays, in individual pots or in situ. Herbs that don't transplant well, because disturbing

Carefully remove seedlings from punnets by gently squeezing the bottom of each cell.

their roots encourages them to "bolt" (flower prematurely), are best planted either directly in the garden or in large pots. These include borage, coriander, dill, chervil, fennel and summer savory.

To add interest and color to paved areas, paths or retaining walls, fill cracks, crevices or nooks with potting mix and sow seeds of compact or trailing plants, such as nasturtium, sweet violet and different varieties of thyme.

Sowing seeds under cover

Other seeds, such as coriander and verbena, need to be in the dark until they've germinated. Block out the light by covering the seed trays with sheets of newspaper and store in a dry, warm place. Soaking seeds in warm water overnight before planting will also help basil and parsley to germinate, while other seeds need to be stratified. For details on this process, see Echinacea, page 44.

Once seedlings appear, prick them out. See Pricking out, page 162.

Seed-raising mix

The growing medium plays a critical role in plant propagation. The tiny roots of new plants need to be able to grow in a lightweight material that provides support, air pockets moisture and good drainage.

Polling mixes are developed especially for propagation and are usually sold as seed-raising mix or propagation mix. The ingredients ma> include:

■ SAND Coarse river sand, not fine brickies sand, is best for good drainage.

■ VERMICl LITE This lightweight silicate material has been heated so it expands, soaks up water and attracts nutrients.

■ PKRLITE Derived from volcanic rock that has also been mined and heated, it is used to aerate soil and improve drainage.

■ COCONUT FIBER, coco-peal or coir. This is a natural waste product with excellent water-holding capacities. It is used in gardening products instead of [>eat moss, which is a nonrenewable natural resource.

To block out the light while seedlings germinate, cover the seed trays with newspaper.
Using the Latin name to identify your plants is the professional way to go. It ensures that, should you wish to grow the same plant again, you will purchase exactly the right one.

Continue reading here: Raising seeds

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