7 Effective Techniques to Make Sowing Small Seeds Fun
Everyone’s favorite gardening task is sowing small seeds (we’re kidding).
Maybe the last time you went to sow tiny seeds you ended up bending over seed trays for what felt like hours, straining your eyes and developing an annoying crick in your neck. Maybe at some point you sneezed, and accidentally dumped out most of the seed packet, resulting in one flat with way too many seedlings crammed much too tightly together.
Seed sowing doesn’t have to be a chore. With a few household objects and a little patience, you can sow small seeds all day. Take it from us—we’ve sown some small seeds in our day, and we’ve rounded up our favorite tips to make sowing even the tiniest seeds fast, easy, and—believe it or not—enjoyable!
7 tips for sowing small seeds
Carrots, onions, and lettuce are among the smallest vegetable seeds, and some herb seeds like oregano and dill are even smaller in size. But flowers take the prize for having the smallest seeds—poppy, pansy, and foxglove seeds are minuscule, hardly indistinguishable from dust.
Depending on the species, you can start small seeds indoors or outdoors—read the seed packet to understand what each plant prefers. If you plan on starting seeds indoors, we recommend using a 72-cell tray, as the cells are just the right size to accommodate two-three small seedlings each.
An effective way to sow tiny seeds quickly is to grab a small pinch of seeds and sprinkle several into each cell as you move along the seed tray. While this method may give you five or six seeds per cell, you might only get three or four seeds that sprout, and some cells might have even less. You can always go back through and thin out the extra seeds later. Multi-seeding is a good balance between speed and accuracy but isn’t a perfect method.
Another technique for sowing small seeds is to gently pour them from one end of the seed tray to the other until the cells are full. You’ll want to be careful not to pack them too tight, but this method is much faster and easier than painstakingly placing each individual seed where you want it.
2. Cut with a filler
One of the most common and inexpensive hacks for sowing small seeds more evenly is to mix the seed with sand or cornmeal. One word of caution: sand that’s been outside might have weed seeds or insect eggs, so you’re better off starting with a bag of play sand from the store versus sand you collect yourself.
There’s no perfect recipe for this method, but a good starting point is to mix a pinch of seed with a tablespoon of sand or another grainy substance like cornmeal.
For even easier dispensing, transfer your seed/sand mixture to a salt shaker. All that’s left to do is sprinkle the mixture over a seed tray!
3. Surface sow small seeds
A good rule of thumb when sowing any kind of seed is to plant seeds about twice as deep as they are wide. For the tiniest seeds, this isn’t much at all, and it’s why you might see the instruction to “surface sow” some small seeds.
Surface sow is almost exactly how it sounds—simply sprinkle small seeds over the planting area, and gently press the seeds into the earth. You can also pull a rake over the area to very lightly cover the seeds with soil or sand.
But why does surface sowing work for tiny seeds but not larger ones? According to an article by Aniruddha Maity of Auburn University, smaller seeds also have fewer food stores than larger seeds, and as such, can’t remain dormant as long as larger seeds can. Although large seeds have the energy to sprout from deep in the soil, small seeds do better when planted close to the surface, where they can easily receive light and water.
4. Make your own seed tape
Seed tape is a simple way to create perfect spacing between seeds. Also called seed bands, you can buy premade seed tapes or you can just as easily make your own with materials you already have at home. All you need is a roll of toilet paper.
Greg Stack, a horticulturist from the University of Illinois, explains how to use toilet paper to achieve uniform germination in this video.
Start by making a biodegradable sticky paste that’s one part flour to one part water. This will serve as the glue that holds the seeds to the paper.
Next, roll out the toilet paper to whatever length you like. You might stretch the paper as long as your garden beds, or you can break up the paper into a more manageable length, like three feet or so.
Put a dab of glue at the recommended spacing for that particular seed, then go back over the paper, carefully dropping seeds so that they stick to the glue. If you have extra seeds that don’t stick right away, roll them around until they do or carefully pour them back into the packet. Now you can roll the paper back up until you’re ready to use it!
Seed tape is ideal for seeds that prefer to be directly sown—it doesn’t really work for seeds that you would start indoors in trays. When it’s time to plant, dig a shallow trench where you want to plant your seeds. Unroll the paper over that area and cover it with a thin layer of soil. All that’s left to do is water the seeds, and they will sprout in no time.
5. Make DIY seed gel
Although not as common a sowing method as seed tapes, you can also make a homemade gel to sow the tiniest seeds. Seed gel has a similar purpose to the previous technique that uses sand—the idea is to dilute the seed mixture to get better spacing.
Seed gel does require cooking, but the recipe is simple: one tablespoon of cornstarch to one cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
Once the mixture has returned to room temperature, you’ll be left with a clear gel. Add the gel to a ziploc bag and add as many seeds as you want. Massage the bag to mix the seeds evenly with the gel, and then cut off the corner of the bag, creating a hole to squeeze the gel through. Now, get to seeding! Seeds don’t store in gel as they will in seed tapes.
6. Use a toothpick
If you’re a patient gardener, you might not mind sowing seeds one by one with a toothpick, pencil, or even a plastic plant tag. Some professional growers use this method for very precise seeding.
Take your tool of choice and moisten the end of it with water, then dip it into the seed packet. You’ll emerge with a few seeds stuck to the end, which you can easily tap into individual cells. You can also use tweezers to pick up individual seeds without having to get the seeds wet.
Another similar method is to cut the corner of an envelope, to make an open pocket. Transfer the seeds into the pocket, and tap the seeds out one by one or in small groups. You can also sprinkle seeds over an area using a salt shaker or even a small spoon, though these methods are better for broadcasting over a larger area than sowing a straight line.
Experiment with a few different utensils and tools to find out what works best for you. And the more you play around with this method, the faster you’ll get!
7. Use a Dial Seed Sower
The easiest way to sow tiny seeds quickly and accurately is to use a Dial Seed Sower or similar tool. The Dial Seed Sower is made to small seeds efficiently, and it’s a lifesaver in the seed-starting room—especially if you have several trays’ worth of tiny seeds to sow.
Simply load the seeder with a packet or two of the seed of your choosing, and spin the top through its five settings to find the perfectly sized hole for your seeds. When the seed sower is empty, repeat the process until you’ve seeded all your trays.
Easy hacks to germinate small seeds
Sowing tiny seeds is only half the battle—you’ll need to follow up with your seeding by maintaining an ideal environment for small seeds to sprout and grow into healthy seedlings.
Start with a seed-starting mix
It’s always a good idea to use a seed-starting mix when sowing seeds of all types, but nowhere is this more true than with smaller seeds. Tiny seeds can easily become buried under the larger particles in the average potting mix, preventing them from germinating.
Use a heat mat and thermostat
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—heat mats are a game changer when it comes to germinating difficult seeds. Tiny seeds, especially, need the extra warmth that a heat mat can provide.
Use a humidity dome
Consistent moisture is needed by all seeds, but tiny seeds aren’t as well-adapted to fluctuations in moisture as larger seeds with a thicker seed coat might be. Humidity domes are the perfect inexpensive tool to keep small seeds evenly wet.
Plus, popping lids on your seed trays saves you time, since you’ll be watering less. Just make sure to vent the seed trays daily by removing the domes during the hottest part of the day to allow some of the built-up moisture (and heat) to evaporate.
Protect from the sun
Protect surface-sown seeds from direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day by covering each seed tray with a mesh bottom tray. Surface-sown seeds will burn if allowed to dry out, and the mesh tray will keep the soil moist longer, effectively casting about 50% shade.
Another option is to cover small seeds with a light layer of vermiculite. A horticultural product made from a flaky mineral, vermiculite is light enough to allow light to pass through to the seeds below while offering some protection from the sun and wind at the same time. Plus, vermiculture holds water well and releases it slowly, so seeds are less likely to dry out.
Bottom water or mist
Top watering tiny seeds is risky—there’s the chance that seeds might be washed away by the water or the pressure of the water could push the seeds too deep into the soil.
The best way to irrigate small seeds is by bottom watering. To water seed trays from the bottom, find a watertight tray that the seed tray will nest into. Fill the tray with water and place the bottom tray underneath the seed tray. Allow the seed tray to sit for at least 10 minutes to absorb water. Dump any excess water after 30 minutes.
Misting is another good option when it comes to the smallest seeds—because of their thinner seed coat, small seeds aren’t as protected against changes in moisture as larger seeds. Keep small seeds evenly moist by misting them periodically, especially during the hottest parts of the day.
Sowing small seeds can be delicate work, but these simple tips and tricks can help you get the job done without too much hassle. Whether you’re creating a seed tape, using a seed sower, or simply using a toothpick, you should have no trouble getting your tiny treasures in the ground. And with the right care, even the smallest seeds will germinate and thrive just like their larger counterparts.