Sowing seeds is my kids favourite gardening job; it never fails to grab their attention and we always have a really great time doing it. Usually a messy time too, but that goes with the territory!
Now, you may be thinking “But it’s still freezing outside, no way could we start growing tender little seedlings” – and yes, if you planted most seeds outdoors at this time of year you’d be asking for trouble. But you don’t need lots of fancy equipment to make a success of it, and it’s a great way to get the kids outdoors and busy. Here’s a quick guide to sowing seeds with kids in winter.
Ideal seeds to sow with kids in winter
You can of course choose to grow any seeds that are happy to be planted under cover in winter – the packet will give you this information – so if the kids have a particular plant in mind, go for it! If you’d like some inspiration, here are my top picks.
Sweet peas are perfect for little hands because the seeds are quite big and easy to handle. There are so many varieties to choose from too, so kids can have fun picking their favourite colour or name. Sweet peas are a climbing plant, so you will need to give them some support once they’re planted out into the garden.
Pansies are always a favourite with my kids, they love their cheerful blooms and bright colours. They’re tough little plants too, so they’re great for enthusiastic little hands.
Nasturtiums are brilliant on so many levels. They’re really easy to grow, you can grow them as climbing or trailing plants, they have gorgeous bright blooms, and the flowers are edible.
Coleus is a good foliage plant for kids to grow; the leaves are really bright and colourful, and the seeds are usually sold in mixed packs so you can have fun seeing which varieties appear.
Snapdragons (also known as Antirrhinums) have cute flowers that look like little snapping beaks, which makes them a fun option for kids. Choose a tall variety and they make fantastic cut flowers too.
You’ll need some small plant pots, plant markers, your seeds, some compost and a watering can. Good quality seed compost will give your plants a great start, but general purpose compost is fine too. Ideally your watering can should be small enough for kids to handle, with a rose attachment to deliver a fine shower of water.
You might want to also use child-size hand tools; they’re much easier for kids to use effectively, and to be honest I find them perfect for this job as well!
Children’s gardening gloves are worth considering too, particularly if your compost is really damp. I do think the actual seed sowing is much easier with bare hands though.
If you plant seeds regularly, I can’t recommend a basic potting station enough. It’s a low-cost piece of kit which keeps pots, compost and tools all in one place for easy access, with a shelf for smaller items like seed packets and plant markers. It’s lightweight and portable, so you can easily set it up at the right height for kids to use. It helps contain the inevitable mess too.
Seeds need light, warmth and moisture to germinate, and at this time of year your pots will need to be kept indoors. At the most basic level, a sunny windowsill in a warm room will do the trick. Another option is to create a mini greenhouse effect by popping a clear plastic bag over the top of your pots; you do run the risk of things becoming too damp and soggy with this method though, so you’ll need to check your pots regularly and remove the bags if necessary.
If you want to give your seeds optimum conditions, a small heated propagator like the one here is the way to go. These take up very little space and provide a steady temperature with ventilation, and they have the added bonus that kids can easily see into them to check on their plants.
How to sow your seeds
Before you start, I’d recommend gathering all your equipment together; I find this much easier than hunting things down while the kids get impatient.
When you’re ready to plant, spend a couple of minutes looking at the seed packet instructions together, so the kids know what they’re going to be doing. It’s nice to also have a little chat about the conditions seeds need in order to grow, and why; this will help them when it comes to looking after their seedlings.
Choose your plant pot and fill it with compost, aiming to stop when the pot is about three quarters full.
Now it’s time to sow the seeds. Large seeds can be poked individually into the soil, while smaller seeds need to be scattered over the surface of the compost. If your seeds are quite small you might want to practice taking little pinches of seed before you start.
Kids will inevitably struggle to sow seeds evenly; don’t worry about this, you can easily thin the seedlings out later and this is a good gardening skill to learn anyway.
Now you’re ready to sprinkle a small amount of compost over the top of the seeds.
Remember to label your pot – it’s surprisingly easy to forget what you’ve planted where!
The last job is to give your seeds a drink. Remember that rose attachment I mentioned earlier? That stops you flooding the soil and possibly washing away the seeds.
Transfer your pots to their growing spot and you’re done. Encourage children to keep an eye on them and water when necessary. Give your seeds plenty of air too; remove plastic bags or open the ventilation slots on propagators regularly.
Once your seedlings start to emerge, things get exciting. Get the kids to check them daily and water them regularly; you could also have fun measuring their height and recording progress on a chart. You will need to thin out your seedlings if there are clumps growing closely together; to do it, just pull out some seedlings to leave more room for those remaining.
A quick note on ‘legginess’: this is when seedlings grow tall and spindly, and is more likely to happen when they are grown indoors. It’s caused by too much heat and/or not enough light, so adjust these conditions if your plants are looking a bit stretched.
One final tip: hang onto your seed packets, even if they’re empty. They’re a handy reference guide to caring for your plants, and will also tell you the ideal time to transfer them outdoors.
And that’s it! We’ll be sowing seeds regularly for the next few weeks, it’s such a lovely way to start off the year in the garden and look forward to lots of lovely flowers in spring and summer. You can find some other suggestions on ideal seeds to grow with children here, and you might also want to check out my post on successful seed sowing with kids for some more tips.
I hope we’ve inspired you to get growing with the kids this winter – let me know what you’re planting!
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