Some vegetable seedlings – like courgettes, kale and purple sprouting broccoli – are more susceptible to the cold early on in the year, so they need starting off indoors.
Use seed compost which has been specially formulated to give seeds the best start in life. Compost is also sterilised so it’s free from pests and plant diseases, which regular garden soil may not be. Once you’ve got your compost, simply follow our easy step by step guide to learn how to sow seeds indoors successfully.
To make sure your seeds don’t catch any fungal diseases, wash your pots in hot soapy water and rinse before filling them with compost.
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Pat the surface of your compost to flatten it and sprinkle on some seeds. Most of them will germinate so be careful not to sow too many! Cover them up with a thin layer of compost, place them in a propagator in a warm, bright place and remove the lid as soon as the seedlings appear.
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When your seedlings are 7-10cm tall, or have developed their first true leaves (not the first pair that open), they’re ready to transplant. Transferring them to a larger pot will give them more room to develop. Transplanting seedlings involves a process called ‘pricking out’: You do this by very gently easing them out of the tray with a pencil or dibber, holding them by a leaf to avoid damaging the stems or roots. Resting the roots on your pencil, place them into ready-made holes in pots filled with potting compost, and lightly firm the compost around them, making sure the leaves are just above the surface. Water them regularly to keep the compost moist and keep them somewhere draught-free and bright, but out of direct sunlight.
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After spending their early life indoors, your plants will need to acclimatise to life outdoors, which involves a process called hardening off. Every day for a week, place them outside in a sheltered area away from direct sunlight, bringing them in at night. When you start to do this, prepare the soil you plan to use as your plants’ new home by raking in a general-balanced fertiliser. This will provide them with plenty of nutrients and help them thrive when they’re planted out.
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Once your plants have spent a week hardening off (and the last frost has been and gone), use a hand trowel to dig a hole a little larger than the size of the roots. Then tip the plant carefully out of its pot, using your hand over the top of the pot to catch any compost, and place it in the hole. Firm the soil around it, so the plant is roughly at the same level in the soil as it was in the pot. Once planted, water them well. If there's a risk of frost after you've planted them out, cover your plants at night with an old sheet.
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