I have always enjoyed growing vegetables from seed, time seems to stand still as I eagerly await those first seedlings to push through the surface of the soil. There is an enormous sense of achievement come harvest time. 

How your seeds are grown can truly determine your entire season, so it is important to give them the best start you can. If they start out weak for any reason at all, the seedlings will struggle to recover.

There are a few key things to know in order to get your seeds off to a great start, including when to sow, how to sow, which plants to start in pots and which to start directly in the ground. Read our top tips for seed sowing to get your season off to a flying start.

1. Seed Viability

You will always have the best chance of success with fresh seeds because germination rates are high. Don’t go dumping all those old seed packets just yet though.

Most seed packets come with expiry dates marked on them. While some seeds will barely last until the expiry date, others will last longer. However, the germination rate decreases the older they get.

If using old packets of seeds, sow more seeds than you think you need in order to increase your chance of success. Be prepared that you may not get any to germinate.

Seed sowing packets with expiry dates

2. Garden Hygiene 

When starting seeds in containers, make sure you are using clean tools and equipment such as pots, trays or modules if they have been used before. This helps to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. 

3. Timing

Sowing seeds at the right time is key to success. By giving plants the optimal growing conditions, we increase the chances of a strong plant and a successful harvest.

Sowing seeds too early or late is one of the most common gardening mistakes I see amongst new gardener’s here in the UAE. It almost always ends in disappointment. We all get excited about starting the season, but a little bit of patience can be the difference between a failed crop and an amazing harvest! Patience (and compost) is a gardener’s best friend.

Most seed packets indicate the best time of year for seed sowing. There is only one seed company (Franchi) I have found which provides dates for the Middle East Region. If the seed packets don’t indicate specifically for this region, ignore the sowing timings as they are not suitable for the UAE. 

We created what we believe to be the most comprehensive seed sowing calendar for the UAE to date, which should also be suitable for many other Gulf Countries. Get your FREE copy here!

4. Depth & Space

Most seed packets give information on how deep and far apart to sow seeds. Sowing too deeply and too close together are very common mistakes for beginner gardeners.

Make sure to follow the depth guidance on the packet. Sow thinly and evenly so the seedlings don’t compete for nutrients and light. 

Seed sowing instructions on back of seed packet
Seed sowing success. These turnips are evenly spaced to allow room to grow

5. Use a good soil mix

This is a pretty simple message: get the best soil you can find if you plan to start seeds in pots. Yes, there may be a small difference in price, but not all soil is created equally! Honestly, it will be worth the difference.

Experiment to find which works best for you. Try to find a potting mix that is quite fine in texture, without lumps or big strands of cocopeat.

6. Watering technique 

Just splash some water on the plants and they’ll grow right? Wrong… Watering your seeds and seedlings is literally a matter of life and death!

When sowing seeds, be sure to pre-wet the potting soil, or the ground if direct sowing.

If you are starting transplants in pots, I like to spritz the top of the soil using a spray bottle. This prevent soil and seed disturbance, and reduces the chances of over watering.

Whatever seeds you are sowing, the soil needs to be kept moist for them to germinate. If they dry out, they are dead. Overwatering can be just as bad, drowning the roots.

After your seedlings germinate, water them from below by adding water to a container and sitting the pots in it. The soil will soak up the water it needs by capillary action. After 15 – 20 minutes, the soil should have taken what it wants, so you can go ahead and remove it from the water.

Potted seedlings in tray for bottom watering

After your seedlings germinate, water them from below by adding water to a container and sitting the pots in it. The soil will soak up the water it needs by capillary action. After 15 – 20 minutes, the soil should have taken what it wants, so you can go ahead and remove it from the water.

7. Practice Patience 

As mentioned above, sometimes we just have to be patient. Some seeds take several weeks to germinate. Many seed packets give an approximate germination time.

Hot peppers are a classic, I find the hotter they are the slower they germinate.

8. Indirect seed sowing 

Indirect sowing refers to plants which are better suited to being started in trays, pots or modules. Later, once the plants have had some time to mature and grow stronger, they get transplanted to their final growing position. This makes them more likely to survive conditions in the garden, and it generally applies to crops that are slow to start or have long growing seasons.

Crops suited to starting in containers include:

  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Cucamelons
  • Eggplants
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

If you are particularly organised and everything is grown to plan, sowing in pots prior to planting out can lead to a more productive veg patch. If you know you are going to be harvesting a crop in 4 weeks, you could start a different crop in pots 3-4 weeks prior to harvesting. As soon as the first crop is harvested, pop the plants in pots in its place and get a quicker harvest! This requires excellent planning and is something we will be prioritising this season. 

9. Direct seed sowing

Direct sowing refers to seeds which are sown in the soil where  they will continue to grow. No transplanting will be needed. These tend to be the fast-growing crops which do not tolerate a check in growth, and generally dislike root disturbance.

Some crops which are better sown directly in the ground:

  • Armenian Cucumber
  • Beets*
  • Carrots
  • Corn*
  • Cucumbers*
  • Melons*
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin*
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squash*
  • Turnip

Vegetables in the above list marked with a * can be transplanted if needed, but extreme care must be taken to avoid disturbing the roots.

10. Location, location, Location 

For seeds sown directly in the ground, make sure you have chosen the right place for them. Plants such as tomatoes and squash love the sun, so if you plant them in a shaded corner don’t expect those seeds to turn into big, strong and healthy plants.


This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to forget what you planted and where. Make sure to label your sowings, whether in the ground or in pots!

I hope this article helps you get off to a great start this growing season! As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments below!