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Seeds to sow early in the year

06 March 2023

When it's cold and dark outside, the budding crop can be felt far away, but some flowers and vegetables have to go into the ground early. Long germination time or long development time mean that some seeds need to be sown already in the first months of the year.

The reason we want to propagate our plants, i.e. sow seeds indoors instead of waiting for them to thaw in the field, is the development time of the plants. They simply take some time to germinate or grow. Before the bright days return in April, we need to grow our pre-seeded plants under grow lights to succeed.

Why do some seeds need to be sown earlier than others?

The varieties that should be sown at the beginning of the year are those that take time to germinate or grow. Usually these are vegetables and flowers that originate from warmer parts of the world, and simply need a bit more warmth than the Nordic summer can provide.

What do I need to think about?

The most important thing when sowing seeds in winter and early spring is that your crop gets enough light once the plant emerges above the soil surface. Without enough light, your efforts are rarely worthwhile. Darkness is likely to result in lanky and weak plants that don't get off to a very good start. These can easily be outcompeted by later seedlings, which, although they start off behind, become plump little plants that are much better off thanks to the light. 

Nelson_Garden_Fröer_att_så_tidigt_Image_1.jpegSeeds sown in January and February need all the extra light they can get. Photo: Annika Christensen

What vegetables can I sow early?

The seeds that should be sown first of all are chili and pepper. Some types of chili can be advantageously poked into the ground already before Christmas. 

February is the time to sow eggplant and artichoke, two heat-loving favorites that want a long summer. Leeks are also worth sowing early.

Even strawberries and wild strawberry are really slow to start, so be patient when it seems to be standing still in the pot. Start early if you want to be able to harvest in the beginning of summer.

A plant that is hardly associated with warmer latitudes, but which nevertheless takes time to grow large, is celeriac. Sow during the first months of the year and be careful with the small plants at the beginning. They are sensitive to both handling and the cold. Once out in the country, it is a hardy plant that stands well into autumn. Celeriac is also slow and is best sown in February.

Nelson_Garden_Fröer_att_så_tidigt_Image_3.jpegCelery is a hardy vegetable that takes plenty of time at the beginning of the season.

Shouldn't physalis be sown early?

Goldenberries, like gooseberries, need to be planted early in order to produce a harvest. Physalis can be a bit slow to germinate so be patient, 20-30 days is not unusual and try to keep the soil moist.

What you must not forget when sowing this early is plant lighting. 

Which flower seeds can I sow early?

Geraniums are sown early to bloom in summer. Heliotrope is slow to start and should be sown early to develop its large, fragrant flowers - ideally as early as January. Smooth lisa, begonia and lobelia are also some varieties that need to get in the ground early.

If you forgot to sow pansies last summer, you have a new chance now. Hopefully they will start to bloom early in the spring and bloom all summer. Pansies are also an excellent autumn flower that can withstand a lot of frost. 

Among our climbers, bell vine needs early sowing. It is mainly for the sake of the flowers that the seeds should be sown in time. So be prepared to give your bell vines something to climb on when they start to emerge and be careful with the fertiliser for bell vines, as for other trailing flowers. Too much fertiliser means that there are more leaves than flowers.

Nelson_Garden_Fröer_att_så_tidigt_Image_2.jpegAn impatient heliotrope – or a forgetful grower – blooming in anticipation of repotting.

What about lavender and giant verbena?

If you want to sow fragrant lavender from seed, it is also a variety that should be sown early. However, lavender seeds need to go through a chill period before germinating, which means it's not plant lighting and heating mats that will help you succeed. Instead, you can sow lavender in small pots and put your seeds out in the cold at the beginning of the year. It is important that it stays cold for at least a month or two.

Giant verbena is also a flower that has a long development period and, like lavender, may need to go through a cold period or stratification as it is called. Giant verbenas bloom from July until well into autumn and are an excellent flower to have in the background of a planting.

What you must not forget when sowing this early is plant lighting.

Am I in trouble if I forget?

As I said, some seeds need to be sown in order to flower in summer or have time to harvest before winter. A later sowing simply means that everything is shifted and there is a higher risk of failure to flower or harvest. The later in the season we approach, the greater the probability of, for example, frost. You can perhaps place a pot-grown chili plant indoors and help with plant lighting, but a large eggplant plant out in the hotbed is more difficult to get the fruits to ripen on.