How to sow seeds in autumn
Can I really sow seeds in autumn?
Well, yes you can. In fact the early autumn is a perfect time to sow wildflower seeds. They naturally produce their own seed at the end of the summer and left to their own devices, they’ll sow themselves in autumn anyway.
Find out more about Why Autumn Sowing is a Good Thing for UK Native Wildflowers
If you sow in autumn, they’ll germinate within a couple of weeks and then grow a few small leaves before hunkering down for the winter. Their roots will also be busy getting established so that come spring they’ll be raring to go.
With that head start, you’ll get bigger, tougher plants that’ll need less watering (if planted in the ground) and will be well away before the slugs and snails get active. More importantly, you’ll get flowers up to 6 weeks earlier. So, all-in-all definitely worth a go.
Here's our guide to sowing in Autumn.
Right time, right place
If you start too early, then it may be too dry and hard to dig; too late and it may be too wet and muddy. And if you’re really really late it may be far too cold to create the right environment for your seeds to get established.
The perfect time is as soon as the soil is damp enough to easily be able to dig into (or ‘cultivate’ if you want the technical term), which is usually around September or October.
If you’re using a small patch of ground (rather than a container), it’s easier to get the ground prepared when it’s moist underfoot, but not wet. Pick a good spot. It wants to be nice, open and sunny.
Clear the soil of any grass or weeds, then rake it as level as possible and break down any lumpy bits (ideally you don’t want anything bigger than about marble size). Don’t worry if the soil seems poor and gritty – wildflowers don’t mind that - but if it’s heavy and sticky dig in a bit of grit.
If you are using a container, then follow our instructions here, but be mindful of not watering too much (or at all) when it's cold.
Sowing seeds onto the ground
Sprinkle the seeds evenly and thinly across the ground and then rake over gently to just cover the seeds with a very thin layer of fine crumbly soil. Be careful not to bury them or they won't grow!
Top tip: to make spreading easier, mix seeds with a small amount of dry play sand or flour so you can see where you've sown them.
Alternatively, draw shallow lines in the soil with a small stick, and then thinly sprinkle seeds along the groove, before lightly raking over.
Sowing in containers
With autumn sowing it’s particularly important to make sure your containers don’t get waterlogged over winter. Add some grit to the compost and make sure there are plenty of drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Water, water, water
Once you’ve sown your seed, give them a good water. Then stop!
One of the great things about autumn sowing is that you shouldn’t now have to water the plants until spring. Even then, ones in the ground probably won’t need watering at all, unless it gets really dry.
Within a couple of weeks you should see the first signs of seedlings.
If you’ve sown your seeds in straight lines, you’ll be able to spot your seedlings clearly, which makes weeding easier. They’ll grow a little before it gets cold, and then just sit tight until spring.
Create some elbow room
Make sure your seedlings have a little space to themselves. Weeds like the autumn too, so gently remove any you spot. If some of your seedlings pop up too close to each other, you can pull these out just like a weed too.
Critters, birds and other little beasties
As with spring sowing, you’ll need to keep an eye open for these.
Hang some old CDs around to scare off the birds.
Slugs and snails will still come out in warm damp weather. Just after dark is a good time to catch them in the act or putting a bit of grit around the base of seedlings can help. Once it’s cold they’ll disappear anyway.
Your Spring insurance policy
The wildflower seeds you sow in Autumn should withstand anything mother-nature throws at them in the Winter. But there’s no harm in having an insurance policy, so sow some seed in the Spring as well!
That will also ensure you get flowers over the longest period possible.