How to sow seeds in autumn

If you can’t wait to get started on next year’s flowers, why not sow them right away? We know what you’re thinking…

Autumn leafCan I really sow seeds in autumn? 

Well, yes you can. In fact the early autumn is a perfect time to collect  and sow wild flower seed. 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. 

If you sow now, 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.

ARU Environment Team twitter

Top tips for autumn sowing

General seed sowing rules apply, but here are our top tips for autumn sowing:- 

Right time, right place – September is the best time to autumn sow wild flowers. After that it’s a bit chilly and your seeds won’t germinate. Pick a good spot. It wants to be nice, open and sunny.
 

Way to sow – just like spring, there’s a couple of different ways you can sow in autumn – either straight onto the ground (the direct approach) or into containers. 
 

Getting prepared – if you’re taking the direct approach, it’s easier to get the ground prepared when it’s fairly dry underfoot. 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.  

Direct sowing – sprinkle the seeds evenly and thinly across the ground and then gently rake over to lightly cover the seeds. Alternatively, draw shallow lines in the soil with a bit of bamboo, and then thinly sprinkle seeds along the groove, before lightly raking over. 
 

Pots – 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 – once you’ve sown your seed, give them a good water. 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.
 

Spotting seedlings – within a couple of weeks you should see the first signs of seedlings. If you’ve sown 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.

Seedlings showing in a plastic container

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 – 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. 

Insurance – your autumn sown plants 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.

Don’t forget to share images of your creations with us on Twitter , Facebook or email pics to [email protected].

Words by Guy Petheram . You can find him Twitter @guypetheram .