Top Tips for Starting Seeds in the Ground Outdoors

Close up of a hand planting seeds in the ground.
My Garden Life
April 1, 2024
Table of Contents

By Kelly Miller

Starting seeds in the ground outdoors—known as direct sowing—is an appealing form of gardening. In some ways, it’s the most natural, simple, and straightforward way to grow a plant. Plus, there’s a special satisfaction in putting a seed in the ground and watching it successfully pass through each phase of growth. Direct sowing is also especially attractive to beginner gardeners who feel that transplanting starters or working with seeds indoors involves too many steps and complications.

Planting seeds directly in the ground is a good choice for some plants, in some places, but it’s not always a viable option. Compared to indoor conditions, Mother Nature presents more variables, such as late frosts, soil-drying sunshine, and pests. Therefore, it’s important to be selective about which plants you direct sow and to follow best practices for giving your seeds the highest odds of success.

In the sections below, we’ll cover direct sowing basics, compare this method to transplanting, and discuss which veggies and flowers are good candidates for starting from seed outdoors. 

Vegetable seedlings grown by starting seeds in the ground.

How to Start Seeds in the Ground Outdoors – 4 Basic Requirements

Before starting seeds in the ground, review the seed packet instructions and make sure that the plant species is recommended for direct sowing. Do some extra research on the specific plant’s growing needs if needed, before getting started.

Along with following the recommendations for the particular seeds you’re working with, there are four basic factors to consider that help seeds get off to the best start: air, sun, soil, and water.

1. Air Temperature can Affect Seed Germination

Plants need air to live, but air that’s too cold or too hot can prevent seeds from sprouting and keep young plants from thriving. Thus, time of year and weather conditions are important factors in all stages of caring for a plant, including starting seeds in the ground.

For cold-tolerant plants like carrots and peas, seeds can be put in the ground as soon as the likely last frost date has passed. Some veggie seeds can also be sown in late summer or early fall, timed for an early winter harvest.

Small raised vegetable garden  with lettuce and tomatoes in summer.

2. Seeds Need Ample Sunlight to Sprout

Most veggies and flowers require plenty of sun when starting seeds in the ground. Sow your seeds in sunny areas. In spaces that don’t receive full sunlight, only plant shade-tolerant species.

Close up of cucumber seedlings emerging from starting seeds in the ground.

3. Soil Should Be Amended Before Planting Seeds

Outdoor soil typically requires amending before it’s suitable for growing veggies, flowers, or other plants. Soil prep involves clearing out weeds and rocks, breaking apart clumps, and loosening the soil with a rake or hand tool. Then, you can add amendments such as bagged topsoil, compost, or fertilizer to provide the ideal growing medium for the type of seeds you’re planting.

Woman feeling garden soil with her hands to examine the health of the soil before starting seeds in the ground.

4. A Reliable Water Source is Essential for Starting Seeds

Water is essential for seed germination when starting seeds in the ground. Compared to indoor conditions, outdoor soil can dry out more quickly. Therefore, outdoor seeds and seedlings should be watered daily or as often as necessary to maintain moist soil.

To water seeds, use a light-spraying hose or a spray watering can. Use enough water to make the soil moist, but not soggy. Applying too much water or watering too strongly can flush the seeds out of their spaces. Or, overwatering may result in waterlogged seeds that can’t receive essential oxygen.

A woman watering parsley seedlings in a garden bed using a metal watering can.

Direct Sowing vs. Transplanting

Starting seeds indoors offers the benefit of a climate-controlled environment. Indoors, seedlings are protected from frost, wind, and rain. Indoor seeds also sprout in a sterile environment, with minimal risk of exposure to disease or pests.

Indoor seedlings are easy to organize, monitor, and pamper. On the other hand, starting seeds indoors requires extra materials (containers and potting mix) and involves the extra step of transplanting the seedlings into the ground.

A woman planting seeds in peat pots on an indoor planting bench.

Planting seeds directly, and starting seeds in the ground is a simpler process that doesn’t require containers or transplanting. With direct sowing, there’s no risk of harming seedlings during the transplant process. However, seeds planted in the ground outdoors may be killed by frost, blown away by wind, or eaten by pests. More watering is also needed, since the soil may quickly dry out during sunny days.

Tips for Starting Seeds in the Ground

Direct sowing benefits from an organized approach and a gentle touch. If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve planted or to accidentally disturb the soil.

Here are a few tips for successfully starting seeds in the ground:

  • Avoid walking directly on the area you’re planting—footsteps can compact the soil.
  • Use flags, posts, or  to indicate the location of your seeds so you know the precise areas that need watering and monitoring.
  • Plant two or three seeds per space, not just one, to improve the chances that at least one seed germinates.
  • Water gently to avoid moving the seeds.
  • If your direct sowing process succeeds, seedlings will pop up from the surface with a few days up to around two weeks.

What Are the Best Veggies and Flowers for Direct Sowing?

Seeds planted directly in the ground may encounter colder temperatures compared to plants that are started indoors. Therefore, cold hardy plants tend to be the best options for direct sowing. Additionally, root vegetables (e.g. carrots, onions) and plants with delicate root systems (e.g. spinach) are good candidates for direct sowing because they’re difficult to transplant.

Flowers and vegetables in a raised garden bed.

Vegetables that are commonly recommended for direct sowing include:

Many popular flowers are also content to grow from seed outdoors. Flowers you can confidently direct sow include:

Direct Sowing is a Satisfying and Money-Saving Skill for Gardeners

With the right plants in the right conditions, direct sowing is an efficient, budget-friendly way to grow plants. Planting seeds directly in the ground means you won’t need any containers, indoor space, or tricky transplanting operations. For more ideas on minimalist, cost-saving approaches to growing veggies and flowers, check out our guide to Gardening on a Budget.

A woman watering pepper plants in an established raised vegetable garden.

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