The Secrets to Successful Planting

Get your garden off to a great start with these tips for sowing and transplanting.

By Therese Ciesinski

Photography by Christa Neu


There are a few simple things to keep in mind when planting<br />
your garden6 Plants to Direct-Sow

Carrots. Sow seeds after danger of frost. For even distribution, mix the tiny seeds with sand before sprinkling them in your bed. Cover them with fine soil or more sand, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Carrot seeds can take up to a month to germinate, so keep the soil evenly moist. To speed germination, Gettle suggests placing a 1-by-6 board over the newly seeded and watered-in row to hold in moisture. Check the underside of the board daily for slugs and remove it in about a week.

Corn. Warm soil, above 60°F, is essential for seed germination. Seed heavily (up to four seeds per foot) to make up for any losses to birds; you can always thin later. Corn is wind-pollinated, so to ensure pollination, you must plan on a minimum of 16 plants in a block of four short rows.

Cucurbits. Members of this family include cucumbers, pumpkins, summer and winter squashes, and zucchini. Seeds should be sown after frost. Plant in hills, with six to eight seeds per hill. Space the hills about 6 feet apart, and enrich each one with a large shovelful of compost or well-aged manure. If cucumber beetles are a problem in your area, wait to thin, and then take out the ones with the worst beetle damage.

Lettuce. These tiny seeds need light to germinate, so just press them into the ground and sift some fine soil over them. Though it loves cool weather, lettuce can take a couple of weeks to germinate in cold soil outdoors. Protect seedlings from hard frosts with row covers, newspaper, or sheets. Thin plants to 3 inches apart. Sow seeds weekly for successive harvests.


Morning glories. Sow seeds after the last frost. Nick each with a file or soak them in lukewarm water before planting. Since these vines don’t flower well in rich soil, site them in a place where you haven't added a lot of organic matter.

Peas. Plant peas in early spring, as soon as you can work the ground. Pretreat the seeds with inoculant. Peas will germinate in very cold soil (40°F), but this can take weeks. Pea seedlings tolerate frost better than mature peas.

Before You Begin

  • Decide in advance how many of each vegetable or flower variety you want and where you’re going to site it.
  • Label your plant markers with the variety name and date before you head outdoors.
  • If your shoes get muddy when walking around the garden, then your soil is too wet for sowing or transplanting. Wait for a drier day.
  • If it's been more than a couple of weeks since you’ve turned the soil and prepared your beds, then they’ve probably crusted over from rain. Drag a rake over the area a couple of times to break up the crust (you’ll likely need to weed, too).

Seed-Packet Glossary
Seed packets have their own vocabulary. Here are some terms you’ll need to know.

Average last-frost date. The last day in spring, on average, that your area has experienced a hard frost. Each seed packet tells you how many weeks before or after that date to plant the seed.

Broadcast. To scatter seed over a selected area (as opposed to planting in a row or hill).

Inoculant. Living bacteria that helps peas, beans, and other legumes take nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it in the soil. Peas and beans grow best when they’re inoculated before you sow the seeds. Inoculant is sold in a powdered form and needs to be fresh to work. Buy a new packet every year.

Scarify. To create openings in the hard coats of certain seeds to admit moisture and initiate germination. Large seeds are usually nicked with a file or knife; small seeds may be rubbed gently inside a folded sheet of sandpaper.

Soak. To soften the outer coats of hard seeds by immersing them overnight in warm water. Sow them immediately after soaking, or they will wither and die.