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Planting seeds in Autumn - what you can plant from October onward.

Written by Sarah Talbot

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Posted on 3 October 2021

Did you know that you could plant seeds in the autumn? Most won't do much over winter but get your timing right and you will have much earlier fruit, vegetables and flowers next year.  

Planting Seeds in Autumn

Does planting in autumn work? 

The answer is yes, planting seeds in Autumn really does work.  The process is logical as this is what would happen in nature.

Love-in-the-mist-seed-podFlowers produce their seeds at the end of summer which naturally drop to the ground in Autumn/Fall.  Once on the soil, if temperatures are still warm, some seeds may germinate and be killed off by the first frosts. Fortunately, most plants produce many more seeds than could ever grow into plants though. So even though some sprout and die, others will lie dormant until conditions are right in Spring when they will germinate. This is the process that what we, as gardeners, can try to replicate on our own plot.

Why would we plant seeds in Autumn?

So we know it should work but why do we plant seeds in Autumn? The reason is simple.  If we can take advantage of this process, it gives our plants a head start. Overwintered seeds germinate a few weeks earlier than seed started in the Spring.  So we get an earlier crop plus it frees up time and greenhouse space for more Spring planting.   

Which seeds can be planted in Autumn?

Not all plants can be sown in Autumn.  Some perennials and some annuals can be, but not anything which is half-hardy or tender as these will not reliably survive a wet/cold winter...so stick to hardy, whether they are annuals or perennials.

We will list a few key candidates for autumn planting here but there are many more so if in doubt, look up online if the plant you want to sow is hardy or check the recommendations on the seed packet. 

Pink-sweet-pea-flowers-sown-from-seed-in-autumnSweet peas are the perfect thing to plant from October onward. Use one seed per Rootrainer cell.  Pinch out to encourage bushier plants then harden off in early spring by putting out during the day, gradually lengthen the time spent outdoors. Plant out in their flowering position from the beginning of May but keep an eye out for late frosts.  

Hardy or cool-season annuals, such as Love in The Mist and Delphiniums and vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, leek, onion, garlic, and spinach can all be planted now. 

Garlic-bulb-showing-clovesDid you know: Garlic actually needs a low temperature for the bulb to split into cloves?  Garlic must have more than a month below 10°C or this process - known as vernalization - won’t happen.  If the crop doesn’t get this blast of cold the garlic will form one big, solid bulb instead of individual cloves.  These are still just as tasty to eat.  Just not as convenient for cooking unless you like a LOT of garlic!    

Save your tender vegetables like cucumber, aubergine, peppers, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons until Spring sowing.

How to Plant Seeds to Overwinter

Outside

It is best to wait until the garden is dormant to prevent 'over-achievers' getting killed by the frost.  Waiting until after the first frosts will also give the advantage that weeds that may compete with them will be dormant.

Remember to choose your plants' position based on the amount of light or shade there will be in Spring & Summer.  What seems like a sunny spot may be in deep shade once the trees have their leaves again.  

Prepare your bed as you would for other seeds. Clear the space of weeds, turn the soil, sow seed evenly as per the packet instructions.

Inside

If you have an unheated greenhouse, plant house, cold frame or even space beside a sheltered wall then your seeds can be sown in autumn.  Sow in small pots, seed trays or Rootrainers and simply leave them. There is no need to water unless they are obviously dry.  

Rootrainers-planting-cells-showing-rootsRootrainers are particularly good for any plants that hate root disturbance.  When plants are moved from a standard pot they experience root shock.  This causes the plant to stop growing and delays it becoming established.  Because Rootrainers open like a book the plants can be transplanted and carry on growing without pause. If you see anyone with early Broad beans or sweet peas flowering all summer long then this is probably their secret! 

Spring sprouting 

Whether sown inside or outside, in Spring your seeds will sprout early. Keep weeds at bay as you see them appear, so they don't get swamped. Depending on the variety, they will reach maturity up to 5 weeks earlier than ones planted in Spring. 

Another trick you may like to try is to warm the soil before you plant them out.  Simply place a Fleece Blanket or Cloche, such as the Kitchen Garden Cloche, over the bed they are to go into a few weeks before you are ready to plant out.  

If you do this, then you can enjoy the extra time you now have to dedicate to other spring planting.  Of course you could just wipe down the greenhouse, tidy the shed and enjoy a relaxing plant free winter instead.  But don't blame us when you turn up in Spring and your plot neighbour is already harvesting! 

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