Preparing seedlings in a nursery

Sprouting seeds on a nursery plot

Sowing seeds in a nursery has many advantages, the greatest of which is that it enables certain plants to start growing in ideal conditions.

A sowing nursery is a small, well-prepared patch of soil where seeds are sown and started. Young plants are then transplanted one or more times until they reach their final growing bed in your garden or vegetable patch.

A sunlit spot of your garden protected from wind will be the perfect place for seedlings to start.

Steps to prepare a nursery plot for sowing

  • Clear the plot to clean it and remove roots, rocks and weeds.
  • Break up hard soil to make it lighter.
  • If needed, add a bit of organic matter (manure and seaweed-based fertilizer), mixing it into the ground.
  • Dig furrows with a spacing of 3 to 6 inches (10 to 20 cm) depending on the plant you are sowing.
  • Sow the seeds in a line (for vegetables) or in seed holes (larger seeds), spreading them out evenly.
  • Fill in or cover with seedling soil mix.
  • Press down lightly with the reverse side of a rake.
  • Water generously.

It’s important to note that in the nursery, plants are much closer together than they will be later on. Upon transplanting to the growing bed, the correct distance is set so the plants can thrive without competing.

Advantages of preparing seedlings in a nursery plot

Nurseries are excellent because they help maximize what nature has to offer. Production is increased for a given plot of land and the growing season is extended. More harvests and more flowers!

Saving space

You only need about one-tenth the surface of your final garden to really get things going. As soon as seedlings have grown enough, you transfer them to their growing bed and the sowing space becomes available to start later crops.

In the vegetable patch, some harvests can grow one after the other. This is kind of like crop rotation, but instead of thinking year after year, you’d plant several crops one after the other within the same growing season.

  • Normally, it’s difficult to do this if you start plants from seed directly in the growing bed: there isn’t enough time to harvest the first one, but the second crop needs sowing to mature before winter sweeps in.
  • With a nursery, you extend your growing season by a total of two months! The first crop is started one month earlier, and is thus ready for harvest one month earlier.
  • And one month before harvesting the first crop, you start your second crop in the now-vacant nursery. Upon harvest of crop number 1, seedlings of crop number 2 are already a month old and ready for transplant. They’ll have plenty of time to make it to harvest within the year.

Thanks to the nursery, the same plot produces two or more harvests!

Saving efforts

Less weeding! Indeed, you only have to prepare a smaller plot initially. Higher sowing density of your target plants means they crowd out other types of weeds without much effort.

Also, watering is easier since, at this stage, the surface you need to cover is smaller.

Overall, working on a smaller surface at the beginning makes it easier to manage. It’ll give you time to prepare the final growing beds without having to hurry too much.

Saving seeds

The usual practice when sowing directly in the growing plot is to sow more seed than needed. As they sprout, you’d thin the weaker seedlings out so that remaining seedlings have enough space to grow large. This means that, in the end, only 10 or 20% of seeds actually made it to “being useful”.

When you start seedlings in a nursery, only start the number of seeds you have space for later. Since you’re transplanting them as they grow, there’s no need to thin and waste seeds!

Avoiding disease

It’s much easier to protect a smaller plot against pests and diseases, than it is a larger one. For example, a short fence will keep out deer or rabbits: setting it up on a small surface won’t cost as much. Sprouts mature safely and when comes the time to transfer, they aren’t as appealing to these nibblers.

As regards fungal diseases, it’s also more convenient to apply treatments or to prepare soil on a smaller surface. For damping off especially, the sprouting time is when plants are most vulnerable. A nursery is easier to handle and prepare than many seed holes or rows spread over a wide area.

Lastly, you can create decoy plants to attract pests to the other end of the garden. For example, nasturtium is much more appealing to aphids than anything else. Plant them in a remote corner and you’ll notice that your nursery will grow virtually unaffected. For best results, line your nursery area with pest-repelling plants such as lavender or French marigold.

Disadvantages

It sometimes feels like more work and labor, though. Indeed, seedlings need transplanting, sometimes multiple times.

Flowers and vegetables that are best sown in a nursery

A few ideas for vegetables – celery, broccoli, cauliflower, headed cabbage, kohlrabi, ornamental cabbage, fennel, leek and chard

A few ideas of flowers – Amaranth, chamomile, cup-and-saucer vine, colocynth, foxglove, cowpea, wallflower, heliotrope, gypsophila, forget-me-not, nemesia, carnation, daisy, papaver poppy, pansy, beardtongue, larkspur, oxeye daisy (common daisy), castorbean, hollyhock, sage, campion, ornamental tobacco and violet

Smart fact about nursery sowing

For the end of the season, plant green manure in your nursery plot. In Spring, work it into the soil for maximum fertilizer and drainage!

Nursery area with flowers growing

Starting seeds in a nursery on social media

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Picture related to Starting seeds in a nursery overlaid with the

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Sprouts starting (also on social media) by Nic McPhee under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Flowers in a nursery area by Leonora Enking under © CC BY-SA 2.0