How to Plant Seeds Outdoors with Direct Sowing

Planting seeds outdoors is one of the smartest ways to both 1. get an early start on your garden and 2. to reap a lot of variety without spending much money. Although it can be challenging to succeed with direct sowing, the benefits make this process totally worth it. All you’ll need are a few seeds and some prepared soil.

The Types of Seeds You Can Sow Outdoors

You can sow flowers, vegetables, herbs, and legumes outdoors. There are some plants that actually require being started outdoors, rather than indoors. You can also germinate many seeds indoors. Here are some ideas for plants that truly thrive being planted outdoors:

  • spinach
  • bok choy
  • lettuce
  • radishes
  • carrots
  • broccoli
  • asparagus
  • beets
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • swiss chard
  • sunflowers
  • calendula
  • marigold
  • zinnias
  • basil
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • lavendar
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • pinto beans
  • black beans

The Hill Method Vs. the Trough Method

There are two methods when it comes to direct sowing–the hill method and the trough method. The trough method is the most beginner-friendly and straight-forward, so it’s the one we recommend, although there are pros and cons to both methods of sowing seeds outdoors.

The Hill Method

This method is ideal for in-ground gardens and not typically recommended for raised bed gardens. The hill method requires shaping a mound in the soil and sowing seeds in the mound. The elevated germination site allows greater warmth and helps seeds germinate. To follow the hill method: create a mound of soil that is four to six inches higher than the surrounding soil. Sow the seeds directly into this mound and pack them in tight. Water and maintain as needed.

The Trough Method

The trough method is the simplest way to sow seeds. Simply carve out a shallow trench in your soil, about two inches beneath the surrounding soil, and sprinkle the seeds into this trough. Fun fact–the trough method is where “little furrow” gets its name!

radish seeds sprouting on moist soil

How to Plant Seeds Outdoors

To learn how to plant seeds outdoors, you’ll need to start by making a plan for your garden. Because every plant has different needs, including when the ideal planting date is, it’s a good idea to come up with a planting timeline. You can find one in our garden planner.

Step 1 – Research Your Plant

Some seeds should be started outdoors only after the last average annual freeze date. Others may be started four weeks or more before this date. It’s important to learn when your seeds need to be sown, and to mark your calendar. Make sure to read the back of your seed packet and read up on it online to avoid making any mistakes.

Step 2 – Determine Its Needs

There are several key things to look for with each seed.


Some seeds need to be planted just a half inch beneath soil, while some need to be planted inches into the soil. Make sure to follow the instructions carefully for strong and healthy plants.


Some plants need only an inch or two from others, like carrots, whereas some might need as much as half of a garden bed. It’s helpful to imagine how large the full size plant will be. For example, when planting onion bulbs, it’s helpful to imagine how much space the full size onions will need when spacing out your bulbs.

Soil Needs

Make sure that you plant your seeds in a bed that is prepared for that plant. Pay attention to sunlight, shade, and companion planting to ensure that your plant will grow to be strong and healthy.

holes for seeds in soil and shovel with seeds

Step 3 – Sow Seeds

Once you know where and how to plant seeds outdoors, start planting! To sow seeds, you’ll need to dig a small hole into the soil. Typically, inserting a finger or two into the soil creates plenty of depth, just make sure to stick to the correct length according to your package directions. Then, you’ll sprinkle in a seed or two per hole, depending on the plant. Otherwise, stick to the trough method!

Step 4 – Maintain Seeds

Water seeds regularly, depending on the plant. Don’t make the mistake of overwatering or underwatering, as both are likely to cost you your plant. You want to maintain a moist consistency in your soil while you’re seeds germinate, then to start monitoring water depending on the plant’s needs.

Once your sprouts have shot up, thin out the seedlings so that only a few sprouts remain and can grow strong roots. Make sure to keep your soil fertilized. Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and nurture your seedlings so that they can mature into happy young plants. Learning how to plant seeds outdoors is an art, and the best way to get better at it is simply to get started.

swiss chard and carrot seeds sprouting

When to Plant Seeds Outdoors

This is the tricky part, as some seeds can be planted weeks before the last annual frost date, and others can only be safely planted after any risk of freeze is gone. In the same way that you’ll want to follow a schedule for starting seeds indoors, it’s smart to follow a schedule for planting seeds outdoors. Otherwise, you might end neglecting to plant seeds on time and have to wait until the next planting season.

Here are some guidelines for what to plan to start outdoors before the last average annual freeze, and what to plant after the last average annual freeze. (Remember, these are general guidelines. Always refer to your seed packet for specific instructions).

Seeds to Sow Outdoors Before the Last Average Annual Freeze:
  • carrots
  • cabbage
  • brussels sprouts
  • swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • arugula
  • bok choy
  • spinach
  • garlic
  • celery
  • onions
Seeds to Sow Outdoors After the Last Average Annual Freeze:
  • black beans
  • chickpeas
  • basil
  • parsely
  • cilantro
  • dill
  • chives
  • peas

Answers to Your Questions About Sowing Seeds Outdoors

Can you plant seeds directly outdoors?

Yes! Planting seeds directly outdoors is called the direct sowing method. Some seeds prefer being planted outdoors rather than indoors. Read your seed’s packet to find out what your seeds need.

How to get seeds to germinate outdoors?

Simply water and maintain seeds each day, and they’ll germinate on their own. Remember: it takes one to two weeks for most seeds to germinate outdoors–so be patient!

Flower seeds to sow directly outside?

Some popular flower seeds to sow directly outside are Forget-Me-Nots, Marigolds, Poppies, Zinnias, Sunflowers, Calendula, Alyssum, Amaranth, and Moonflower.

How to sow seeds in pots?

To sow seeds in outdoor pots, follow the same method you would for all other outdoor gardening. Fertilize your soil, choose a location with adequate sunlight, sow seeds, and water regularly.

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