What is surface sowing? Does it help with germination?

An image of basil seeds with a ruler for scale

Surface sowing is a simple enough term – it’s when you sow seeds on the soil surface. That is, you simply sprinkle the seeds on the surface, and don’t cover them up with soil. That’s all.

This method is usually employed in the case of really small seeds – such as those of petunia, basil, or strawberry. Since the seeds are so small, covering them with even a very thin layer of soil might cause germination rate to fall, since the seedling wouldn’t have the energy to push through the soil.

Last year, when I tried growing strawberry plants from seed, I did a little experiment. In one pot I surface sowed them, and in another I covered the seeds with a little soil. Both sets of seeds were from the same strawberry (I use seeds from fresh produce or plants I’ve grown), and the seeds were soaked in warm water overnight. The second batch was covered with around 2 millimetres of soil on average.

I found that the surface sown batch germinated faster, had a much better germination rate, and were healthier from the get-go. Many of the seedlings in the second batch died soon after germination. They seemed to dry up – although my hypothesis is that they were too weak to be able to establish a healthy system.

So, in conclusion, while surface sowing is best done with really tiny seeds – in their case, surface sowing really does net much better results.

Oh, and a tip – when working with tiny seeds, it’s best to try and give them all the extra help you can. So, soak them overnight in warm water, mist them a couple times daily, and keep them in a dark or bright environment (as per their needs), in addition to surface sowing. All the best!


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