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Alpine Seed Sowing

March 25, 2019

Our beginner alpine gardener takes on alpine seed sowing as if she’s climbing Mount Everest…!

I’m not new to growing plants from seed. But faced with 23 packets of potential from the Alpine Garden Society’s seed exchange I was a little apprehensive – feeling not unlike a hiker at base camp ready to climb Mount Everest.

In the tiny waxed envelopes from the AGS team, I knew I had some stunning plants to add interest to my garden troughs, pots and beds. Like the prospect of the view from the top of Mount Everest, the thought of these beauties made me take my first step…

Step 1 – Buy Alpine Seed Sowing Kit

Alpine seeds ideally need a free draining seed compost mix. The notes accompanying my seeds suggested a mix of equal parts John Innes No.2 compost, multipurpose compost and potting grit. I’d run out of all three so off I popped to my local garden centre to stock up.

While there, some heavy-duty seed trays caught my eye. I’m trying to reduce how much plastic I use in the garden and, since these are great quality, they will do away with the need to buy new, less durable pots each year. I also liked the small size, enabling me to sow only a few seeds at a time.

Step 2 – Mix Alpine Seed Compost

I used a bucket to create an alpine seed sowing mix of:

  • 1 part John Innes No.2 compost
  • 1 part multipurpose compost
  • 1 part potting grit

Then I filled my little seed trays, leaving enough space at the top for a covering of grit later.

Step 3 – Soak Alpine Seed Trays

Next, I stood the filled alpine seed trays in a deep dish of water. This allows the compost to soak up enough water to aid germination without becoming waterlogged. The technique is recommended by the AGS and I use it for all my seeds.

Another advantage of this method is that you won’t need to water from above after planting. This is helpful because many alpine seeds are teeny and watering from above can move them around, landing them too close together to prick out safely later. If you do need to water after planting, though, a top dressing of grit will stop them moving about as much.

I stood my trays for about 20 minutes until I could see that the water had soaked up to the surface. Then I took them out ready to sow the alpine seed.

Step 4 – Write Alpine Seed Labels

The compost soaking time gave me a good chance to organise my labels. 23 seed trays is a lot to keep track of, so labelling is important. I chose to write both the name of the plant and the AGS seed exchange number. This lets me refer back to the AGS’s planting notes.

My labels are reused plastic ones with names written in permanent marker so they won’t fade.

Step 5 – Sow Alpine Seeds

It was a bit tricky to distribute the alpine seeds evenly across the seed tray as many were so small. I found the best way was to empty the packets into my palm, then pinch and sprinkle. Like sprinkling salt on a boiled egg.

It’s worth tapping the little envelope to make sure you got all the seeds out. Each one is precious.

Step 6 – Top Dress with Grit

To finish, I spread a fairly coarse horticultural grit across the top with a trowel and my fingers.

Step 7 – Place Alpine Seed Trays Outside

The AGS notes say to place sown seeds outside, so I lined them up against my coldframes. I put them directly on the ground as standing them in a plastic tray would risk waterlogging. And, if there’s one thing most alpines hate, it’s being stood in water.

Meanwhile, we had the second heavy snowfall of this winter and my alpine seeds were covered with snow on their very first night. Eek! Maybe I should have put them in the open coldframes, where the lids would have sheltered them? But I reasoned that snow would’ve fallen on them in the wild where these plants would still thrive.

Step 8 – Wait…!

The hardest part was waiting for my alpine seeds to show signs of life. Six weeks after sowing, I was rewarded with visible shoots in five of the trays.

I’m well on my way up Mount Everest!

Image of Katharine Woods Katharine Woods

Our beginner alpine gardener, Katharine is a busy mother of three living in the Chiltern Hills. She'll be detailing her experiences with growing alpines and hardy plants in her own garden. Katharine also writes her own blog, The Tea Break Gardener, documenting the wide variety of plants she grows, from perennials to houseplants.