There are a few different ways to approach growing flowers for a cutting garden. You can sow the seeds directly in the growing area, you can sow your seeds in trays and transplant later into the plot, or you can buy young plants that are ready to transplant.

I would suggest that the easiest option for those new to gardening would be to drop into your local garden centre and pick up a few trays of your chosen annuals to fast-track your rate to success.

1. Trays: Gardening can be daunting at the beginning, so do not feel like you are cheating by buying young plants. Build up your confidence this season and you can always decide to sow your own seeds next time.

A tray of annuals will cost about €3. You will have a manageable number of healthy strong plants, which is a great place to start. Many people sow too many seeds at the beginning and find they have too many plants. Every garden book I ever read encourages people to start small, and it’s the best advice I could give for the project.

2. Seed Sowing: If you have decided to sow your own seeds, take a little time to set up a work station in your shed. Have everything at the ready: you will need compost, trays or modules, seeds, labels, a full watering can, a pen/pencil and a notebook. I write out the labels before my hands are covered in compost, noting just the variety and sowing date.

Most people in Ireland sow seeds into seed trays or module trays in springtime rather than direct sow, because of the unreliability of our weather. (A seed tray is a rectangular open plastic container with small drainage holes on the underneath; module trays are plastic containers divided up into compartments and come in different sizes.)

Seeds will vary from tiny to large, so you choose the tray accordingly. Generally, seed trays are ideal for smaller seeds and modules are best for bigger seeds. You can re-cycle old household tubs, cartons, yoghurt pots and egg boxes as pots and trays, just make sure to pierce drainage holes. If you have some old trays, make sure to clean them well. You can use a little bread soda to prevent fungal diseases transferring to your seeds.

You can use a multi-purpose compost, although I prefer to buy a seed mix used in my local nursery, as it’s much finer. A small sieve is very handy to use to cover seeds with compost, especially smaller seeds. The seeds will have their own store of energy. It’s important to know the correct depth to sow them at, and the rule of thumb is to sow to a depth similar to their own size. (Each variety of seeds will carry specific instructions, so just follow them.)

3. Starting To Sow: Dampen the compost well, but not so much that it is saturated. Almost fill the seed tray or module with compost, but do not pack it in. A gentle tap on the side of the tray will settle the contents and allow enough space for compost to be added to cover the seeds. If you are sowing let’s say 10 trays, fill all of them at the start and use one of them to gently firm down the compost in the remaining trays. This will even out the compost.

Sow the seeds as directed on the packet. Larger seeds are easier to space out, and for smaller seeds you will take a pinch of seeds and sprinkle as evenly as you can.

Cover seeds with dampened compost and do not forget to insert the label.

Keeping records is important, so just jot down the variety and sowing date.

Some seeds do not like to be disturbed once they have started growing. Sweet peas would be one of the seeds in this category, so it is a good idea to use a 3” pot with three seeds in each pot. They can continue in these pots until they go into the soil.

4. Germination: All you need to know about germination of the seeds is that they require moisture, warmth and oxygen, along with a good compost.

Once you have the seeds sown, where are you going to put them to germinate?

5. Heat and Light: The seeds will need a certain temperature to germinate. Some people place the trays in the airing cupboard just while they are germinating.

Seeds do not need light for germination, but once you can see shoots appear they will need to be put where they will receive sufficient, even light – ideally overhead light – but if light is only from one side, for example if you are using a windowsill, you will notice the young seedling reaching towards the light at an angle. All you need to do is turn them regularly and they will quickly straighten up.

Before I had tunnels, I used to place the seed trays on a windowsill inside or in a crate with an old window as a lid outside later in the season.

I have also used mini-greenhouses to great effect. The secret to these is to find a suitable area and to secure them well. The location should not be too sunny (trays would dry out too quickly) and needs to be sheltered (they are very light and can blow away easily). I found them to be brilliant for raising seed. I secured mine to a heavy pallet and tied to a wall.

6. Water: Remember to keep the compost moist at all times. You will need to check on them often and water as required. I like to stand the tray in water and allow it to soak the water from underneath. Never allow seed trays to dry out.

7. Direct Sowing: The soil needs to be prepared well in advance, as instructed previously. You can either sow the seeds into shallow drills spaced 12-15” apart or you can just broadcast on the soil and lightly rake into the surface.

8. Protection: What you are hoping for are short and strong seedlings. As we are still going to have frosts, you can protect seedlings in the evening with fleece or even a sheet of old newspaper.

I also use a small amount of organic slug pellets to protect my seedlings, so if slugs are a problem, this is an alternative to consider.

More info

Maura Sheehy runs Maura’s Cottage Flowers near Tralee in Co Kerry, supplying cut flowers for weddings and businesses. Call 087-061 2622 or visit