Ask the Master Gardener: Dispenser, tape among methods for sowing small seeds

By: Trish Grenfell, Placer County Master Gardener
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Question: Carrot seeds are a bugger to plant since they are so tiny and therefore hard to control. I usually end up wasting most of the seeds in the packet. Please tell me the best way sow my carrot seeds.
Answer: Yes, fine seeds like poppies, eggplant, begonia, petunia, snapdragon and carrots can be hard to sow because they are hard to see, let alone handle. To make matters worse some seed packets recommend planting two or three seeds per hole. You can hardly see the seeds much less count them.
If you don’t have to count the seeds, one method that can help you scatter them is to mix the seeds with sugar, horticultural (sharp) sand, or coffee grounds. This will prevent the fine seeds from clumping together. Using a hand-held seed dispenser or a shaker with adequate holes, sprinkle the seeds across the pot, flat, or your garden plot.
Strive for a uniform dispersal by sowing half the seeds in one direction, then sowing the other way with the remaining seed in a crossing pattern.
Mist the surface to promote good contact with the growing medium. Fine seeds like carrots generally don’t need to be covered, or you can top them with a thin layer of vermiculite. You can thin the seedlings after they sprout. And remember that little seeds dry out quickly.
Seed tapes are another good way to plant fine seeds.  Most garden stores and seed catalogs offer indoor and outdoor tapes. Seed tape has precisely spaced seeds enclosed in an organic, water-soluble material. When planted, the tape dissolves and the seeds germinate normally.
They allow uniform emergence, eliminate overcrowding, and permit sowing in perfectly straight rows. The tapes can be cut at any point for multiple-row plantings, and thinning is rarely necessary.
However, tapes are much more expensive per seed and you may be limited in the number of seed varieties. (They can be useful for most sizes of seed.) The good news is that you can easily make your own. The tape strips (usually 3 inches by 12 inches) can be cut from toilet paper, paper towels, or newspaper. Measure the correct seed placement as per the seed packet and make a mark on the paper. The glue medium goes down the middle of each tape. Your glue will be either a glue stick, white glue, or my favorite — a flour/water paste. Sprinkle the carrot seeds on the glue at the marks and place in the desired location. Cover and mist as per prior directions.
If you want state-of-the-art fine seed sowing, buy pelleted seeds, which are enclosed in an inert material coating for much easier handling. Your once tiny carrot seeds will be large, smooth and uniform for easy placement.
Moisture dissolves the coating. Since they are pre-prepped for quicker germination, they do have a shortened lifespan however. You can’t use them next year but they are the ultimate solution for your carrots this year.