Seed starting is a great way to start your garden and allows you to save money, get a great start on the growing season, and grow more new plants that may not be available to grow in your growing season. Novice gardeners can see starting seeds as intimidating, but we’ll cover everything you need to know to start your garden from simple seeds!
Why start seed indoors?
There are several advantages to planting seeds indoors instead of directly sowing them outside.
1. Better Germination: Starting seedling indoors allows you to regulate the temperature, pick the best soil, provide optimal moisture to your seeds from the comfort of your home. These factors typically allow more improved germination of your seeds compared to direct sowing outdoors.
2. More control: When you start seeds inside, it gives you more control over the growing conditions they will experience. If regulated correctly, you have more control over temperature, light, and moisture to ensure optimal germination.
3. Improved selection: most vegetables have many varieties, and when you start seeds indoors, you have more access to some of these varieties. If you only buy seedlings at your local Garden Center, they might not have the variety you are looking for. Seed packets for some of these more difficult-to-find varieties are more available, either at your garden center or available to order online.
4. Cost savings: Seed starting can be a more cost-effective method to start your garden than buying seedlings from a nursery or garden center. Seed starting does incur some upfront costs, but over the long run, it remains more cost-effective. An example of this is a broccoli packet I bought this spring was 70 cents. It contained at least 30 seeds. Unlike the local Garden Center, I visited last week, which had broccoli seedlings on sale for almost $2 a plant.
5. Earlier Harvest: When starting season doors, you get a head start on the growing season. Starting seeds indoors can be vital if you live in a shorter growing season zone. In addition, you can start frost-intolerant plants indoors and then transplant them outdoors when the threat of frost has passed.
What supplies will you four seed starting?
If you’re planting your seeds indoors, you will need some supplies to make yourself successful here’s a list of essential equipment to seed starting.
Containers: Here, you have significant options for what you plant your seeds in. You can use something as simple as plastic cups to special trays designed for seed starting. These trays come in plastic to biodegradable cells. Pick the option that works best for you. Do make sure that these containers have drainage holes to ensure adequate drainage.
Seed starting mix: Inserting seeds into your medium is essential. There are specific sea starting mixes that are soilless, which are a mixture of peat moss vermiculite and perlite that are available to be purchased. In addition, standard potting foil typically works well for my seat starting Adventures. Finally, avoid using outdoor garden soil as it can introduce diseases and quickly compact, reducing soil drainablity and aeration.
Seeds: Pick high-quality seeds from reputable sources; many large seed companies are good choices. Gurney Seed Company and Jung Seeds are great seed companies to check out. Many have organic seeds available, which are slightly more expensive.
Grow lights: This is not a requirement but highly recommended. Especially if you are starting your seeds season, even placing them by a sunny window may not provide the correct amount of light for your growing plants. A full spectrum grow light will provide adequate light for your seedling to grow while indoors.
Heat Mat: This is optional, but a heat mat can be placed under your seed starting containers, keeping your soil warm. This can speed up the germination of the plants you are trying to grow, which is important for some warm-weather plants, such as tomatoes or peppers. Typically if growing inside your home, the air temperature of your house will provide all the warmth you should need.
Cover your seeds: Cover your seed starting containers to help provide a humid environment that encourages germination. In my case will also protect my containers and young seedlings from curious toddlers and pets. A small indoor greenhouse is the perfect option for this. Need help picking your indoor greenhouse and mastering the art of greenhouse gardening, check out my complete guide for greenhouse gardening! If you are not interested in that type of investment, something as simple as plastic wrap should suffice; make sure it is not lying directly on the soil.
Plant Labels: This is especially important if you’re growing several different plants in the same area. Labeling your plants allows you to keep them organized and keep track of their progress. Many seedlings look remarkably similar the first several weeks after germination.
A good example is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. When transplanting them to your outdoor garden, keeping everything organized will ensure you plant the correct plants in their assigned spots.
A step-by-step guide to Seed starting:
Step 1: Choose your seeds:
As mentioned, quality seeds are extremely important to your success in germination. Choose packets from the larger seed catalogs. In this case, cheaper is not better. Look for seeds labeled organic or heirloom if you want to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Note each plant’s recommended planting death spacing and drawing requirements when planting. Typically these are located on the seed packets themselves.
Step 2: Prepare your Containers
choose the median that you will be starting your season, whether a seed starting mix or potting soil. Fill your container with soil up to about 1/2 inch to the top. Then, moisten your soil before planting and allow it to drain thoroughly.
Step 3: Plant your Seeds
Instructions on how to plant your seeds will be located on the seed package. In addition, it will give you details on planting depth and spacing. A general rule is to plant the seed at a depth of about twice its diameter, but again highly recommend you follow the instructions on the packaging.
The smallest seeds can be sprinkled on the top of the soil, while others may need to be planted deeper. You can make indents into the soil with a finger to the preferred depth so they will be adequately deep enough one soil is added over the top.
I typically plant two to three seeds in each container, giving me 2 to 3 chances for successful germination. If all three germinate, great! We will talk about thinning your seedlings below.
Once planted, cover the seeds of soil and lightly press down to ensure adequate soil-to-seed contact.
Step 4: Cover your Seeds
cover your seed-starting containers to create a human environment that will encourage germination and protect containers from the environment around them. As mentioned, a small indoor Greenhouse works very well here, or something as simple as a plastic wrap around the containers will also suffice. Just make sure the plastic wrap is not in direct contact with the soil, encouraging mold and rotting the seeds.
Step 5: Place your Containers
Place your seed starting containers in a warm, bright location. If you place it on a windowsill, use a southern exposure window. If you don’t have a sunny window, you must provide your seedlings with artificial light using grow lights. Keep the lights on for 14-16 hours daily, about 2-3 inches above the seedlings. If the seedlings are not getting enough light, they will become ” leggy,” which means the best time will become long and spindly and unable to support the leafy growth of the plant.
A heat mat can warm the soil, a consideration for warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers.
Step 6: Water your Seeds Regularly
keep the soil moist and check the soil for watering every one to two days. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Use a watering can that delivers a gentle shower onto the soil so as not to disrupt the seeds.
Step 7: Thin your Seedlings
so you took my advice, and now you have three seedlings in a small little container. Now what. Allow them to grow until they have a few sets of leaves. Now it’s time to send them out and then the seedlings by removing the weakest or the smallest seedlings in each container. We have one or two of the strongest seedlings to continue to grow. This will prevent overcrowding and ensure each seedling has the space and nutrients to grow.
Step 8: Harden Off your Seedlings
The weather is finally improved, and your seedlings have grown. Now it’s time to transplant them into the garden. But hold on; before that, you must harden off your seedlings. To do this, you must slowly expose your seedlings to outdoor conditions such as Sun and wind. You can do this over 7-10 days and start by placing them outside for a few hours each day so they increase the amount of time spent outdoors. This will help their survival when they are transplanted into the garden.
Step 9: Transplant your Seedlings
Now your seedlings are ready to be transplanted into your outdoor garden. Again, reference the seed packet then originally came in for spacing and growth requirements. Dig a hole in your garden that’s slightly larger than the root ball of your seedling. If it’s a plastic container, remove the seedling gently from its container. You can gently roughen up the edges of the root ball of your seedling and then place it into the hole. Fill the soil around the ceiling, lightly stamp down the ground and then water deeply. For a more details about the process of transplanting your seedlings check out my complete seedling transplanting guide.
Tips for Success:
- Keep your seed starting containers clean, consider washing if able between uses to prevent diseases from developing.
- Use a fan to provide air circulation around your seedlings, which can help prevent mold growth.
- Check your seedlings regularly for pests, such as aphids or spider mites. If you notice any pests, immediately prevent them from spreading.
- Don’t overwater your seedlings, as this can lead to root rot—only water when the soil feels dry to the touch.
When to start seeds indoors depends on the plant type you want to grow and your local climate. However, here’s a general guide to starting seeds indoors:
- 8-10 weeks before your last frost date: Start seeds for slow-growing plants, such as onions, leeks, and celery.
- 6-8 weeks before your last frost date: Start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant seeds.
- 4-6 weeks before your last frost date: Start seeds for cucumbers, squash, and melons.
- 2-4 weeks before your last frost date: Start seeds for fast-growing plants, such as lettuce, spinach, and herbs.
These are general guidelines; I recommend referencing this Almanac reference and looking up the frost dates for your area.
Seed Starting Kits:
If you’re new to seed starting, you may want to consider purchasing a seed starting kit. Seed starting kits include everything you need to get started, including a tray, lid, soil, and other accessories to make your seed starting successful. Some popular options include:
- Jiffy Professional Greenhouse: This kit includes a reusable tray, dome, and Jiffy-7 pellets that expand when watered to create an ideal seed starting medium.
- Burpee Ultimate Seed Starting Kit: This kit includes a tray, dome, seed starting mix, and a heat mat to help keep your soil warm.
- Hydrofarm Jump Start Seed Starting Kit: This kit includes a waterproof tray, dome, seed starting mix, and a heat mat, as well as a T5 grow light for providing optimal light to your seedlings
Common Problems and Solutions:
- Mold: If you notice mold growing on the soil surface, it’s likely due to too much moisture and poor air circulation. Remove the plastic wrap and use a fan to provide air circulation—water less frequently and only when the soil feels dry to the touch.
- Damping off: Damping off is a fungal disease that can kill seedlings before they emerge from the soil. It’s often caused by overwatering, poor air circulation, and contaminated soil. If you notice this, reduce the amount of watering and encourage better airflow with a fan, or if you’re using a greenhouse, open the flaps.
- Leggy seedlings: Leggy seedlings are tall and thin with weak stems that can support the leafy growth of the plant. A lack of light usually causes this. Ensure your seedlings are getting enough light, and lower the height of your grow lights if necessary.
- Stunted growth: Stunted growth can be caused by several factors, including lack of nutrients, overwatering, and poor soil quality. Ensure your seedlings get the right amount of water and nutrients and that the soil is well-draining and fertile.
- Pests: Aphids, spider mites, and other pests can quickly infest your seedlings. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to control pests and keep your seedlings clean and debris-free.
Seed starting is a great hobby to save money, jump-start your summer garden, and increase your garden yield. It can be intimidating, but with a bit of knowledge, it is quite straightforward. This guide is a great way to grow your seeds and set you up for a successful growing season. Good luck, and keep gardening!