In this garden seed starting How-to, you'll learn all about starting your garden from scratch.
Seed starting 101 - The Best way to start seeds indoors
- Avoid problems up front by using a sterile seed starting mix that's right don't use the dirt right out of your garden. This way you avoid introducing potential disease spores right from the start. As silly as I feel buying soil from my local nursery, for this purpose I do it. There are tons of organic options that work well.
- Choose a good container for starting seeds. You can start seeds in almost any type of container, as long as it's at least 2-3" deep and has holes for drainage. If you are the DIY type, you might want to grow seedlings in recycled plastic cups, milk cartons or diy newspaper seeding pots. I prefer the convenience of seedling trays as they are user friendly and make watering and germination easy, especially if you chose to use a heating mat.
- Sow seeds according to instructions on the seed packet. Sowing seeds the proper depth is crucial to germination and success of the plant.
- Maintain moisture. When you are trying to get seeds to germinate, consistent moisture is so important. Using a spray bottle can help to minimize spill over while your seeds are germinating. Once seeds germinate, check them regularly. If they are vigorous, and their leaves are rigid, they don’t need water. At this point I typically use a small watering can, but I make sure not to overwater. You should be able to tell if the plant needs water by examining the leaves for any limpness, or droopy tendencies.
- If you chose you can use a heating mat and a dome to expedite seed germination, more on that below.
When should I start planting my Seeds
First you'll want to know what the growing zone is where you live, and the typical date for the last possible frost for where you live. Many online resources or your county cooperative extension service can provide this information. Once you know the date, work backward from there. Seed packets and other online information will guide you in how many weeks before the last expected frost to sow seeds indoors. You'll want to do the math because starting seeds too early can lead to leggy plants.
What is the fastest way to germinate seeds
This depends largely on the seeds your planting but some general rules of thumb to get your seeds germinating quickly are as follows.
- Heat. Most seeds prefer warm soil for optimum germination. A preferred range for many seeds is between 70-80 degrees °F. I use a heating mat, this one is a good option.
- Use a dome to keep in the moisture and minimize the probability of the seeds drying out as well as to keep heat in.
- Light. Seedlings need a lot of light. If you're growing in a window, choose a south-facing exposure if possible. Rotate the pots regularly to keep plants from leaning into the light. You can also use grow lights to increase light exposure.
Soaking seeds before planting
Some seeds will germinate faster if you soak them before planting, but no longer than 24 hours to prevent rot.This applies to hard-coated seeds like peas and okra. Refer to the back of the seed packet for information about which varieties to pre-soak if you aren't sure.
Tomatoes, and peppers do not have a hard seed coat and therefore don’t require pre-soaking before you plant them.
What seeds should I start Indoors?
The primary factor that influences what seeds benefit from indoor sowing in most cases is frost hardiness. If the plant is not frost hardy and it needs a longer growing season to produce a full crop, you are better off starting the seed inside and giving that plant a head start. By sowing these seeds indoors, you get a head start with good sized plants into the ground outside at the earliest possible moment. For squash and tomatoes, this means more produce sooner.
Seeds I start indoors include.
Plants I don't start indoors include onions, kale, carrots, beets, lettuce, broccoli and other leafy vegetables. Most cruciferous vegetables actually thrive in cold weather and starting these seeds inside I have found to be a waste of time. For more info on growing cruciferous veggies specifically broccoli and cauliflower, this article is great!
Hardening off seed starts
As the seedlings grow into plants, it’s time to start hardening them off. This process is kind of like toughening them up before planting outside in the elements. I like to start by opening a window a few hours a day so they get a breeze. Then start moving the trays outside, out of direct sunlight, for a few hours. Start at one hour and gradually increase to a full day outside. I then leave them in the seed trays or transplant into larger pots and leave them outside overnight at least once before transplanting them to their final home in my garden beds.