How to Start and Grow Plants from Seed for your Garden
Starting and Growing Vegetable, Herb, Flower and Other Plant Seedlings
Starting your garden plants from seeds is a great way to start your garden preparation for the season. Growing your vegetable, herb, flower and fruit seedlings from scratch provides so many benefits, including:
- Growing seedlings helps extend the length of your gardening season, which is particularly important to people living in areas with shorter growing seasons.
- You get to plant select varieties that are good for gardening in your area, and even specialty varieties that you may not otherwise be able to find plants for at the local nursery.
Gardening Advice Tip: Make sure, when buying garden seed, that it fits your gardening zone rating.
- It helps protect your garden against pest infestations and plant diseases. Buying plants started from less reputable sources can very easily introduce insects and plant diseases that can spread across your garden.
Sowing Garden Seeds Indoors
How to Plan Your Seed Planting Schedule
When thinking about starting your vegetable, herb and other seeds indoors, you first need to have an idea of when you can set which plants out in your garden (for your climate).
For example: Pepper plants do not tolerate cold at all. They need the ground and air temperature to be at a consistent minimum of 60 degrees to be happy and healthy. On the other hand, broccoli plants love the cool spring weather and don't care much for the heat. So, you would want to start broccoli seeds early so that you can set it out as soon as the ground is workable in the spring. Pepper seeds would need to be started a little later.
Gardening Advice Tip: Figure out when you can safely plant each type of plant outside in your garden, and work backwards on the calendar, allowing time for seed germination, time for the seedlings to grow, and time to harden the seedlings off before planting.
Check the planting requirements for each plant:
What Tools and Materials Are Needed For Starting Garden Seeds
You don't need a lot of equipment to start your garden seeds indoors. But, there are a few things that are necessary.
Heat and Light
First and foremost, you have to have a warm (65 to 75 degrees), well-lit location in the home for your seeds to grow. It doesn't have to be a location with direct sunlight, but if it isn't in a sunny window area, you'll need some form of artificial light (like grow lights).
Your seedlings will grow in nearly any kind of container, but there are certain things to consider.
- Space efficiency. Odd shaped containers take up more space, and you don't fit as many containers in a limited space.
- Cleanliness. To help protect your tender seedlings from any plant diseases or other problems left over from last year, be sure to wash your seed starting containers in a mild bleach solution (and rinse very well), before filling with seed starting mixture.
- Clay pots will suck the moisture out of the soil and into the pot... and dry soil is a certain way to kill (or at least damage) your growing seedlings. If you're using clay pots, be sure to keep the soil well watered.
- Peat pots and poop pots (yes, there really is such a thing) are very friendly and gentle to your seedlings, but they're a little expensive.
Gardening Advice Tip: Consider how many plants you want to put in the garden, factor a little extra for damage, and also your budget when deciding what type of containers to use for your seedlings.
You can make your own potting mix, but it is time consuming and bit messy for indoors. Plus, it is easy enough to find clean potting mixtures that have been pasteurized to kill insects, weed seeds and plant diseases.
Also, you may consider tracking down some milled sphagnum moss. It makes a very lightweight planting medium that's perfect for starting tiny seeds. Try placing a layer on top of your potting (seed starting) mix then planting your seeds, and covering with the moss again to the depth indicated on the seed packet.
Gardening Advice Tip: If you use the sphagnum moss, use warm water (cold water just runs off).
Use high quality seed taken from healthy plants. Know in advance that not all of your seeds will sprout and grow. So, figure that in when ordering the quantity of seeds for your garden. Depending upon the source (and age) of your seeds, you may have a higher germination rate.
Gardening Advice Tip: To avoid fungus diseases in your growing seedlings, make sure you allow enough room so that your seedlings aren't crowded.
It is EXTREMELY important that your seedlings don't dry out. Be careful when starting your seeds that you don't allow the soil to dry out. It's best to water from beneath, if possible, by setting your containers in trays of water, and letting the soil suck the water from the tray up into the container as needed. Otherwise, watering from the "top down" can disturb your seeds or seedlings. Also, watering by using a light spray mister can work without disturbing the seeds or seedlings, if you're patient and careful.
Gardening Advice Tip: I've found it very helpful to place a clear plastic bag or a layer of cellophane over the container, after the seeds have been planted and the container watered. This helps keep the moisture in, and you probably won't have to water it again until the seedlings immerge. When you seed the seedlings starting to grow, remove the plastic.
It's often difficult to distinguish between plants when they are in the seedling stage. Using labels to help you identify them is a good idea. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just functional.
You will need to thin the seedlings at some point, so that they're not crowded. Crowded seedlings invite fungal plant diseases. The best way to thin them is to pinch off the plant where the stem meets the soil. This is a much better way than actually pulling the plant out of the soil, as that can disturb the roots of the plants you want to stay healthy nearby.
If transplanting your seed started plants into large containers, lift them gently by holding a leaf and gently prying loose dirt beneath. Holding the plant by the stem can cause damage to the plant. Plant them in the new container, setting them deeply so that the leaves are just above soil-line. This gives the plant a larger and deeper root system.
Before planting your garden plants outdoors, be sure to check their temperature requirements. Some plants are particular about ground and air temperatures, and it is best to make sure that you don't kill off your lovingly grown seedlings by planting them outside too soon.
Also, take about a week to harden-off your plants before planting them in the ground.
Have a helpful gardening tip (or even a fun story) to share about your seed starting / seedling growing experience? Share it with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Louisa from Norfolk VA says:
"I save toilet paper tubes all winter long. Then in the spring, I make 1 1/2" cuts in the tubes at the bottom, and fold them in, pushing them up a little inside, so there's a flat edge on the bottom. They should make a container with a bottom, and stand flat when you place them on a table or tray. I then use these as my seed starting containers, like you would a peat pot. When the plants are ready, I just plant the whole thing outside and it disintegrates in the garden as the plant grows."
Note: the advice and information contained herein is based upon our experience and study. As with any advice, please apply at your own discretion.