Seed Starting: As Easy as 1-2-3

Get a jump start on the growing season! Do you know the steps to take? What is the importance of fresh seeds? How light and heat play a role? Starting seeds and monitoring them is a great family project that will give your garden a head start this spring. The Home Garden Seed Association has just released a fantastic guide to help you get started. Below please find parts of the release. For a complete downloadable guide, click here. 


The Steps

If you've never grown anything from seed before, you might be surprised at how easy it is to have a beautiful, productive summer garden starting with a few packs of seed in spring.

1. Use quality seed.

You may be tempted to use old seed, but think first. Was it kept in someone's garage? Is it more than two years old? If in doubt, buy new seed from a trusted seed seller.

2. Maximize light.

Whether natural or artificial, adequate light is necessary for good seedling growth.

3. Don't start your indoor seedlings too soon.

The earlier in the season you start your seeds, the more likely it is that your seedlings will be weak and spindly. Determine your seed starting date by reading the seed packet to see when it is safe to plant seedlings outdoors. For tomatoes, this is generally when nights are above 50 degrees. Count back a month to 6 weeks. NOTE: Just because a tomato plant can go outside immediately after danger of frost, there's no law saying it must. 


What seeds should I start indoors in containers?

Not every type of seed needs to be started indoors. In fact, many are best sown directly in the garden soil. In some regions it makes sense to start seeds of spring greens indoors to get an early crop, and then sow more of the same greens outdoors to extend the growing season. Download full article above for specific seed suggestions. 


Where should I put my indoor seedlings?

A south or west-facing window will provide adequate light, assuming you wait until the longer days of April to begin planting. If you have a sun porch, even better, but keep an eye on the weather; you'll need to provide heat on frosty nights. If natural light is not available you can purchase lights. Cool white fluorescent tubes will do the job, and are much more economical than full spectrum grow lights. Place them two to four inches above your seedlings, and keep them on 16-18 hours a day. 


A Brief How-To?

1. Supplies

For indoor seed starting, get a good soilless mix and some containers. These can be recycled plastic containers from the grocery store, half-gallon milk containers sliced lengthwise, purchased trays and cell inserts, biodegradable pans, or anything that is at least 2 inches in depth. Be sure to add drainage holes if your container has none. 

2. Planting Indoors

Moisten the soil mix to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge before planting seeds. A rule of thumb when it comes to starting tomatoes indoors in cell packs: plant two to three seeds in a cell and thin to one when the seedlings grow their first set of true leaves. This goes for all plants that you are starting from seed, including peppers, eggplants, squash, annual flowers, and even greens.

3. Transplanting

If you sow rows of seeds in flats or recycled containers, drop them no closer than 1/2 inch apart. Transplant seedlings into individual cells or pots when they have one or two sets of true leaves.

4. Seedling Health

Seedlings thrive when provided with plenty of light and enough water to keep the soil moist but not wet. Begin feeding them with a  half-strength liquid fertilizer when they have at least two sets of leaves. If possible, bring them outdoors on warm sunny spring days.

5. If Planting Directly Outdoors

Read the packets of root vegetables, greens, beans, and other plants for seedling spacing. Gardeners, especially beginning gardeners, tend to sow seeds too closely. Try to scatter seeds of greens and root vegetables about an inch apart when sowing directly in the garden, otherwise plants will be overly crowded, and will not thrive. 

Thank you to the Home Garden Seed Association for this very informative guide. Please visit for more gardening articles.