How to Start Seeds Indoors

Starting plants from seed has many practical benefits: You save money, get a head start on the growing season, and choose from varieties far beyond those locally available. You also get to experience the joy of watching a seemingly lifeless seed sprout into a living plant.

A seed is a plant embryo and its initial food supply is stored within a protective coating. Seeds remain dormant until a combination of moisture, temperature, air, and light triggers germination.

Starting Times

Knowing when to start seeds indoors takes some backward thinking. Find out the average date of the last frost in your area and the number of weeks before that date you should start a particular seed. (The number of weeks varies and is listed on the seed package.) Then count backward on the calendar from the average last frost date.

As a general rule, start most seeds six to eight weeks before your average last frost date. If you start seeds too early, you’ll have to keep the

How to Start Seeds in Containers

Fill your containers with moistened seed-starting mix.

Here’s a hint: Many peat-based seed-starting mixes repel water when they dry out completely. Moisten the mix by putting some in a container or bag with a small amount of warm water and stirring it well.

You can use pretty much anything you want for your containers. A cardboard egg carton makes an excellent biodegradable seed-starting flat, as do cut-down milk jugs, yogurt cups, nursery flats, and disposable aluminum pans. You can also purchase biodegradable peat pots that can be set in the ground when it’s time to move seedlings outdoors. Whatever you choose, make sure the container has holes in the bottom for good drainage.

Seeds are a little fussier about what medium you start them in. Because seeds contain enough food to support the germinating seedlings in their first days, they don’t need to start in an especially nutrient-rich medium. Use a sterile, weed-free seed-starting mix that holds water well. Good commercial seed-starting mixtures are available….

Step 2: Plant the Seeds

Sow seeds by scattering them evenly over the surface of the seed-starting mix.

Here’s a hint: If you have really small seeds that are difficult to sow evenly, mix them in a saltshaker filled with sand. Mix them up and shake the seeds out with the sand.

Note: Some types of seeds need to be covered by seed-starting mix to sprout. Others will not sprout if they’re covered up. Check to see if your seeds have any special requirements when you sow them.

Many seedlings look alike, so labels are a good idea. Write the plant names on frozen-dessert sticks or other labels, and stick them in the soil. Keep your seed packages for reference.

Step 4: Maintain Humidity

 in a warm, humid environment. So loosely cover your containers with clear plastic wrap or a clear plastic cover to help hold humidity.

Keep your containers out of direct sun, otherwise too much heat may build up and bake your seeds. Also: Don’t wrap the plastic cover too tightly; your seedlings need fresh air, otherwise they’ll rot.

You must keep your seed-starting medium moist — but not soggy — until sprouts appear. Small containers dry out quickly, so check them often.

Plant Thinning

As seedlings develop their first set of true leaves (after the initial seed leaves), thecontainers will become crowded, and you’ll need to thin them. It’s hard to get rid of healthy plants, but if you let the crowding continue, all the plants will suffer and die.

Keep the largest, healthiest seedlings, and pull out unwanted plants or cut off their stems at soil level, leaving at least an inch of space between the remaining seedlings. As the survivors grow and outdoor temperatures reach the 50s and above, the seedlings are ready to harden off (get tough) by being set in a protected area outdoors, such as a garage or porch. After a day or two, they’re ready for the garden.


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