Ideas & Inspiration

Mind These Do’s and Don’ts When Starting Seeds

How to Start Seeds Indoors
Seed storage crate

Most vegetables will need to be started six weeks before the average date of the last frost in your area. The seed packet will outline the information you need to get started – pay close attention to the “days to germinate” and add the “days to maturity.” Working with your area’s last frost date, use this sum and count backward to get the ideal date to begin planting.

Do's for Seed Starting
Gardener thinning seedlings

Do start with seeds packaged for the current season. You can use older seeds, but they lose viability over time. Test viability of older seeds by placing 10 seeds an even distance apart on a damp paper towel. Roll the towel up and put in a plastic bag. Leave the rolled paper towel in a warm spot for two to five days and check to see which seeds are germinated. The ratio of germinated seeds will be about the same for the entire packet.

While some seeds sprout when planted directly in the soil, most need a bit of help to get started. Simply soak seeds in warm water for 2 to 4 hours to soften. Large seeds, such as beans, like to be soaked overnight. Read the instruction on the seed packet to ensure the optimal conditions for your seeds.

Do start with the right materials. Seed growing media like potting mix is far better than ordinary garden soil. When used with growing kits or peat pots, it will give your seedlings the fast root development they need.

Do plant seeds to the proper depth; the tip of a pencil eraser can help press small seeds into soil. Count on three seeds per pot. Larger seeds can be planted two per pot.

Do keep the seed starts warm. Warm temperatures help the seeds germinate. Special heating mats will provide consistent temperatures.

Do lightly vent the bag or dome when seedlings emerge from the soil. When the second set of leaves emerge — known as true leaves — remove the cover and nourish the seedlings with an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer added to the watering tray once a week.

Do provide light after germination. A sunny window will work, but grow lights will offer a consistent source. Keep seedlings close to the light. Seeds that are too far from the light will stretch, making for leggy seedlings.

Do thin seedlings when they are several inches high, according to seed packet instructions. This will ensure the strongest seedlings will go into the garden.

Don'ts for Starting Seeds
Transplanting seedlings in the garden

Don’t place trays near drafts which can dry out the seedlings. Cover the seedlings to regulate the moisture level.

Don’t forget to water. Overwatering is as bad as no watering. Use a plant mister, spray bottle or small watering can for even watering.

Don’t forget to check on your seeds every day. Lights fail, heaters come unplugged, freezes happen. There are a lot of variables at play here. Check on your systems each day to make sure your seeds are thriving.

Once the soil warms to 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, the seedlings will be nearly ready for the garden. But remember that before transplanting, they need to be “hardened off,” or acclimated to the outdoors.

Tip: If you’ve never tried germinating your own seeds before, some easy seeds to start with are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons, and both winter and summer squash.