Seed Starting: As Easy as 1-2-3

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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 fresh 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 °F (10 °C). 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?

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Carrots, lettuce, sunflowers: these are examples of easy plants to grow from seed sown directly outdoors. Photo: http://www.ezfromseed.org

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.

Carrots, lettuce, flowers, tomatoes, herbs, and many other garden favorites are easily started from seed.

Seeds to Start IndoorsSow Indoors or OutSow Directly in the Garden
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Eggplants
Herbs (most types)
Onions
Peppers
Perennials
Tomatoes
Basil
Cucumbers
Kale
Lettuce and other salad greens
Melons
Nasturtiums
Parsley
Spinach! Squash
Sunflowers
Swiss Chard
Zinnias
Arugula
Beans
Beets
Carrots
Cilantro (coriander)
Corn
Dill
Parsnips
Peas
Radishes
Spring Onions
Turnips

Tip: First plan your garden; then order your seeds. Sometimes the fastest vegetable varieties, most interesting herbs and old-fashioned flowers such as larkspur, four o’clock and love-lies-bleeding are available only from seed.

Where Should I Put My Indoor Seedlings?

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A sunny window may provide enough light or you may need to purchase lights. Photo: http://www.cornerstoneacresfarm.com

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 grow lights. Cool white fluorescent tubes will do the job and are much more economical than the full spectrum grow lights. Place them two to four inches (5 to 10 cm) above your seedlings, and keep them on 16-18 hours a day.

A Brief How-To

Supplies

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Gather your supplies. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les Idées du jardinier paresseux: Semis

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 pots, or anything that is at least 2 inches in depth. Be sure to add drainage holes if your container has none.

Sowing Indoors

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There are all sorts of containers you can repurpose for seed starting. Photo: http://www.greeningz.com

Seeds can be germinated in recycled containers and then transplanted into individual cells. Some plants—beans are a good example—don’t need to be started indoors. Sow them directly into the soil.

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.

Heat mat. Photo http://www.feathersinthewoods.com

Tip: If you are starting seeds in a cool space, purchasing a heat mat to place under your seedling trays will speed germination. Once seeds sprout, remove the tray from the mat.

Transplanting

If you sow rows of seeds in flats or recycled containers, place them no closer than 1/2 inch (1.25) apart. Transplant seedlings into individual cells or pots when they have one or two sets of true leaves.

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.

If Sowing Directly Outdoors

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You can start fast-growing plants outdoors. Photo: http://www.wyevalegardencentres.co.uk

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 (2,5 cm) apart when sowing directly in the garden, otherwise plants will be overly crowded, and will not thrive.

Tip: Thinning is critical to garden success! With the exception of baby greens, all seedlings should be thinned according to packet instructions.

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The above article is derived from a press release by the Home Garden Seed Association (www.ezfromseed.org) which promotes gardening from seed – the easy, economical, and rewarding way to garden. Visit their website for gardening articles and information about their members and their activities. Members’ retail websites can be accessed through the “Shop Our Members Online” page.

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