Why Bother Starting Seeds Indoors?


Seasoned gardeners already know the advantages of starting seeds of annuals, vegetables and others indoors, but if you’re just getting started in the gardening world, you might be asking yourself why you should even bother. Here are a few explanations.

1. Because the gardening season isn’t long enough. Many vegetables and annuals need a long growing season before they start to really perform: tomatoes, peppers, petunias, begonias, etc. Sow any of these outdoors and you won’t have anything but green leaves to show for your efforts before summer’s end. They simply need extra time to mature. True enough, if you have a very long growing season, for example, if you live in Southern California or Morocco, yes, you can sow these directly outdoors. Elsewhere, a few weeks to a few months’ head start is necessary.

Ill.: clipart-library.com

2. Because you simply want faster results. OK, there are other annuals and vegetables that will produce a decent harvest or a reasonable number of flowers from a direct sowing outdoors, so you could do that, but do you really to want to wait that long? Starting seeds indoors shaves weeks off the production time of both vegetables and annuals you sow from seed. If you want to chow down extra-early or have flowers before midsummer, start those seeds indoors.

3. Because you can better control conditions compared to sowing outdoors. In the garden, soil can be cold and wet or infected with disease and insects. That, as you can imagine, doesn’t always result in healthy plants! Certain vegetables and flowers need warmth and no more than moderate soil humidity to do well. They’ll do better when started indoors, where’s it’s always warm and where the gardener can add water as needed. Others have pests and diseases to consider and giving them a head start indoors may keep them one step ahead of their enemies.

Save money. Start seeds! Ill.: http://www.vegetablegardener.com & www.pinclipart.com

4. Because it’s cheaper than buying flats and 6-packs of the same plants. In fact, way cheaper! With a bag of potting soil, assorted recycled containers used as pots, trays and domes, and a few packs of seed, an expenditure of perhaps $20 US, you can literally produce hundreds of dollars worth of transplants. With a six-pack of veggies or annuals often selling at $4 and some even selling for $5 per plant, you don’t need to produce that many of your own seedlings in order to save money. 

5. Because the varieties you want to grow just aren’t sold locally. You might think a big garden center would sell every kind of plant possible, but you’d be wrong. They have, in fact, an extremely limited choice. If you’re looking for a specific heirloom vegetable, a tall snapdragon, or indeed anything the slightest bit out of the ordinary, you simply won’t find plants sold locally. Fortunately, seed catalogs offer plenty of less common plants you can grow from seed.

Sometimes commercially-grown plants have been treated with pesticides. Photo: http://www.tibs.com & worldartsme.com

6. Because you want to be sure you’re growing organic vegetables and flowers. Few commercial growers will guarantee that their plants haven’t been treated with pesticides, including the dreaded neonicotinoids. Or that they haven’t shared shelf space with plants that were thus treated. But when you sow the plants yourself, you get to control which pesticides, if any, are used on them. 

7. You enjoy starting seeds indoors.That may seem unlikely to a beginner, but sowing seeds indoors, watching them sprout and grow, babying them as they come up, etc. can be very, very satisfying.

Choose the Right Ones

Not all vegetables and annuals need the extra benefit of being started indoors. In fact, many do best when you sow them outdoors. Here is a short list of popular annuals and vegetables and their preferred sowing situation. 

The information applied below is largely based on gardening in areas with no more than a moderately long growing season (less than 150 days). If you can garden 9 months a year, many more plants could migrate to the “sow outdoors” column.


Sow IndoorsSow Indoors or
Sow Outdoors
Brussels sprouts 
Ground cherry 
Onion (from seeds*)

Squash (pumpkin,
zucchini, etc.) 


Broad bean 
Sweet corn 

*Sow onion from sets (small bulbs) directly outdoors.


Sow IndoorsSow Indoors or
Sow Outdoors

Bedding lobelia
Black-Eyed Susan 
Castor bean 
Dusty miller
Flowering tobacco
Madagascar peri-
Spike Dracaena
Annual phlox 
China aster 
China pink
Morning glory
Sweet William 

Bachelor’s buttons 
California poppy 
Opium poppy 
Shirley poppy
Sweet pea

Beginners Guide to Sowing Seeds Indoors



Starting plants from seeds indoors is much easier than it may seem.

You’ve never started your own vegetables or flowers indoors from seed? It’s actually pretty straightforward, especially when you choose the right seeds. After all, generations of kindergarten teachers have been showing kids how to start seeds indoors. If a 6-year old can do it, I’m pretty sure you can too!

Why Start Your Own Plants from Seed Indoors?

This is definitely a question worth asking. After all, garden centers and nurseries fill up with trays of annuals and vegetables in the spring. Why bother starting plants yourself?

Here are a few reasons.

  1. To Save Money: Like, lots of money. Those trays of annuals and vegetables add up: some people spend hundreds of dollars a year on them! Seedlings you grow yourself will cost, on the average, 10 times less!
  2. Greater Choice: There is a limit to the choice garden centers can offer… and almost no limit to the choice of plants offered by seed. Some seed catalogs offer over 200 varieties of tomatoes: no garden center can even come close.
  3. It’s Fun: Really, sowing seeds and watching them sprout and grow is fun to do. There’s something very exciting in starting something from nothing and having it come – in this case, often quite literally – to fruition.
  4. An Accomplishment You Can Be Proud Of: When you serve those tomatoes and say “I grew them myself” or present a bouquet of flowers “that I started from seed”, not only will you impress your friends and family, but you’ll impress yourself! Congratulations: it’s a real accomplishment!

Start with Easy Seeds


Marigolds are among the easiest plants to grow from seed and make a great choice for beginners.

There are plants that are easy to grow from seed (this includes most annuals and vegetables), but also plants that are hard to grow that way (this group tends to include perennials, trees and shrubs). And there is a bit of a learning process involved. That’s why I suggest starting with varieties known to be easy to grow from seed such as the following:








Sweet alyssum









Recycle to Save

If money is no object, you can find absolutely everything you need to start seeds in your local garden center: pots, trays, domes, labels, etc. But if you’re not afraid of recycling and reusing, you’ll find you have almost all the materials you need already at home.


Plastic vegetable and pastry containers make a great tray and dome combo for seedlings.

For pots, think of the yoghurt or margarine containers (just punch a hole in the bottom with a nail to allow for drainage), cleaned pots and 6-packs from previous years, etc. Those transparent containers that vegetables, fruits and muffins come in make perfect plant trays: they even come with the matching transparent dome you need! You can make plant labels from old blinds or cut up bleach bottles or aluminium plates. The same watering can you use on your houseplants is perfect for seedlings… or use a pitcher. As for any tools you need for sowing (bowl, spoon, scissors, pencil, etc.), just highjack them from the kitchen or elsewhere in the house.


You really only have to back seeds and soil.

There are only two products you really do need to buy: seeds (even there you could have harvested seeds from your previous year’s flowers and vegetables) and soil. Never use soil from the garden to start seedlings: it may contain insects and diseases and will be far too heavy and compact. Commercial seed mixes are great for seedlings, but potting soil for houseplants and mixes designed for container gardening all work really well for starting seeds.

Artificial Lighting: Yes or No?

Given this is a first experience and I don’t want to you to go overboard on expenses, I suggest just growing your seedlings under natural light for this first time.


Growing seeds under artificial light takes some of the worry out of starting them.

Be aware, though, that when you gain a bit more experience, a simple fluorescent lamp suspended 6 inches (15 cm) above your seedlings can do them the greatest good. When you add a timer to this kind of lamp, you gain much better control of day length and light intensity. Just set your timer to 14 to 16 hours a day and you’ll be ensuring that the plant receives a durable and equal lighting every day. Compare that to sunlight, which can be abundant some days, lacking on others… and is always weak in winter, due to the short days!

I suggest putting “fluorescent lamp for my seedlings” on your Christmas gift list. That way you’ll be ready for next year!

Know When to Sow

The most common mistake of beginner seed growers is to start their seedlings too early. The first sunny day in February and off they go, sowing tomatoes and marigolds with reckless abandon, convinced that starting them extra-early will give them a head start on the season.

Well it won’t!


Started indoors extra early, these tomato plants will have a hard time adapting to outdoor conditions, yet will not produce much of a harvest indoors.

That’s because plants that are too developed transplant poorly. When you plant them in the garden, they just sit there and look miserable. What you really want are young plants full of vim and vigor just ready to burst into full growth. You actually get better results if you sow your plants a bit late rather than too early!

That said, though, there is no miraculous “ideal sowing date” for all plants. It varies from one plant to another. So how can you find it?


The sowing date is usually listed on the label.

Most seed packs include a recommended date on the back of the envelope, usually something like “xx to xx weeks before the date of the last frost”. Then you just count backwards to find out when to sow. If the info is not on the pack, it will probably be on the company’s website or in their catalogue. If that fails, look it up in a book about growing from seed.

Of course, you need to know your last frost date before you can start counting backwards. Here’s how to find the real last frost day for your locality.



Gather you “stuff” together and get ready to sow!

Before you begin sowing, make sure you’ve gathered together all the necessary materials. They include:

  • Seed packs;
  • Containers (pots, recycled containers, etc.);
  • Tray;
  • Transparent dome;
  • Soil;
  • Large bowl or bucket;
  • Labels;
  • Pencil or indelible pen;
  • Tools (spoon, fork, scissors);
  • Watering can;
  • Spray bottle.

Sowing Step by Step

  1. Pour sowing mix into a bowl or bucket and add lukewarm water. Stir until the soil is uniformly moist.
  2. Spoon the moist mix into pots, not quite filling them (you’ll want to leave a bit of empty space below the rim). Even the mix out with the back of a spoon.
  3. Check the seed depth on the back of seed pack, on the Internet or in a book. (If this information is not available, calculate a depth equal to three times the diameter of the seed.) With a pencil or pen, poke a hole of the corresponding depth in the potting mix.
  4. 20170215h

    Sow three seeds per pot.

    Drop three seeds into the hole (always sow more seeds than necessary in case germination is poor).

Storing Seeds20170215fff

There are almost always too many seeds in a seed pack for a single growing season. So reseal the pack and keep it cool and dry. Then you can use the rest the following year.

  1. Fill the hole with soil. Sometimes the seed pack states “do not cover”. This refers to very fine seed that should not be covered with soil, but needs light to germinate, for example flowering tobacco (Nicotiana). Just apply such seeds to the surface of the sowing soil without making a hole or covering them.


    Spray with lukewarm water to settle the sowing mix.

  2. Spray with lukewarm water to settle the sowing mix.
  3. Insert a label with the plant’s name and the date you sowed it.


    Cover the pots of sown seeds with a clear plastic dome.

  4. Place the pots in a waterproof tray and cover them with a transparent dome.
  5. Place the tray in a warm spot (about 72 to 75°F (21-24°C) with good light, but avoid direct sun at this point. (There are a few seeds that germinate best at cool temperatures or in the dark. If so, this will be indicated on the seed pack.)


    Remove the dome when seedlings appear.

  6. After germination (which can take from 3 days to 3 weeks or even more, depending on the plant chosen), that is, when small seedlings become visible, remove the dome. The high humidity it provided was very beneficial at the germination stage, but can be detrimental to more advanced seedlings.


    Move the tray to the brightest spot possible.

  7. Now that the dome has been removed, move the tray to a very sunny location (in front of a south-facing window if possible) where it’s cool at night (between 60 and 65°F (15-18°C). If you can’t provide cooler temperatures, it’s not all that serious, but seedlings grown under cooler nights do tend to more dense and compact.
  8. If more than one seedling sprouts per pot, remove the weaker one or ones, cutting them off with scissors.


    Water from below, allowing the pots to soak up what they need.

  9. Keep a close eye on watering, as the growing mix will now dry out quite quickly (it will go from dark brown to pale brown as it dries out). When it’s dry, pour lukewarm water into the tray and let your seedlings soak up the water they need. When the soil on the surface of the pot has turned dark brown again, that means the seedlings have enough water: empty any surplus out of the tray.
  10. The first leaves that appear are called cotyledons and are usually very simple in appearance. When 4 to 6 true leaves appear, begin fertilizing every second time you water, adding a soluble all-purpose fertilizer to the irrigation water at half the recommended dose.


    Give the tray a quarter turn twice a week.

  11. Give the tray a quarter turn twice a week, always in the same direction, otherwise the seedlings will lean towards the light.
  12. When outdoor temperatures have warmed up and there’s no longer any risk of frost, start acclimating your seedlings to outdoor conditions. Give them 2 or 3 days in the shade, 2 or 3 days in partial shade and 2 or 3 days in full sun. If the temperature suddenly drops while you’re acclimating the plants, move them to a garage or shed overnight.


    Transplant the acclimated seedlings to the garden when there is no danger of frost.

  13. Transplant your seedlings into their final spot, either in the garden or in containers, and water well.
  14. Throughout the summer, water and fertilizer your plants according to the needs of the adult plant.

Have the best of luck growing your own seedlings. You’ll soon see just how easy it is!20170215a