Simple tips for starting seeds

seedlings

Containers

Purchased pots or flats, or containers you’ve saved—like egg cartons, cut-off milk cartons, Dixie cups and yogurt cups—will work for your seed starters. Any type of container can be used, as long as it has holes to drain excess water.

Bonus tip: Egg cartons,newspapers made into pots, or peat pots can be transplanted directly into the garden when ready.

Potting mix

Seeds do best in a soil–free mix. You can find bags of seed starter mix at any hardware store or nursery.

Bonus tip: Make sure to add a little water to the mix before filling your containers. You don’t want it soggy, just moist. 

Seeds

Attend a Seedy Saturday event, get some seeds from friends, or buy some. There are many great online sources for seeds.

Labels or markers

After all that seeding, it’ll be hard to remember what’s what without a little help. Write the variety and the date the seed was planted on popsicle sticks using a permanent, waterproof marker.

Plastic bags or covers

Place your containers in plastic bags, or cover with plastic food wrap. Wrapping your seedlings will trap warmth and humidity where the seeds need it. You won’t need to water it again until the seedlings sprout. As soon as the seeds sprout and have broken through the soil surface, remove the plastic bags or wrap.

Keep them warm

Don’t leave your containers in cool, drafty areas, or in areas that are too warm, like on a sunny window sill. You’ll want to wait to put them on a window sill only after they’ve sprouted. For the moment, choose a spot that is evenly warm. A good place is on top of your refrigerator. Basically, you want to choose a location away from sunlight. Light that is too strong can dehydrate the soil or cause trap too much moisture under the plastic, leading to seed rot.

Water

Once your seedling has sprouted and broken the surface of the soil, it’s time to start watering! Check daily at first until you get the hang of how fast the soil dries out. Check soil moisture simply by placing your fingertip in the soil. If it’s not moist, give the seedlings some water. Watering with room temperature water can reduce the chance of shocking fragile seedlings with cold water.

Bonus tip

The best ways to water seedlings and young plants are

  • From the bottom of the container: set your seedling container into a larger container; fill the larger container with water and allow the water to work its way up into the soil from the bottom—once the surface of the soil is moist, take your seedling out of the water-filled container.
  • Using a spray bottle: mist your seedlings with fine spray.

Light

Once your seeds have sprouted, they will need full sun. Now they should be moved to a sunny, south-facing window.

Hardening off

Your seedlings will be indoors for about six to eight weeks. After that, you will want to start hardening them off for about two weeks. For the first week, put them outside for two to three hours a day in full sun, and then bring them back inside. For the second week, put them out in the sun for two to three hours a day, followed by a few hours in the shade, then bring them back in. By the end of the second week you’ll be able to leave them out all day and night provided the temperature doesn’t cause frost. Your goal for these two weeks is the get the plants ready to be transplanted out into the garden without shocking them with a sudden move. They need to get used to being outside; you don’t want them to get sunburnt, windburnt or to freeze.

Plant outside

Once it’s finally time to get your seedlings into the garden, there are a few steps you’ll want to take to make sure the seedlings you worked so hard to nourish don’t get transplant shock.

  • Aim to transplant in the late afternoon when the sun is low; this will keep your seedlings from drying out.
  • Make sure your seedlings are well watered before you plant.
  • Make sure the soil you are planting into is moist.
  • Take care not to disturb the root ball.
  • Water your newly transplanted seedlings thoroughly to make sure the soil has settled around the root ball.