As you continue to garden throughout the seasons, you will come to a point in both your skillset and confidence level where you want to start saving seeds and growing plants from nothing but those very seeds. While many of us begin gardening with starter plants from our local garden center, we inevitably want a new challenge and decide its time to grow plants from the ground up (pun intended). Once that day comes around however, how are you supposed to know which plants can be started from seeds and how to get each type of seed ready for soil? That’s what you have us for!
Here is everything you need to know about starting seeds indoors!
Should you start your seeds indoors or outdoors?
This totally depends upon the hardiness zone you live in and the type of seed you’re looking to start, but let’s talk about location first. In many parts of the country, you can rely on the weather to be mild and predictable all year long; this includes zones eight, nine, and ten, which covers much of the West Coast and the southern states. Because of this, you don’t have to start your seeds indoors and it’s typically best to sow them directly into your garden bed outside. However, those of us in other zones, especially those as far north as Minnesota, are forced to wait until Summer truly begins.
In these areas, you run the risk of frost affecting your garden beds overnight, something most herb and vegetable seeds cannot survive. While there are a few, like cauliflower and broccoli, that can be sown directly into the soil outside beginning in mid- to late-March, most varieties can only be started at this time indoors. However, certain species of plants that are usually frost hardy may not be because of how they evolved or were created, so the best practice is to research your specific seed and start it following the guidelines you find in books/online.
When you are ready to sow your seeds, this is what you will need and how to get started.
Sowing seeds indoors can require either a lot of tools or just a couple, depending upon what you have available and accessible to you. With the advancements in gardening technology over the past few decades, it’s become much easier to start seeds inside thanks to things like biodomes and other greenhouse-like options. These typically come in kits that have everything you need to get started, included a tray and medium to sow your seeds in, a cover for humidity purposes, a grow light to feed your seeds, and a heating mat to keep your biodome/mini greenhouse as warm as possible to foster healthy growth.
However, you can still start your seeds in the traditional (or DIY!) fashion still, as well! First, you will need a substrate to start your seeds in and a tray or grow pots to hold your seeds and medium. If you want to be thrifty, you can use an old egg carton for this. After that, you will also need a location that receives plenty of light (natural or artificial – either is fine) and a method of keeping the moisture level of the soil and air high enough to help your seeds germinate. You can purchase the expensive kits or do it yourself, it just depends upon what you prefer.
This is when you should sow your seeds indoors.
The biggest question we get about starting seeds inside is always about timing: when should you actually sow your seeds if you start them indoors? Our answer to this question is a resounding (and maybe somewhat vague) it depends! There are so many factors at play like the type of seed, the zone you live in, and the conditions of your home. If you start your seeds to early, you run the risk of them outgrowing their seed pod before the soil outside is ready, resulting in transplanting your seedling into a larger container before they can go outside. On the other hand, if you start your seeds too late, you may put yourself weeks behind schedule or killing your seedlings because the harsh weather outside is too much for their delicate structures.
With all that being said, there’s no need to worry because everyone’s favorite Farmer’s Almanac created a handy Planting Calendar that can tell you when to start your seeds based upon your location and the climate history for your zone. If you’re ever in doubt, read through the directions on the back of your seed packet or in the instructional packet inside our seed kits for more detail information about starting your seeds inside the right way.
Finally, it’s time to get your seedlings ready for transplant!
While it may be warm enough outside to transplant your seedlings, there is one step you absolutely must follow first. Without it, you run the risk of your baby plants never taking root in the soil and dying within days of being planted outside: hardening your plants. This isn’t anything to do with the moisture level or drying out your plants to harden their roots – it’s all about getting your plant used to its new environment! When you start a seedling in the controlled environment of your home, they mature with the same humidity, temperature, and environmental conditions every day, but this is far from what they will experience outdoors.
All the general factors that suddenly come into play like wind, rain, debris, and the sun can shock baby plants if they are gradually exposed before being transplanted. The way we like to do this is to take our seedlings and place them outside near our garden bed to experience the outside world. While we start with one hour on the first day, you slowly increase the amount of time outdoors before bringing them back inside each day. Eventually, you can set them outside to sit overnight before fully transplanting them the next morning.
We have seen many beginner gardens try to start seeds indoors only to end up frustrated or believing they have a black thumb when the fact of the matter is that they made a simple mistake. This can include slip-ups like not supplying your seeds with enough light, not giving them the proper amount of moisture, and even pushing the seeds too deep into the soil. Luckily, each of these mishaps can be easily remedied in time for the warm season!
If you don’t have a space in your home that receives full sun for at least six hours during the day, consider adding a grow light with a built-in timer to help out your seeds. Watering your seeds can be the trickiest part of the process, but it can be made much easier by ensuring that your soil stays moderately damp and not soaking wet by covering them with plastic wrap to retain that vital humidity. Also, try using a toothpick to measure out a depth of two-three times the width of your seed; this way, they are only being planted at the depth they need to germinate and no deeper.
Now, you are ready to start preparing for the gardening season! Depending upon the hardiness zone you live in, you can start your seeds indoors now and get ready to transplant them in the coming months after the final frost has passed. If this is your first time starting plants from seeds, don’t feel the need to start all your plants this way; you can always mix your at-home seedlings with starter plants from your local garden center, too. It’s your garden, so you make the rules!
Is there a gardening subject you have questions about or would like us to cover? Let us know in the comments or message us on our Contact Page. We post more articles every other week, so check back for more tips and tricks every month!