There are a couple of different reasons you might want to start seeds indoors. You may be trying to get a jump on the growing season and plan to later move your plants outdoors or you may be adding new plants to your indoor garden and would prefer to grow them yourself from seeds. If you’re keeping your plants indoors year round you aren’t subjected quite as much to the plant’s grow cycles. With the right lighting or grow lights, you could start your seeds at any time and grow perfect plants regardless of the season.
Growing from seeds usually the best option when plan on growing a large number of plants and don’t want to pay for them individually from a nursery. Or, you may just want to ensure that the little seedling is raised the way you want. It’s so much fun to nurture a seed and watch it grow into a healthy, beautiful plant that you don’t really need a specific reason to start some seeds.
Starting seeds indoors that will end up in your outdoor garden can take a little more timing that plants that will remain indoors. Many plants have different ideal start dates but a general window of when to start your seeds is usually about 6 week before the first frost in your area. This will give them plenty of time to develop into healthy seedlings that can be safely transported out into the world for the spring and summer months. Be aware of what temperatures your specific plants can tolerate when moved outside because this can vary quite a bit for plants that are sensitive to the cold.
Where to Buy Seeds
Seeds can be purchased from any local gardening store, most home improvement stores, or even grocery stores that have a gardening section. If you want to be a little pickier about the seeds you’ll be using you can request a seed catalog from many different garden companies and compare prices and products. The Old Farmer’s Almanac website provides an excellent list of companies that provide free seed catalogs.
Of course, you can always search seeds on Amazon if you prefer to shop from the comfort of your home and have them conveniently delivered to you.
Now That You Have Seeds
Seeds, obviously, are a necessity. Once you’ve picked out your seeds be sure that you purchase and plant enough to prepare for some losses. Some seeds may not germinate and some might die in their early stages of life. The number of seeds that might not germinate depends entirely on seed quality and type of plant. Some plants are a little trickier than others and their seeds may be more stubborn.
You’ll need clean, sterile containers, which can be purchased from most gardening centers, or you can order some peat pots or plastic trays online. This won’t be your plant’s permanent home so if you want to save some money you can just use the compartments in a recycled egg carton and cut the lid off. Make sure that whatever you’re using has drainage holes in the bottom so you don’t end up drowning your seeds and seedlings. If you’re growing more than one type of plant, using labels are incredibly helpful to remind you of what’s what.
Seeds and seedlings require a slightly more specific potting mix than your typical indoor houseplant. Because the roots are so new and delicate you should choose a potting soil or starting mix that is very light and fine to allow the roots to maneuver more easily. You don’t need to worry about nutrient rich soil or fertilizer for your seeds because the seed itself should have all the nutrition it needs to get your plant to the seedling stage. Once the seedlings have grown their first true leaves they can be transplanted to a potting mix with more nutrients.
Light and Warmth
Some seeds require light in order to germinate while others don’t. Some should be pressed only lightly into the soil in order to receive some light while others should be buried a bit deeper. When you purchase your seeds the package should indicate the lighting requirements and soil depth for your particular plant.
While seeds may not be affected by light, warm soil can often help them germinate. You can place a heating mat under your trays to encourage germination, or you can try placing them on a warm surface such as the top of your refrigerator. Remove them from their heat source once they have germinated because the newly developed seedlings may grow too fast and become leggy if left in such warm soil.
Once the seeds have sprouted they will definitely require some light. You can place them near a sunny window but be sure they won’t be exposed to chilly temperatures overnight. For the best results you can purchase an adjustable grow light. Once the seedlings have appeared you can position the light about 1-2 inches above the tallest seedling and adjust it higher as they grow. If you’re starting your seeds in the middle of winter or you simply do not have much natural light available, a grow light can be very helpful. If your seedlings start getting long and leggy they are likely not receiving enough light.
Watering your seeds should be done carefully and delicately so the seeds and soil are disturbed as little as possible. This can be done with a mister or a meat baster to allow only small amounts of water to be added at a time. The soil should remain fairly moist without becoming overly soggy. Covering your trays with a plastic lid or a layer of plastic wrap can help retain warmth and moisture but be sure the plastic has holes to allow for some ventilation.
Tips For Planting and Transplanting
Placing Seeds into the Soil
The first step is to place your seeds into the soil per the directions included with your seeds. Different plants have different preferences for soil depth but this is usually indicated when purchasing seeds. Some need to be pressed deep into the soil while others require only a light sprinkling of soil, enough to just keep them in place.
Always use clean containers and sterilized soil to ensure there is no fungus or bacteria present in your potting mix. A lack of sterility can lead to mold and fungus problems which can be harmful to your new plants when they are just starting out.
As mentioned earlier, water very careful and keep your seeds moist and warm. Cover the seeds trays with plastic to create a more humid environment. Once your seeds have sprouted you can remove any plastic covering you had been using and they can be moved into a bright and sunny location or placed under a grow light.
When their second pair of leaves (or “true leaves”) appear the seedlings can be transplanted into new pots and can be provided with a heavier and more nutrient rich potting mix than the lighter starting mix the seeds had been germinating in. You can water your seedlings well at this point but keep them out of direct sunlight for a few days while they become established in their new homes.
If your plants are going to remain indoors then your work is mostly done and you just need to care for your plant as it continues to grow. If your plants will be moving outdoors there are still a few important steps that need to be done to prepare them for the outside world.
Plants that will be going into your outdoor garden need to undergo a “hardening off” period. This is done by incrementally increasing their exposure to the elements outside. You can start by placing them in a partially shaded area that is safe from any wind or hot sun. You should also start watering them a little less. Every day you can increase their wind and sun exposure until they’re eventually ready to be placed in the ground. This period usually ranges from about 7 to 10 days.
Once your plants have grown a little more familiar with what the outside world will be like it will be time to place them in the ground. Transplant them into loose, aerated soil so their roots can easily penetrate the earth and they can become safely established. Give them plenty of water after transplanting and your new plants should be ready to grow into healthy adults.
Now You Know How to Start Seeds Indoors
Growing your plants from seeds can be a little more complicated that simply caring for a houseplant or an outdoor garden. The seeds and seedlings are more delicate that an established plant and they’re much more sensitive to their environment. However, with the proper care and attention, it’s not too difficult to raise your own plants from seed. Just be prepared that some of your seeds may not germinate and that some species can be a little more stubborn than others.