Are you eager to start your own garden? This seed starting guide will answer all your questions.
Whether you are an amateur looking to venture into gardening, or a seasoned gardener, this guide will cover everything, from basics to helpful tips and tricks. From gardening tools to DIY containers, you can start your garden inside or out with full confidence.
Let’s clear one thing; seed starting is not an arduous process that requires you to be an exceptional gardener. With a little understanding of the proper methods and right supplies, you will watch your seeds transform into healthy plants.
You don’t need to be a born gardener to cultivate seeds. All you have to do is provide natural conditions that will allow your seed to thrive and grow.
Why should I grow plants from seeds?
For one thing, gardening augments soul as well as soil. Moreover, it’s a good way of enriching your family’s food supply. Organic gardens are as good for the earth as they are for you!
Growing your plants from scratch (from seeds) ensures that your produce is completely organic and has not been exposed to any chemicals or harmful fertilizers.
There are a very few things as gratifying as seeing your hand planted seeds budding into little seedlings. A great book on seed starting that I highly recommend is The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel which you can get here.
Planting your own seeds is the only way to feel this heartening experience.
Seed Starting Guide: Useful Tips & Tricks
Keep it Simple
Start by sowing your seed indoors. Planting indoors enables you to control temperatures and other environmental factors that are crucial for seed growth at this early stage. Cold and frost can be harmful to growing seedling.
Cultivating your seeds indoors, in a container or a pot (you can get 100 cheap seed starting pots, like those in the image above for cheap here), enables you to ward off weeds and keep a close eye on young seedlings.
Each plant has its own unique seed starting requirements. It really helps to keep it simple and start with a few basic plants such as tomatoes, basil, beans etc.
For first timers, do not start with many different seeds at the same time. Pick out one or two simple seeds and keep a close watch. This will give you a good idea introduction to the germinating process and this insight will be helpful in future plantings.
Plants love bright sunlight that also gives warmth and seeds are no different. Seeds that do not get enough light become weak, leggy and thin.
Imagine a nice, bright, warm spring day. Now re-create this environment indoors. Choose a spot that gets maximum sunlight even during winters. The best spot would be a south-facing window. However, it is also unlikely that this spot would provide enough sunlight during winter. You may need to invest in some grow lights (like this one) and a timer.
Moreover, light also provides the extra warmth required by the seedlings. This artificial warmth and the variation it causes in room temperature imitates the natural daily temperature variations.
Seeds require air, moisture, and warmth to germinate into a seedling. Provide these conditions and you are good to go. One of the best ways to ensure your seedlings get ample warmth to germinate is to use a seed mat like this one.
The Right Container
You can grow your seeds in any type of container as long as it is 2-3 inches deep and has good drainage. Yes, this means you can also use milk cartons, paper cups, and even yogurt containers!
You can use biodegradable paper products which do not need to be replaced and can be planted right into the ground. If you plan to use plastic, I would suggest that you opt for food-safe plastic containers as your mini-greenhouse.
Seed starting trays
The convenience of seed starting trays is unmatchable. These trays are specially designed to help gardeners who want to grow their plants from scratch. Some of these professional grade seed starting trays come equipped with features such as automatic watering, root training, grow lights and moisture control.
Here is a seed starting kit with one compostable watering tray that will have everything you need to grow seeds successfully.
Greenhouse kits are also a good option. Most of these kits consist of a plastic tray with a clear plastic greenhouse dome. Some of these kits contain coconut fiber pots that you can plant right along with your seedlings. Others may come equipped with heat mats that gently warm the soil which helps in germination.
Greenhouse kits are usually made for small spaces such as window sills so getting plenty of light and air is not a problem. They allow you to plant a large number of seeds in one tray (some even up to 72).
The only drawback with these kits is that you will have to replant once your seedling sprouts. Letting your plant grow in these trays will cause unwanted distress and hinder its growth.
For an easy to assemble greenhouse try this 3 tiers -12 shelves Greenhouse kit.
Seed-Starting Soil Mixes
So, you have chosen a good sunny spot and picked out the appropriate containers. Now comes, the soil mixes that will cradle your seeds and nurture it to form a young plant that will produce high yields. Do not underestimate the power of a good soil mixture. It plays a crucial role in providing nutrition to the germinating seeds.The best soil mixture for your seedlings isn’t actually soil at all. Rather it is a combination of organic mixes that is also known as ‘soil-free’ mixes.Click To Tweet
The best soil mixture for your seedlings isn’t actually soil at all. Rather it is a combination of organic mixes that is also known as ‘soil-free’ mixes. These mixes do not contain any pathogens that may harm young seedlings. They also contain ingredients that are approved for organic gardening.
BlackGold have a great range of high quality seed starting mixes which you can find here.
Soil-free seed-starting mixtures contain vermiculites or perlite for air entrainment. For volume and water retention, these mixtures use milled peat moss and coconut coir. Many mixtures also contain some form of added fertilizers. These fertilizers may or may not be approved for organic gardening, so you will have to read the package carefully to be sure.
One way to avoid synthetic chemical fertilizers is to check the package for ‘OMRI Label’. This label ensures that the product is safe for organic gardening.
In case your soil-free seed starting mix does not contain any fertilizer, you will need to add it on your own. You can add numerous organic fertilizer mixes such as worm castings and glacial rock dust etc. Fertilizers basically provide seed with food input that it would need while germinating.
If you do not wish to buy pre-made seed starter soil-free mixture, you can make your own. Just mix ten percent perlite, two parts compost and three parts peat. This mixture is not only light but also holds the moisture well.
Taking Care of Your Seeds
Seed germination is not rocket science. Most seeds grow well on their own with minimum efforts on your part. However, little tips and tactics are always helpful in enhancing germination. These tricks considerably eliminate margin of errors.
One of the most commonly heard tricks is soaking seeds in lukewarm water. All you need to do is soak the seeds in lukewarm water for a few hours prior to planting. This is especially useful for large seeds and helps increase germination.
You can do this by soaking your seed in a container filled with lukewarm filtered water for about 4 hours. Alternatively, you can also place your seeds on a wet paper towel. Leave them for a few hours and then plant. This method tricks the biological clock of seeds which tells them it’s time to ‘wake up’ and start growing!
This method is also a way to gauge the viability of seeds. Seeds that are still living will sink to the bottom while the ones that are defunct will float on the surface. Again, this test is generally applicable to larger seeds but there are no absolutes.
Seeds of plants such as strawberries and milkweed require cold weather for germination. Try treating these plants with a process called stratification. Simply put the seeds into a refrigerator (or freezer) for a few weeks. This tricks the seed’s biological clock into thinking that it is winter. When you take them out and plant into warm soil, the seed automatically assumes that it’s springtime and gets ready to germinate.
Seeds such as Lupin have a relatively thick coat that delays germination. In such cases, treat these seeds with scarification. To perform this process, scratch or pour hot water over the seeds to remove the seed’s coat. This breaks down the coating and encourages speedy sprouting.
By the way, you can make your own organic fertilizers at home using things you already have around the house. Check out our top 5 homemade fertilizers here.
Tamping the Seeds
After planting the seeds, cover them with a soil-free mixture. Use a sieve to get an even layer of mix on top of the seeds. Ideally, the depth should be two times the seed diameter. Seeds that are too small or require direct sunlight to germinate should lie directly on the surface.
Use the base of a glass or a pestle to gently tamp down the seeds to the surface. For germination, seeds need to be in sturdy contact with the moist surface.
Maintaining the Moisture Level
Seeds thrive in a moist environment! For unhindered growth keep the seeds damp and place a greenhouse dome over the top to maintain the right level of humidity. You can also cover your pot with plastic wrap and an elastic band (to keep the wrap secure) if you don’t have a greenhouse dome.
Seeds are extremely sensitive to the dangers of under watering as well as overwatering. So be sure to check your seeds daily for moisture and humidity.
Water the newly budding seedlings very gently. The best way is to submerge the bottom 3/4 of the pots in water and let the water moisten the soil, instead of watering with sprayers overhead. Overhead watering can damage young seedlings and will slow their growth. Use warm water so the seedlings aren’t ‘shocked’ by the cold and think it’s winter again!
For accuracy, you can purchase a soil moisture meter that is ideal for indoor and outdoor use.
Prevent ‘Damping Off’
Damping off is a term coined for a type of fungal growth that appears like fuzzy hair on the stem of a seedling. Poor air circulation and excessive moisture causes this to happen. This infection can kill the fragile seedlings.
The best way to prevent damping off is to cover tampered seeds with 50 percent milled sphagnum ad 50 percent finely ground starter chicken grit. Spread it evenly over the surface. This mixture keeps the surface dry thus inhibiting the growth of fungus.
Alternatively, you can also use 3% food-grade hydrogen peroxide. To regulate humidity, vent the greenhouse dome or plastic wrap regularly.
Thinning Your Seedlings
Thinning out plants can be a bit confusing. New gardeners may even find it daunting. Most seed packages state that 3-5 seeds should be sown to get 1 plant to grow. As the new seedlings develop you should thin out to the strongest one and snip off the other two.
Gardeners are typically astonished to see 3-5 strong seedlings per pot. Which one should they eliminate now? It is best to thin out all but the strongest seedling. You should perform this process by cutting the weaker seedlings off with scissors instead of pulling them so you don’t damage the seedling you want to keep.
It’s best to do this over several stages. Sow 5 seeds and you’ll probably germinate 4. Then wait until they are about an inch tall and snip off the weakest one. Now you have 3 left, wait until they are 2-3 inches tall and remove the next weakest. Then transplant to your garden, wait a few weeks and remove all but the strongest.
This may seem wasteful, but seeds are cheap and time is expensive. If you miss the growing season or your crops are delayed (because you have to resow) then you’ll harvest much less than you could have.
Seeds also only last a few years, so sowing them generously is a good way to ensure you always have a fresh and viable supply.
Do you want more great vegetable gardening tips? Then take a look at these 27 incredibly useful tips for backyard vegetable gardens.
Timings for Seed Starting
Seed starting is all about planning to plant your seeds. Timing is very crucial. Most seed packages have the planting date included which is usually from the last spring frost. However, if the packet has no such details, you can always look online for the best time to plant for your area.
Maintaining a planting calendar is also a good way of keeping track of all planting dates. Once you have dates for each type of seed record it in your planting calendar. Having all this information together in one place will enable you to keep track of when to start your seeds indoors, the right time to plant seedlings outside and when to harvest the seedlings. Additionally, you can also refer back to these records next year.
Check out this beautiful gardening calendar which is remarkable for you to keep track of your planting schedule and includes helpful tips too!
When planting your seedlings outside, always take into account the weather conditions. Don’t just rely on last frost day. Weather conditions play a massive role in plant germination and growth. And weather conditions tend to vary from time to time. With seed starting ‘rushing the season’ is never a wise move!
You must be very organized, as with any other task or hobby. To ward off any kind of fungus or weeds, it is very important that all your trays and other types of equipment should be clean prior to planting.
Check your trays for debris and if possible sterilize to minimize any pathogen outbreak. Your work surface should be free from electronic items such as cell phones or computers. Most importantly, label everything. Put seeds into labeled inserts to avoid confusion.
Enjoy every step of the way. Happy Growing!
PS – A great way to grow even more vegetables is to grow crops in containers. For more information read our blog on the 21 easiest to grow container plants.