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getting started with starting seeds

by dig the dirt editor

This is your basic beginner's guide for starting your seeds. It is a cheap and easy thing to do for the beginning gardener.



Raising plants from seed is an exercise in economy, especially if you have a large garden. Compared to the cost of buying seedlings, seeds will save you a lot of money. But most of all, sowing seeds is fun. Watching a tiny seed germinate, grow, and produce fruit or flowers is one of the most rewarding things about gardening.

Getting your Seeds Started:

Seeds are not demanding. In fact, most will happily germinate rolled up in a moist paper towel. But in order for seeds to grow into productive plants, they have specific needs:


  •  SOIL: If you are going to grow seeds indoors, the first thing you need to buy is a sterile, soilless germinating mix. Don't use soil from your garden or standard potting soil because they are too compact and may harbor diseases that could kill your seedlings.
  • CONTAINERS: Traditionally, seeds are started in flats, long, shallow boxes made from either plastic or wood. But, seeds will thrive in any container that's at least 2 inches deep and has good drainage. Use plant markers, popsicle sticks, or tape the seed package to the front of the flat.                                     Plant-marker.detail
  • WATER: In order for seeds to germinate successfully, they need moisture. The key to watering seeds is to provide a gentle, consistent source of moisture. Never let your seeds dry out. Use a gentle spray from a watering can to keep the soil moist. Always use room temperature water.
  • HEAT SOURCE: Consistently-warm temperatures are essential for germination. In fact, some seeds require soil temperatures of as high as 85 degrees. A root zone heating mat will provide consistent bottom warmth vital for germination.
  • how to sow seeds
    Moisten your germinating mix and scoop it into seed-starting flats or containers. Determine the planting depth of the seed from the instructions on the seed packet.

    Large seeds can be easily inserted into the soil with the finger-thumb method. Smaller seeds (like petunias) are hard to sow in small numbers, so mix the seeds with a little sand for bulk. You can sow them by hand or add the seed-sand mixture to a salt shaker and shake them directly onto the growing medium (this may produce more plants than you want in one area, but you can hand thin once the seedlings are established).

    Plant more seeds than you think you need; this is insurance against poor germination and seedling mortality. Chances are you will be TOO successful and have too many seedlings. Plan on being generous and give them away to friends, schools, public libraries, or town squares.

    Once your seeds are nestled into the growing medium, cover the flat with a clear plastic cover until the seeds germinate (this will help conserve moisture evaporation). It's vital that you keep the seeds moist or they will not germinate properly. Once the seeds start to sprout, take the plastic cover off immediately because the heat build-up under the plastic could actually kill emerging seedlings.

For more articles on seeds :

starting coleus from seed

seed starting time table

tips for a successful kitchen garden


beginning gardener, seeds, Seed starting, basic guide for seeds


This is a great resource! I have some heirloom tomato seeds I want to plant this year and lo and behold, we are nearly 6-8 weeks out from our last freeze date and it's time to start! I started some veggies from seed last year but started too late. And with the wicked heat we had, well, veggie garden 2009 just wasn't my most successful year. Any suggestions out there about containers that are tried and true? Do I need some sort of grow lights or will a sunny window work?
gardengirl commented on 01/12/10