Growing From Seed

Last year I decided to grow from seed at my home. I will admit, it was a complete failure. I ended up with not one single viable plant to put in my garden. This year I decided to learn from my mistakes and spend a Sunday morning with our President and Master Gardener, Susan Sundell, planting from seed.

A group of us met at the garden and followed Susan’s advice and listened to her wisdom. Within the first half an hour, I realized the numerous mistakes I made. We planted 576 plants with 3 seeds in each, so we could have over 1500 plants ready for earth day! We will be monitoring the plants in the greenhouse and when ready for “potting up”, we will give each plant it’s own little pot. We hope some of you will come help with this when we the plants are ready.

There is still time to start your seeds for your garden or to grow some for earth day to help the garden. You can do this at home, or If you would like to use the greenhouse, please reach out to Phil Hof.

Susan has put this on the website, but here are the steps for a successful seed growing journey.


• Containers – purchased pots, flats, seed-planting systems, or any small container with drainage (yogurt, paper cups, etc.) Always clean previously used pots in a 1/9 part mixture of Hydrogen Peroxide or household bleach and water.

• Potting Mix – Soilless Mix only

• Seeds

• Labels – you will want to label every single little pot. For plastic labels, use a grease pencil to keep writing intact.

• Water – spray bottle for beginning

• Light Source – A sunny window will do fine. If you don’t have a bright window, you will need high density grow lights or a fluorescent light source.

• Heat mat(s) – for indoor seed starting

• Fan

With all your supplies ready, you are set to plant seeds.

Read your seed packets carefully! There is important information on each packet that is essential for planting!

1. In a small bucket, loosen and moisten soilless mixture before placing it into pots. It should not be dripping wet. The mixture should feel like a wrung-out sponge.

2. Use the moistened mixture to fill your containers. Fill containers 3/4 to 5/8 full and lightly tap on a table top to help settle the potting mix.

3. You can start planting your seeds, using at least 3 seeds per container. Most seed packets have a date stamped on them indicating for what year they have been packed. If your seed is more than two years old, then plant six seeds, and if more than three years old, plant 10 seeds (see page 4 to determine seed viability). Follow the seed packet for special directions. Planting depth is very important, because the developing plant needs enough food energy for your plants to emerge. Some seeds need to be soaked or pre-chilled. Know your seeds’ needs.

4. Cover seeds with more moistened potting mixture according to seed packet recommendations. Some seeds, like lettuces, need light to germinate and should barely be covered.

5. Pat down. This insures good contact between the seed and the mix.

6. Use a mist sprayer at this point so as not to move seeds around.

7. Cover loosely with plastic. This will keep in heat and moisture. Some seed-starting trays have special plastic covers, and they work very well for a reasonable cost.

8. Your seeds need heat. The top of your refrigerator is a great spot to generate even warmth. You can purchase special heat mats, but make sure they are certified for seed starting. Your seeds need to be kept between 65 and 70 degrees F at all times.

9. Most seeds don’t need light until they emerge. They will need air circulation under the plastic to discourage mold.

10.Remove the plastic as soon as you see a seedling emerge. Move to indirect light until the first true leaf appear. Be sure the potting mix stays moist, not wet.

Planting Your Seedlings

Your seeds begin to emerge. What a fascinating sight! The first thing to emerge may not always be a true leaf. In some species such as beans, they are called cotyledons and are the food source until the first true leaves appear. In other species which have cotyledons such as peas, these do not emerge, but remain underground. In another class of plant which include onions, garlic, lilies, and amaryllis, the first thing to emerge is a leaf sheath, and the first true leaf emerges through this. When true leaves appear, photosynthesis begins. It is time to provide a light source for your little seedlings.

Seedlings need 12-18 hours of light each day. If the seedlings are indoors, a bright unny south window is fine. Fluorescent or special Grow Lights may be needed to get the full 12-18 hours of light in winter months. Because you started your seeds in a soilless mix, when true leaves appear, it is also time to fertilize your seedlings. Use a high nitrogen & phosphorous fertilizer to have good foliage and root development. Be careful not to over-fertilize as that can burn roots and fragile stems. A liquid fertilizer is better than granular because it is immediately available to the plant for uptake.

You can leave your seedlings in the original pots until you plant in your garden, but it is common to move small plants to a larger pot. This is referred to as “potting up,” and is done to give more room for roots to grow. 4-6″ pots are recommended when potting up your seedlings.

You can start thinning out your seedlings when the plants are 2″ tall. Do not pull out the seedlings, as this can disrupt the root system. Instead, clip them with a small scissors at the soil line.

Watch your seedlings closely for the following:

Damping Off – is a disease or condition that kills off seedlings at any stage, caused by

pathogens of many sources, and includes fungi. Damping off occurs in wet and cold conditions.

Leggy stems – light source too far away from plant

Droopy leaves – caused by over-watering or under-watering. Check the soil 1-2 inches below the soil line, and adjust accordingly.

Algae forms on top of soil – cause by wet soil. Hold off on watering a bit. Algae normally does no harm to seedlings.

For spring planting, you need to “harden off” your seedlings that you have been growing inside. This process prepares little plants for outside temperatures, winds, and sunlight changes. Take a week or so to gradually introduce your plants to the great outdoors. Move plants to a shady area for several days, increasing the time each day. Bring them inside toward evening if temps drop too low overnight. Gradually increase the time and sunlight exposure until the plants are strong on their own.

It’s time to transplant into the garden. Have fun and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Direct sow seeds:











**Leaf lettuces












* While most plants can be started in pots, these should always be sown directly into your garden or beds.

** Lettuces are best started in pots or in a small row, then transplanted individually.

How to test your seeds for viability

Place 10 seeds on one half of a damp but not soppy white paper towel, then fold the other half over the seeds.

Place the towel in an unsealed plastic bag and set it in a warm spot (around 75 degrees F).

Check the towel daily to ensure it stays damp – do not allow it to dry out, using the mister spray bottle to keep the paper towel moist at all times.

After 7 days, check to see how many seeds have germinated and count them. Make a further count after 14 days, and then calculate your percentage germination.

If no seeds sprout, it’s time to get new seeds.

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