• 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
• 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
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
sunny 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
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
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:
* 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.