How to Start Seeds Indoors
If grade schoolers can get beans to sprout using wet paper towels inside foam cups, you can do this.
The Simple Guide to Starting Seeds
Find Your Date Online
Your area's average last frost date determines how long your plants need to grow before moving outdoors. Find the date, then count backward on the calendar using the seed packet's suggested head start.
Chives, leeks, onions, pansies, poppies and snapdragons are typically started 12 weeks before the last frost. Ten weeks before the last frost, you can start most celery, kale, black-eyed Susans, delphiniums and impatiens. Eight weeks before last frost, start peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, alyssum, phlox and salvias. Six weeks in advance of the last frost, try seeding broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cosmos, globe amaranth and sunflowers. And three weeks before the last frost, seed cucumbers, okra, melons, squash, pumpkins, marigolds, morning glories and zinnias.
Let There Be Light
Seedlings need several hours of light per day. A sunny window works for a few pots or trays, but for high-volume seed starting, get fluorescent grow lights with timers.
Take the Temperature
Use a thermometer to ensure the room meets the ideal range listed on the seed packet. A light breeze from a small fan helps ward off disease that can kill seedlings.
If you're not using a self-watering system (a refillable reservoir placed under the pots or trays), a spray bottle works well for gently moistening plants. Caution: Newbies tend to overwater.
Give Them Room
Seedlings outgrow their nurseries. When they're about 2 inches tall, transplant them to larger individual containers filled with regular potting mix.
Now For the Hard(ening) Part
A week or so before it's time to safely plant outside, "harden off" seedlings. Place outside in a protected spot for an hour or two each day, gradually increasing exposure. Some cold-tolerant varieties can be planted outside before the last frost.
Related: March Garden Calendar
Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Seeds
1. Fill 'er Up
Use a seed-starting mix. Most potting soil is too rich and doesn't drain well enough for seeds.
2. Make a Hole
Poke a seed hole in each cell (a pencil works well). Check seed packet info for the right depth.
3. Get Sowing
Drop two seeds in each hole, in case one fails. If both seeds sprout, you can snip one out later.
4. Top It Off
Add a thin layer of mix to cover the seeds, but don't pack it down. Mist lightly with water.
5. Make Identification Markers
It's easy to forget which seeds you planted where, so make little ID tags for each pot or tray.
6. Seal the Deal
A plastic cover creates a warm, moist environment while letting in light, like a greenhouse.
Consider Peat Pellets
Peat pellets (also known as seed plugs) provide a less-messy option to filling dozens of tiny pots or trays with loose seed-starting mix. The pellets come as mesh-covered discs that fit in a standard plastic tray and expand to a perfect seedling size when you add water.
Good Seeds for Beginners
Reliable seed varieties include Black Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Mortgage Lifter.
Think beyond the bell with NuMex Easter, Mama Mia Giallo and Sweet Sunset.
They're not all purple. Try Japanese White Egg, Rosa Bianca and Patio Baby.
Related: Five Easy Annuals From Seeds