Seed Starting: How to begin?

Why should you consider starting some of your garden plants from seed? Here are my top reasons for starting seeds:

  • Save money: a seed packet might contain 50 zinnia seeds for the same price as one zinnia seedling from a nursery
  • Variety: many unique or heirloom plant varieties can only be found as seeds
  • Garden success: some plants must get an early start if they’re going to flower or fruit this season, and some seedlings are too small or fragile to thrive without a little time to grow in a protected place

Starting your own plants from seed doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Use what you have: recycle those plastic yogurt pots or clamshell produce containers. I use a kitchen knife to add drainage holes to the bottom of my container.
  • You’ll need a tray to hold your pots. I love Perma-Nest trays (pictured above) because the heavy-duty plastic can be washed and re-used year after year.
  • Your tray will need a cover: Seeds germinate best in humidity. Cover your tray with a ready-made plastic lid or dome, or use plastic wrap. Just don’t forget to remove the lid as soon as seeds germinate. Otherwise, rot and disease might set in.
  • Seed starting compost: Seeds don’t need chemicals or fertilizers, but they do need a fine-textured, sterile mix, especially if the seeds are small.
  • Heat: most seeds germinate best with a little bottom heat. A radiator top works, but it’s worth investing in a plug-in heating mat designed for seed starting.
  • Light: a sunny, southern windowsill will do. I use inexpensive shop lights from the hardware store, strung up with chain in my basement. One cool and one warm fluorescent bulb in each light is best.

A few final tips:

  • Read the seed packet carefully: some seeds need light to germinate (do not cover them with soil), some germinate quickly, and some need a good, long wait.
  • Consider a soil blocker (pictured above): I love using a tool to make soil blocks. Once you’ve invested in the tool, there’s no need to buy pots, and soil blocks promote healthy seedlings through something called “air pruning.”



Posted on

March 3, 2020

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