How to Successfully Start Seeds Indoors

Spring is here! Are you ready to grow some fresh, organic herbs, veggies, and flowers? Here are some tips for successful seed starting.


Materials for Starting Seeds:
  1. Containers – Either purchased pots or flats or containers you’ve saved, like egg cartons and yogurt cups. Used pots should be thoroughly cleaned using a scrubbing brush or pad.
  2. Potting Mix – Seeds do best in a soilless mix where there are fewer inherent problems than with garden soil
  3. Seeds – Your choice.
  4. Labels/markers – Do this when you plant your seeds, because it’s very hard to remember what’s what.
  5. Plastic Bags or Covers – These will trap warmth and humidity where the seeds. need it.
  6. Water
  7. Light Source – If you don’t have a bright window, you will need some kind of florescent or high density plant light.
Preparing the Potting Mix
Loosen and dampen the potting mix before you put it into your seed starting containers. It is easier to get a uniform level of moisture if you do it this way.
Dampen the mix to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. It should be wet, but not dripping, with no dry lumps.
There are many good potting mixes available. Using a soilless potting mix rather than outdoor soil is preferable because potting mixes don’t readily compact, don’t contain weed seeds and don’t have disease spores and other possible problems.
Also, since new seedlings don’t require fertilizer until they sprout their first true leaves, you don’t really need a mix with fertilizer already in it.
Filling the Containers
  • Use the pre-dampened potting mix to fill your seed starting containers.
  • Don’t pack the potting mix into the container.
  • Fill about two-thirds’s full and tap the container on the table top, to help the potting mix settle.
  • Gently firm with your hand or a small board.
Planting the Seeds
  • Make sure you read the seed package for special instructions. Some seeds may require a period of pre-chilling or soaking, and some seeds need exposure to light, to germinate.
  • Small seeds can be sprinkled on top of the potting mix. Larger seeds can be counted out and planted individually.
  • Use at least 3 seeds per container, since not all seeds will germinate and not all that do germinate will survive. You can thin extras later.

Finishing Touches

  • Cover the seeds with more dampened potting mix and then gently firm again.
  • Re-check your seed packet for information on how much potting mix should go on top of the seeds. Generally, the smaller the seed, the less you need to cover them.
  • There are a few seeds, like lettuce, which require light to germinate and should barely be covered with potting mix.
  • Water Again: Although the potting mix was pre-dampened, it is still a good idea to sprinkle some additional water on top of the newly planted seed. This ensures that the top layer of mix won’t dry out and it also helps to firm the potting mix and ensure good contact between the seed the mix.

Creating the Right Atmosphere

Greenhouse Effect: Your seeds are now ready to be covered loosely with some type of plastic. This will help hold in both heat and moisture. You can place the whole container into a plastic bag or simply lay a sheet of plastic over the container. If you have special seed starting trays with plastic covers, use those.
Heat: Move your container to a warm, draft-free spot and check it daily. Most seeds germinate best when the temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees F. The top of a refrigerator is an ideal spot, or you could consider purchasing heating mats specially made for germinating the seeds.
Heating mats go under the potting containers and heat the soil from below. You will usually need to water more frequently when using heating mats. Caution: Only use heating mats certified for seed starting use.
Light and Air: In general, seeds will not need light until they emerge. They will need air circulation under the plastic, or you will be encouraging mold.
Signs of Life: Remove the plastic as soon as you see a seedling emerging and move the plant into indirect light. Be sure the potting mix stays moist, but not wet.


Article adapted from

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