While the principles of how to plant seeds in this article can apply to any kind of seed, I’m going to be focusing on starting seeds for edible plants.
In the photo above you’ll see that my mom and I used empty plastic trays for this batch. Both trays are from the grocery store: the big clear one had croissants in it, and the three small ones had mushrooms in them. It was a perfect little set up though!
Figuring Out Which Seeds to Start
Radishes, carrots and peas love cool weather, so they’re usually the first plants to be sown outdoors for the spring growing season.
Once your seeds have germinated and grown into seedlings, you’ll need to start making some adjustments. Weak plants will need to be removed, the remaining plants will need to be moved to bigger containers, and eventually, you’ll have to start preparing them to go outside.
One year in the apartment, we even had a pretty nice avocado plant! Although I don’t think it ever had fruit on it…
Make sure your containers have drainage holes. You can use recycled pots — for example, empty yogurt containers — but be sure to poke holes in the bottom for draining, so that your seeds are not over-watered. Plastic six-packs and flats are good choices and can be reused year after year. Biodegradable pots are fine, too.
Once seedlings have two sets of leaves, it’s time to thin. You want one seedling per pot, so choose the healthiest, strongest-looking seedling to keep. Snip the other seedlings off at the soil line and discard them.
How do you start vegetable seeds indoors? Here are 10 tips for successfully starting seeds:
As soon as seedlings emerge, place pots in a bright location. A sunny window will do, but adding consistent light from supplemental fluorescent lights will give you the best results. Suspend the lights just an inch or two over the tops of the plants.
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Purchase your seeds from a trusted source. Fresher, higher quality seeds will have a higher germination rate (meaning more will sprout), and will give you a head-start in growing delicious, nutritious vegetables. (Check out Landreth Seed, our line of heritage and heirloom vegetable seeds!)
1. Choose a container.
6. Keep soil warm.
Seeds need warm soil to germinate. They germinate slower, or not at all, in soils that are too cool. Most seeds will germinate at around 78°F. Waterproof heating mats, designed specifically for germinating seeds, keep soil at a constant temperature. You can buy them in most nurseries and garden centers. Or, you can place seed trays on top of a refrigerator or other warm appliance until seeds sprout. After germination, air temperature should be slightly below 70°F. Seedlings can withstand air temperature as low as 50°F as long as soil temperature remains 65-70°F.
3. Plant at the proper depth.
You’ll find the proper planting depth on the seed packet. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds with soil equal to three times their thickness – but be sure to read the seed packet planting instructions carefully. Some seeds, including certain lettuces and snapdragons, need light to germinate and should rest on the soil surface but still be in good contact with moist soil. Gentle tamping after sowing will help. After planting your seeds, use a spray bottle to wet the soil again.
Start feeding your seedlings after they develop their second set of true leaves, applying a half-strength liquid fertilizer weekly. Apply it gently so seedlings are not dislodged from the soil. After four weeks, apply full-strength liquid fertilizer every other week until transplanting.
Here are the basics in 10 steps.