Want to start your own garden from seeds? Think growing your own from seeds will help you save time and money? Perhaps you think starting seeds plants from seeds indoors will help you have a better understanding of the food you’re growing? Those are all great reasons to start seed indoors. Want to give it a try? Read these tips first to ensure a successful seed starting season.
1. Get a seed-starting calendar
Back in the old days, we gardeners had to make a calendar to note when we started seeds indoors. Today there are probably gardening apps that will help you keep track of days, but nothing beats seeing plant names scribbled across calendar dates to help you visualize your garden. To help you start your seeds indoors, many companies publish indoor seed starting calendars and seed starting charts. Check out the calendars offered by Johnny’s Seeds, Organic Gardening and the Old Farmer’s Almanac to get started.
All the seed-starting calendars and charts work pretty much the same way, but try a few and see if one works best for you.
The most important thing to take away is that you want to start your seeds at just the right time. Don’t start your seeds too early—especially your tomatoes—because they may become elongated and weaken before you can plant them outdoors. You’re aiming to plant your seedlings out by the last frost date in your area. Don’t know when last frost date is? The best way to find out is to contact your county extension office and get the last frost date for your zone.
2. Temperature for starting plants from seeds indoors
You can get really nerdy with thinking about, plotting and managing the temperature of your seedlings for optimal growth. However, knowing that most seeds grow fine at 65-70 degrees F will be enough for most gardeners. Much lower than that and the seeds may rot rather than germinate. Higher and the seedlings grow too fast and become leggy and won’t be fit for the garden.
3. Lights for starting seeds indoors
Unless you are blessed with a greenhouse, floor-to-ceiling windows, uninterrupted southern exposure and no cloud cover over winter, you’re going to need to supply lights for your seed started indoors. Most seedlings will require 14-16 hours of daylight to produce strong stems and leaves and ultimately healthy adult plants. You can provide the necessary light requirement by buying grow lights for your seedlings, or Googling for instructions on how to make your own lighting system for starting plants from seeds indoors.
Photo via Doug Green
4. Hardening off seeds started indoors
Gardeners new to starting plants from seeds indoors make hardening off seedlings way more difficult than it really is. Basically what you’re doing when you are hardening off is preparing your seedlings for life outside. This could be done by running a small fan over your seedlings to mimic the strong breezes outdoors. Or you could brush your hand over the tops of your seedlings to strengthen them.
Don’t just toss your seedling outside the first sunny day of the year. Get them acclimated to the outdoors by setting them out in the partial sun for an hour in the spring. The next day increase their time outdoors by an hour. Do the same on the third day, and so on. By the end of the week your seedlings should have spent a whole day’s worth of time outside. Keep an eye on your seedlings outdoors and make sure they don’t get too hot or too cold while hardening off to life outdoors.
Starting plants from seeds indoors can be really rewarding. Not only can you save money by starting your own plants from seeds, but you can rest assured that you know what went into making your plant from start to finish because you were there the whole time.
Start with a plan and make yourself a seed starting-calendar or chart and plot out when you should start your seeds indoors. The best seed companies will print all the info you need on the back of their seed packets. Know your last frost date to ensure you are not planting your seeds too early. Give your seedlings good lighting and ideal temps, and before you know it, you’ll be hardening off your army of seedlings in the spring and preparing them for planting outdoors.
Want to learn more?
There’s an entire lesson on starting plants from seedlings in the Craftsy class Vegetable Gardening: Smart Techniques for Plentiful Results, taught by expert gardener Doug Green. He reveals innovative gardening techniques for growing better, stronger vegetables — fast!
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