Peat pots are the simplest solution – just add water to expand the pellets, then add seed. You also can buy biodegradable peat cell packs, seed-starting trays or you can reuse plastic cups, yogurt containers or milk jugs (Be sure to add drainage holes).
Prepackaged seed-starting mix gives seeds the best conditions to take root.
Pro tip: You can buy the mix or make your own with equal parts peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. Topsoil is too dense for starting seeds in containers.
Use fresh seeds whenever possible, as they have the best chance to germinate. Older seeds can be spread more thickly to offset their lower germination rate. Follow planting instructions on the seed packet. Some seeds, such as peas, should be soaked first. Others need to be covered lightly with soil mix. You can start most seed varieties six to eight weeks before transplanting outdoors.
How to Start Seeds Indoors
- If you use peat post/pellets, moisten them first. If you use a container, fill with pre-moistened seed-starting mix and tamp gently to remove air pockets. Pro Tip: If you reuse a container, clean it with a solution of 10 percent bleach to kill pathogens before you add soil.
- Large seeds, such as beans and peas, can be placed by hand while medium-sized seeds can be planted with tweezers. For tiny seeds, such as lettuce or basil, use a folded piece of paper and a toothpick to sow seeds more evenly. Press larger seeds into the soil and lightly cover smaller seeds with seed-starting mix. Do not cover too deeply.
- Keep the soil damp, not wet. Water seeds using a spray bottle so you don’t wash the seeds out of the soil. Seeds need warmth to germinate. Place seed tray on top of a refrigerator to capture ambient warmth, or cover it with a clear, plastic lid to recreate greenhouse conditions. Germination takes 2 to 10 days, depending on the seed.
- Once seedlings germinate, place them near a light source, such as a south-facing window. Rotate trays every few days so seedlings grow upright. For optimum photosynthesis, place seedlings 8-10 inches beneath grow lights. Keep the lights on 14-16 hours a day; use a timer if necessary.
- Thin seedlings when they reach 2-3 inches tall and have developed a set of true leaves. Select the strongest seedling in each cell and carefully clip off competing stems.
- Feed weekly with a liquid soluble plant food diluted to quarter strength. Wait to transplant seedlings into the garden until danger of frost has passed. Ease the transition from indoor to outdoor conditions by “hardening off” seedlings. Set trays in the shade for a few days, then move them where they’ll gradually get a little more sunlight each day. They should be acclimated to the stronger light within a week.
Starting Seeds Hydroponically
Seeds can also be started indoors using a hydrogardening system and then transferred outdoors when the weather is optimal. Hydrogardening, also known as hydroponic gardening, is a method of growing plants in little or no soil, often in a blend such as peat or coco coir, using a carefully balanced nutrient-rich solution. Various kits are available to help simplify the process for beginners. Shop Hydrogardening
How to Plant Seeds Outdoors
- Some plants are best seeded directly in the garden—often those with large seeds, such as peas, beans, squash, and corn. But small-seed carrots and radishes also do better when started outdoors. Here are some helpful tips.
- Choose a spot that drains well and gets plenty of sunlight.
- Prepare the soil by raking the area clear of leaves and other debris. Dig down to about 12 inches to loosen the soil. Add fertilizer, if needed.
- Make planting rows with a garden trowel or hoe. If planting seeds in groups rather than rows, use a pointed object such as a pencil to make indentations in the soil.
- Sow according to recommendations on the seed packet. Large seeds can be planted individually. Some seeds are quite small and can be mixed with a bit of sand and sprinkled over the area.
- Attach the empty packet to a stick at the end of the row to identify what is planted and serve as a handy reference.
- Keep the garden watered. Most plants do well with about an inch of water a week. Irrigate in the morning so foliage can dry before nightfall. Or use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to direct moisture where it’s needed.