8 indoor seed-starting tips

Starting seeds indoors gives you a jump on the planting season. Here are eight tips to get going on indoor seed starting.

8 indoor seed-starting tips

Indoors or outdoors?

  • Indoor sowing is the preferred method for starting tiny seeds that are easily disturbed by weather and pests, but certain plants don't like to be transplanted, so they're best sown where they will grow.
  • Outdoor sowing is most practical for vegetables and fast-growing annual flowers.

1. Warm them up

Plant varieties have individual preferences for germination conditions, especially with regard to temperature and light.

  • Many seeds, such as nasturtiums, lettuce and peas, like a temperature around 24°C, which can often be found on top of a refrigerator or near a stove.

2. Test leftover seeds

Leftover seeds from previous years may still be good, but why take a chance? One simple way to see if old seeds are still viable is to place them in a glass of water.

  • Seeds that fall to the bottom have a good chance of growing; discard those that float to the top.

Another test is to place 20 or so seeds from the old packet between two moist paper towels and tuck it into a plastic sandwich bag for a few days, then look inside to check for germination.

  • Use the percentage of germinated seeds as a guide for how much to sow, or go ahead and plant the sprouted test seeds.

3. Recycle containers as mini greenhouses

  • Plastic cake, cookie and salad containers with clear domed lids — like those you get from supermarkets or fast-food restaurants — make great containers in which to start flowers and herbs from seed.

The clear cover admits light and helps the seeds stay moist.

4. Snip doubles down to singles

Beets, chard and a few other plants have two seeds within each seed capsule.

  • If both of them germinate, use cuticle scissors to nip out the extra seedling.

5. Provide small sips of water

  • Use a clean dishwashing liquid bottle or a turkey baster to gently dribble water on germinating seeds.

Overwatering can lead to problems with damping off, a fungal infection that causes seedling stems to fall over and rot.

6. Plan ahead for moving day

  • A week or more before setting seeds out, feed them with liquid fertilizer and set them outdoors for a few hours each day.

Plants adjust to the outdoors best if they gradually become accustomed to sun and wind.

7. Avoid touching the stems

  • When it's time to plant, gently lift seedlings out of their containers by pushing from the bottom while sliding them onto a table knife.
  • Support the roots in one hand and position the plant by holding a side leaf.
  • Set most seedlings slightly deeper than they grew in their containers.
  • Tomatoes can be planted much deeper because they will develop roots along the buried section of the stem.

8. Shade tender seedlings

  • Shade tender seedlings for two to three days after setting them out by covering them with a flowerpot.

Instead of struggling to cope with strong sun, the plants can concentrate on developing new roots. Try this trick with purchased bedding plants as well as homegrown seedlings.

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