If you haven’t started your vegetable and herb seeds indoors yet, it is slowly getting near the time to start. Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump on the growing season, especially if you live in a short season climate.
Some vegetables, such as eggplant, take quite a bit of time to germinate, so starting seeds indoors is almost essential for those in colder zones. Starting seeds indoors can be very fun and is the perfect activity to shake off those winter-time blues.
20 Easy Tips For Starting Seeds Indoors
- If reusing containers from the previous year clean and disinfect them properly using a solution of vinegar and water. A ratio of 2 parts vinegar to one part water should suffice. Vinegar can also be used full strength but make sure to rinse the container thoroughly.
- Use high quality organic and heirloom seeds for your vegetables and herbs. Buying seeds that are deemed organic is crucial to ensure no chemicals were used on the seeds or the parent plant. There are several good sources for heirloom and organic seeds such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seed Co., and W. Atlee Burpee.
- Seeds can be started typically 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost date depending on the vegetable. Carefully read the seed packet for the best times to start the seed for your zone.
- Use a high quality seed starting mix for optimum germination and growth rates.
- Make sure to use plant markers to label your sowed seeds with the name of the plant, the variety and the date sowed. This is a must if starting a lot of seeds at one time to avoid confusion. Putting the date on the label of when the seeds were started will help you keep track of what is supposed to be germinating and when it is supposed to germinate.
- If using small pots or containers to start your seeds make sure you have drain holes in the bottom to allow good drainage.
- Avoid overcrowding by using wider flats or pots. Overcrowding can stunt the growth of seedlings causing weaker seedlings that can struggle once transplanted in the vegetable garden. Using a wide seed starting flat can ensure a good start for your seedlings.
- Lightly tamp seeds so they make good contact with soil. Lightly tamping the seeds once sowed can help speed up germination by making sure the seed is coming in good contact to the seed starting mix. You can use your finger or a plastic spoon to lightly tamp the seeds after they are sown. Do not tamp too hard, just a light pat or two will suffice.
- Most seeds need temperatures between 60 to 70°F in order to properly germinate. If it is difficult to keep these temperatures, use a seed starter heat mat to maintain proper temperatures.
- If the seed has a hard shell or coating gently sand one side of the seeds with a fingernail file or fine sandpaper. This will encourage faster germination times and increase germination rates. Soaking seeds in warm water will help aid germination as well.
- Use a plastic wrap (like saran wrap) to cover small pots when starting seeds. This will help to keep a consistent moisture level. Using a seed tray with a greenhouse-style cover works well too.
- Place seed trays near a south facing window for the best light. Use grow lights if a well-lit window is not available. Try to keep grow lights as close to the new seedlings as possible without actually touching the light bulbs. Move the lights up as the seedlings grow. The distance between the lights and the seedlings can increase once the seedlings have reached a few inches tall.
- If starting seedlings near a window, rotate the seed tray a quarter of a turn throughout the day. This will prevent the seedlings from leaning to one side following the sunlight and will help encourage stronger stems.
- Give seedlings nutrients once they have established their true leaves. Lightly mist plants with a compost tea or diluted fish emulsion spray.
- It is best to water seedlings from underneath. You can accomplish this by sitting seedling trays in a shallow container of water and let the water seep up through the starter mix. This will encourage the roots to grow deeper and develop a much stronger root system. The Burpee Ultimate Growing System does a great job of keeping the starter mix damp by using a water absorbing mat underneath the seed tray.
- Once the seedlings have sprouted, use a small fan (set at low speed) to improve air flow. This can decrease chances of disease and encourage the development of stronger stems.
- When seedlings reach about two inches tall, gently run your palm across the top of them a couple times a day. This will help to harden them off, and encourage stronger stems and bushier growth.
- About a week before planting outdoors harden your seedlings off. Set the seedlings outside for a couple hours each day, gradually increasing the time over the course of the week. This will prepare the seedlings for the great outdoors and helps to prevent shock.
- Gently remove seedlings from seed trays to prevent damaging the roots. You can use a small plastic fork or spoon to remove the seedling from the tray cell. Slide the plastic spoon down one side of the tray cell and gently pop the seedlings (start mix and all) out of the cell.
- Many vegetables are more productive when sown directly in the garden. These are mostly beans and peas, cucumbers, squash, okra, pumkpins, and melons.