How to Start Seeds Indoors

Get your plants off to a good start with these tips for indoor seed starting.

  • Get creative with your seed-starting pots – and use what you already have around the house.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • Plant a few seeds in each cell of your tray to increase the number of starts to choose from later.
    Photo by Paula Thomas
  • Once the seedlings have developed their second set of true leaves, thin them out to reduce crowding.
    Photo by Paula Thomas
  • Lettuce seedlings getting a head-start on the season.
    Photo by Paula Thomas
  • Create something beautiful for your living room seed-starting setup and it will be something you'll regularly look at and tend to.
    Illustration by Nate Skow Illustration
  • young tomato plant under LED grow light.
    Photo by Getty Images/nikkytok
  • Growing tomato plants indoors under fluorescent lights.
    Photo by Getty Images/DaveAlan

Starting seeds indoors at home — this simple idea probably causes the greatest mix of either anxiety or eternal optimism of any aspect of gardening that I’ve helped people with in my years of growing vegetables at home. In reality, it warrants neither end of the spectrum. In many cases, it’s not quite as easy as so many kindergarten teachers have made us believe in our “green bean in a plastic cup” experiments in school, but at the same time, with some basic knowledge, some do’s and don’ts, and a bit of good preparation, it’s certainly no reason for anxiety.

I’ve started hundreds of plants indoors in the dead of winter: I’ve been successful, and to be honest, I’ve failed a few times as well, but I’ve gained a good understanding of what to do and what to not do (or watch for) through those successes and failures.

There are a lot of reasons why people decide to take on indoor seed starting. Perhaps your potted starts are beginning to get a little too pricey for your garden budget because, like me, over the years your garden has expanded and grown to proportions that just get too darn expensive to buy potted starts for all your needs.

Maybe as you’ve seen how successful you can be, you’ve decided you want to branch out into some more “exotic” varieties to really get a bang for your garden buck, but you can’t seem to find starts for these plants locally. There are few better ways to ensure your garden investment than to grow those expensive or hard-to-find specialty items that you can’t find at the local grocers.

It could be as simple as you’re just a do-it-yourselfer at heart and want to take charge of that one final element to your garden you have been relegating to the nursery, or just to enjoy a fun experiment with your children. Any or all are great reasons to take the challenge on, and knowing what’s driving you is a big deal in determining how you decide to scale up and move forward.

So the first step is to identify why you will be starting seeds indoors, and what you hope to gain from it. A clear understanding of why you’re doing this is the best way to know whether you were successful in your endeavors, and success is the best reason to continue to try new things.

2/2/2018 8:11:05 PM

I purchase some plants each year usually something I want to try or something I only want a few of and do not want to purchase a whole package of seed to try. I save the plant cells those plants come in and re-use them for the things I start at home. I came across some ivory colored plastic panels one time and being the scavenger I am I carried them home thinking I would find some use for them. They are just the right thickness and stiffness to use as plant labels so I cut up the split and otherwise damaged ones and write the names of my plantings on them. We occasionally purchase such things as yogurt, fruit, applesauce, etc. in the individual serving size for convenience when we want to carry the item with us for a snack on the road and make sure we keep the little plastic cups they come in for use as plant starter pots.

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