If it’s still too cold to plant outside, starting seeds indoors gives you a head start on the growing season.
Lettuces, spinach, radishes and carrots can go into the ground as early as 6 weeks after seeding indoors. Start heat-lovers like tomatoes and peppers later, and give them 8 to 12 weeks from seed to the garden. Check seed packets for the number of days required before planting outdoors and how long it will be until you harvest.
There are two easy steps to seed starting – seed germination and growing a healthy plant.
Light isn’t required for seeds to sprout, but warmth is.
- Fill peat pots, strips and cellular trays with damp seed-starter mix.
- Plant seeds at the depth given on packets. Some seeds are simply scattered on top of the soil.
- Place plastic covers over or wrap trays with plastic wrap to keep moisture evenly spread.
- Move to a warm spot — the top of the refrigerator or a plant heat mat. When green sprouts are detected, move plants to a sunny spot.
Strong light is essential for growth.
- Place seedlings in a south-facing window or under grow lights. Lights should be 3” above seedlings and adjusted upward as plants grow taller.
- Keep seedlings under lights for 14 to 16 hours daily for optimum growth. If you can’t afford grow lights, use a 4’ fluorescent light fixture hung 3” over the seedlings.
- When plants become root-bound, pot them up into 4” containers and fertilize.
- Harden off the seedlings by moving them outside to a sheltered spot. Start by leaving them out for 3 to 4 hours and bringing them in at night. Increase to 2 to 3 more hours each day for the next 7 to 10 days, continuing to bring them in at night. After they’ve toughened up, plant them in the garden. Be sure that all danger of frost has passed before transplanting.