When you start seeds indoors for flowers and vegetables, you’ll find that growing from seed is easy and affordable and the benefits extend beyond your garden borders.
“People think that seed starting is hard, but it’s really not,” says Julie Thompson-Adolf, author of Starting & Saving Seeds: Grow the Perfect Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs and Flowers for Your Garden (Cool Springs Press). If you tried unsuccessfully in the past to grow crops from seeds, this author encourages you to try again.
“People may have had a bad first experience, but once you learn the right way to do it, you learn that it’s really easy,” she says.
Starting a garden with seeds gives you a greater range of plants to grow, many of them heirloom varieties that exist because of seed saving. You also have control of the crop from seed to harvest, an important consideration in organic gardening. In these days of food recalls on contaminated produce, it’s reassuring to know that if you grow it yourself, you’ll always know where your food comes from.
At about $2 per package of seeds, starting plants yourself adds a little more green to your wallet. There are start-up costs for grow lights, soil and trays, but once you make the investment, you’ll be able to use the equipment for many years. You may even enjoy the process so much you turn it into a business, like selling vegetables at a farmer’s market, Thompson-Adolf says.
How to begin with seeds:
- The best first step is to make a list of what you love: flowers like zinnias and coreopsis, your favorite vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.
- If you are a new gardener, edit yourself. Pick a handful of favorites and learn the process in your first year, adding more favorites in subsequent years.
- When planning your garden, think about how much time you have to spend on this project. If you travel, tender greens like spinach and lettuce aren’t the best choice because they need frequent harvesting. On the other hand, they’re inexpensive and easy to grow, so if you’re around the house, plant and enjoy fresh salad every day.
- Know your location. Will the plants live in full sun (six to eight hours of light) or partial shade (three to six hours of light)? Most vegetables thrive in full sun, although tender greens like spinach prefer partial shade.
- Some seeds need extra help before planting. For example, nasturtium seeds need a nick and an overnight soak. Beet seeds need to be packed in the soil. Knowing these tricks puts you on the path to garden success.
- A good light source for growing seeds indoors. If the light is too far away, the seedlings stretch out and are weak. Having a good light source two to three inches above, raised gradually, leads to strong, hardy stems.
Tip: You may be concerned about GMO (genetically modified) seeds. All seeds sold at The Home Depot are non-GMO.
The most important key to seed starting is timing. If you start too early, the seedlings will be leggy and weak when it’s time to plant. Seeds started too late will miss out on the best conditions for flowering and fruiting and make for a disappointing harvest.
For warm weather crops like tomatoes, read the seed packet and check the “days to germinate” and add the “days to maturity.” Working with your area’s last frost date, use this sum and count backward to get the ideal date to start seeds. For step-by-step seed starting instructions, check out this project guide.
Seed starting is not just for folks with a 1/4 acre plot or more; seeds can be successfully started and grown for container planting.
Tips for growing veggies in containers:
- Look for hybrid varieties bred for containers. Keywords for best small space varieties are “patio” and “compact.”
- You don’t need gravel in the pot, just adequate drainage holes. Adding gravel to the pot can lead to root rot.
- Edibles make fine ornamentals when grown in containers. Examples are “patio” varieties of peppers and eggplants that look beautiful while growing.
At the end of the season, save seeds from open pollinated or heirloom plants. Hybrids have many great features, but they won’t grow back true from seed. The easiest seeds to save are beans. Just leave a few to dry on the vine after harvest. In October, pop open the pods, and store and save the dry beans for the next year.
Seeds to start indoors
- Brussels sprouts
- Lettuce and other salad greens
Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden when the soil temperature is warm enough, usually about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, although that varies by vegetable. Refer to the seed packet for complete information.
Direct sow these seeds
- Spring onions