I have a deeply rooted love for gardening—yes, pun intended—one stemming from years of watching the people I love carefully tend to cucumber and tomato plants. Developing a passion for gardening was a no-brainer for me, and this year, I took things a step further by starting all of my plants from seeds.
Starting your plants from seeds has many advantages, along with some slight disadvantages that I discovered along the way. If you are curious about seed starting or growing seeds indoors, even if your setup is not perfect, I’m here to help.
Here’s how I started my garden indoors from just a few seeds, which will be all ready to plant in the coming weeks—stay tuned.
Choosing Which Seeds to Plant
My advice for selecting seeds is to plant what you know you will eat with a few fun additions and varieties. The joy of gardening from seeds is growing varieties of vegetables or fruits that you can’t buy in the grocery store, making it all the more rewarding when you harvest your bounty.
Unsure about where to start? Look for online seed companies that carry “heirloom” varieties of seeds. Some of my favorites are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Hudson Valley Seed Co., and MIGardener. All of these are small businesses and specialize in rare, heirloom, organic, and non-GMO varieties of plants.
For example, I was bored of the flavorless tomato varieties that I was purchasing from big-box stores, and so this year, I committed to starting tomato seeds for varieties I couldn’t get anywhere else, including striped cherry tomatoes, large fluted Sicilian tomatoes, and more.
How to Start Seeds
Starting seeds seemed like a daunting journey for me, but after conducting research all winter, I decided to give it a go despite lacking some ideal conditions—namely a greenhouse. Here's how I started my seeds right in my garage:
- Purchase reliable seed starting trays. I used these trays from Amazon that have a domed lid, which is essential for keeping the seeds warm and moist throughout the germination stage.
- Grab a soil mixture that is specifically designed for seed starting and germination, which can be easily found online or in your local store.
- Organize your seeds and determine how many cells to fill with each variety.
- Fill each cell of your seed starting tray with the soil mixture, and be sure to moisten it first.
- Tuck a few seeds, around 2-3, per cell in the soil ¼ of an inch deep.
It’s possible that every seed will germinate—more on what to do if that happens to come—but the goal is to get one healthy seedling in each cell.
How to Care for Seeds Before and After Germination
Caring for the seeds once they are planted is another important piece of the puzzle. Seeds can take anywhere from 7-10 days to germinate or sprout up from the soil. At this time, the seeds should remain somewhere warm, but not necessarily bright. After the seedling comes up, though, light is essential for growth.
Place your seed starting trays in a place where they will get lots of sunlight throughout the day near a window or sliding door. Mine remained at the foot of our backyard sliding door for several weeks to ensure they got enough light.
Ensure your seedlings' soil does not dry out, but be sure not to overwater, either. These new plants are really delicate. What worked best for me to ensure the soil was moist but the fragile roots were not disrupted was misting the plants using a spray bottle.
It can be a little tedious to mist each cell every day, but it is only temporary. When the seedlings are at a good height, you can safely pour water on them directly.
Now comes a good problem: let’s say you sowed 3 tomato seeds, and what do you know, 3 small tomato plants are growing in your cell. You have two options. Depending on how large your garden is, you may not need these extra seedlings. If so, leave the strongest seedling intact and snip the others around it. Do not pull them out, as this may disturb the roots of the strong seedling.
If you’re like me and you cannot bear to part with all these potential plants, you can transplant them into larger cups. Here’s how.
- Use a larger container (I used Solo cups, which worked just fine), cut a small hole at the bottom for drainage, and fill it with moistened seed starting soil.
- Gently pop the contents of your cell out of the plastic container—soil and seedlings. Over another tray, gently shake away the soil and begin separating the roots of each seedling until you separate it into the individual plants.
- Place each seedling in its own prepared cup, carefully bury the roots, and ensure it is strongly standing upright.
The Pros and Cons of Seed Starting
There are many perks to starting your own seeds, but many deterrents that new gardeners should be aware of. The pros for me include the ability to grow so many unique varieties of plants I can’t find otherwise, getting a head start on the garden, and as someone who loves to garden, having plants to take care of early in the growing season.
But, there are cons, of course. Caring for seedlings from scratch can be a laborious process, and sometimes, it may not work as you anticipated. It is definitely much more difficult than buying plants at your local nursery, and so my advice is to keep your seed starting on a scale that feels manageable and enjoyable for you. There’s no need to start 100 seeds just because they came in the pack, especially if this is just beyond your growing capacity.
Start a few seeds, see how it goes, and you’ll feel wonderful knowing that the plants that wind up in your garden got there all because of your care.