Get Ready for Spring! Start Seeds Indoors

For an early harvest, start spring vegetables like this broad bean indoors.
For an early harvest, start spring vegetables like this broad bean indoors.

Start Your Garden Indoors

As winter gasps its last cold breaths, get a jumpstart on spring. Start seeds indoors. Your home will be brighter, your landscape will bloom sooner, and your vegetable garden will produce earlier if you do.

Scroll down now to learn how to

  • create your own seed-starting mix,
  • choose the best containers,
  • sow at the right of year,
  • provide optimum water and light, and
  • transplant seedlings that will survive early spring weather.

 

From Seed to Seedling

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Small seeds are often broadcast or scattered. Some require light in order to germinate. If you're unsure about planting requirements, check the directions on the seed packet. With adequate light and water, the seeds you sow will germinate indoors.Be sure to thin seedlings. This bean plant is ready for transplant.Transplant seedlings into your vegetable patch. Straw or garden covers will help protect tender young plants from wildlife as well as harsh weather.
Small seeds are often broadcast or scattered. Some require light in order to germinate. If you're unsure about planting requirements, check the directions on the seed packet.
Small seeds are often broadcast or scattered. Some require light in order to germinate. If you're unsure about planting requirements, check the directions on the seed packet.
With adequate light and water, the seeds you sow will germinate indoors.
With adequate light and water, the seeds you sow will germinate indoors.
Be sure to thin seedlings.
Be sure to thin seedlings.
This bean plant is ready for transplant.
This bean plant is ready for transplant.
Transplant seedlings into your vegetable patch. Straw or garden covers will help protect tender young plants from wildlife as well as harsh weather.
Transplant seedlings into your vegetable patch. Straw or garden covers will help protect tender young plants from wildlife as well as harsh weather.

Learn More about Starting Seeds Indoors

The New Seed-Starter's Handbook
The New Seed-Starter's Handbook

Great for home gardeners, this handbook is often referenced by experts, too!

 
Starting Seeds Indoors: Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin  A-104
Starting Seeds Indoors: Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-104

This small book is practical, informative, and cheap.

 

Get the Right Mix

For best results, start seeds in a soilless mixture of sphagnum peat moss or coir, vermiculite, and perlite.

Peat retains water and air, and it decomposes slowly. Because it's acidic, with a pH ranging from 3.5 to 4, limestone is sometimes added to it. Although peat contains some nutriuents, coir contains more. It's also more expensive and harder to find.

Unlike peat, vermiculite has a pH that's almost neutral, and it contains magnesium and calcium. It also helps seed-starting soil retain water and nutrients. Handled carefully, it allows drainage, too. If you plan to create your own mix, purchase medium-grade vermiculite.

You can make soilless mix from equal parts peat or coir and vermiculite alone. Adding perlite, however, is a good idea. Like vermiculite, perlite increases air flow and water drainage. It can also hold three to four times its weight in water--without becoming heavy like sand, which is also sometimes recommended for seed-starting mixes.

A good soilless mix drains well and permits germinated seeds to root easily. It is also lightweight, so seedlings grow straight, unencumbered by clods of dirt that might cause deformities in the plants as they grow. Soilless mixes are free of weed seeds, diseases, and insects, too, so there's no need to sterilize them in the oven or microwave.

You can purchase coir or peat, perlite, and vermiculite separately in order to make your own soilless mix. Or, you can buy premixed bags of seed starter. Although there are many recipes for soilless mixes, here's a basic formula that works well for most home gardeners:

3 parts peat or coir

3 parts vermiculite

1 part perlite (optional)

If you decide to repot your seedlings before transplanting them outdoors, add 1/4 cup fish meal to each gallon of soilless mix. This will give your young plants a good boost of nutrition.

For additional soilless mix recipes, consult the The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service's website, or purchase one of the guides from Amazon to the right of your screen.

Select the Best Containers

Any clean container will do for starting seeds, so long as it has these two qualities: 1) good drainage and 2) a depth of at least two inches. Seedlings need room to develop a strong root system, and they need well-drained soil in order to avoid developing Rhizoctonia and Pythium, two types of deadly "damping off" fungi.

If you're into recycling, try cottage cheese containers, yogurt containers, and milk carton bottoms. (Be sure to make drainage holes in them!) You may also reuse plastic flower pots/trays that you've cleaned and rinsed in a solution of chlorine bleach (1 part) and water (10 parts).

If you're worried that you may injure seedlings when transplanting them, sow your seeds in single-plant peat pots that can be planted right into the ground.

Time Requirements for Select Vegetables

Seedling
Weeks Needed to Develop 
Broccoli
Cabbage  
Cauliflower
8
Cucumber
4 (or less) 
Eggplant
8
Lettuce
8
Muskmelon
4 (or less)
Pepper
Squash
4 (or less) 
Tomato
6
Watermelon
4 (or less)

Sow at the Right Time

Before sowing seeds indoors, make sure that they will germinate and develop into seedlings that are ready for transplant after all chance of killing frost in your area has passed. For a general guide to the best times for outdoor planting, see the Farmers' Almanac.

The number of days needed for germination appears on the back of most seed packets. Many vegetables, including those noted in the time requirements chart to your right, require only five to ten days for germination.

As you're deciding when to sow, also factor in the number of weeks your seedlings need to develop before they can be safely transplanted outside.

Sow with Care

When it is time to sow your seeds, do it right. Moisten the soilless mix and fill your containers, leaving about 3/4 of an inch at the top. If you're planting tiny seeds, like lettuce, which need light in order to germinate, make the top 1/4 inch of growing medium vermiculite.

Use your fingers to tamp down the mix lightly to create a flat surface, and then start sowing. Follow the seed packet directions regarding planting depth, making sure not to plant seeds too deeply. As a general rule, they should be planted at a depth twice their diameter. Extremely small seeds should be pressed into the mix and lightly misted with water.

Keep the potting mix moist and warm. Most seeds germinate at temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees. The numbers of days required varies. Some, like broccoli, need only five to ten days for germination, while others, like geraniums, require anywhere from ten to 20.

Light, Water ... Action!

When your seeds have germinated, give them the light and water they need in order to grow. Place them in fluorescent light and keeping the growing medium moist.

Even if you have lots of windows, they won't provide enough light to ensure sturdy transplants. Seedlings need strong light and plenty of it--14 to 16 hours per day! The best way to give it to them is to place them one to two inches beneath fluorescent grow lights.

To keep the soilless mix moist but not wet, hydrate seedling pots by setting them in shallow pans of water so that they can wick up the moisture they need. It the surface dries out a bit between waterings, that's okay.

Although many gardeners hate to thin seedlings, it's a must if you want strong transplants. Pulling weak seedlings, however, can disturb the root systems of the plants you're keeping. Instead, cut them off at the soil line with scissors.

Know When to Transplant

One to two weeks before it's time to transplant, begin hardening your seedlings. Hardening slowly exposes seedlings to outdoor conditions and makes them more likely to survive--and thrive--in your garden. Gardeners in most regions of the U.S. can begin the hardening process in mid-March and transplant at the start of April.

To harden your seedlings, set them outside on warm days one to two weeks before you'll transplant them. Bring them in at night. When they are outdoors, make sure that they're in a shady area that's protected from the wind. Every day, leave them out a little bit longer. Don't, however, put them outside if a storm or high winds develop, or if the temperature drops below 45 degrees.

Get Started Now!

Jump Start JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System
Jump Start JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System

A grow light will assure that your seeds and seedlings get the light and warmth they need.

 
64 - 2" Square Burpee Peat Cells - Transplant Directly
64 - 2" Square Burpee Peat Cells - Transplant Directly

Plastic trays, egg shells or cartons, empty yogurt containers, or transplantable peat pots like these all make good containers for seedlings.

 
10 Oz Aluminum Spray Bottle
10 Oz Aluminum Spray Bottle

Keep seeds moist and warm for germination.

 
HOFFMAN HORTICULTURAL VERMICULITE
HOFFMAN HORTICULTURAL VERMICULITE

Create your own seed-starting medium by mixing vermiculite, perlite, and peat or coir.

 
Hoffman Horticultural Perlite - 8 Quart
Hoffman Horticultural Perlite - 8 Quart

Create your own seed-starting medium by mixing perlite, vermiculite, and peat or coir.

 
Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts
Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, 10 Quarts

Create your own seed-starting medium by mixing peat, perlite, and vermiculite.

 
Cocopeat Coconut Coir 24 Bricks Coco Coir Organic Potting Soil Amendments
Cocopeat Coconut Coir 24 Bricks Coco Coir Organic Potting Soil Amendments

Although coir is more expensive than peat, it creates a finer, more nutritious mix for seedlings.

 

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Comments 22 comments

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Awesome, carol777! Hope you have fun doing it. A salad bowl might be a fun way to begin. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Take care, The Dirt Farmer


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

I am going to start this next winter before spring. And having a garden inside is easier to remember to water.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi, Louis. Guess you've already started planting then! I've done a salad bowl (to keep indoors this winter) but haven't started my seedlings yet. You have me curious about your location! Am going to have to check out your profile! Thanks for commenting. --Jill


Louis Taylor profile image

Louis Taylor 4 years ago from UK

It is a must in short season climates to start indoors, I have to sow tomato seeds indoors in January to have a crop at all.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Hey, vocalcoach! There are several good sources for seeds for heirloom vegetables. I like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I've bought from them at gardening fairs and online at http://www.southernexposure.com/

Hope that helps your garden grow!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

What a wonderful and informative hub on planting seeds indoors. I am bookmarking this so that I can return to it after winter is over. I do have a question for you. I want to know where I can get real vegetable seeds. The good ones. The real kind. If you have information on this, please let me know. Thank you so much and I voted UP!

vocalcoach~


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for commenting, rainmist. Well, I agree with you that you shouldn't turn your house into a garden, and I've read the studies you have, too, which is why we don't have lots of plants in our bedroom. But I shouldn't think that starting a few seedlings indoors would be harmful. Of course, you could always just sow them directly outdoors when the weather's better. That works, too. Take it easy! --DF


rainmist profile image

rainmist 5 years ago from Las Vegas

I won't do that only if there is enough sunshine in my house because experts believes that plants will release carbon dioxide but not oxygen when there is less of sunshine . So little greens indoor is OK , never change your room to indoor-garden .


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Surfraz. Glad you liked it.


Surfraz profile image

Surfraz 5 years ago from India

really a nice hub


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Hi, Sunset San Diego!

Go to http://www.mastergardenerssandiego.org/

downloads/

VegetablePlantingGuide.pdf.

(Sorry. I can't get the entire link on the line.)Your County Extension office gives you the outdoor planting times for a variety of vegetables. Then, of course, you'll have to count backwards to figure out when you should start your seedlings indoors.

Hope that's what you needed! If not, write me again, and I'll try to do better.

Take it easy,

DF

Btw, I visited San Diego years ago and loved it. You're so lucky!


Sunset San Diego profile image

Sunset San Diego 5 years ago from California San Diego LA

Do you know what time of the year is it for San Diego and Palm Springs


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Hi, Candelish! Glad to hear from you. I'd suggest starting with radishes and lettuce. Both are easy to grow, and radishes germinate very quickly, so it's a really cool plant for kids--or anybody who likes fast results. Be sure to keep the soil moist and warm while the seeds are germinating. Check out my hub "Fast-Growing Plants for Vegetable Tabletop Gardens" for some suggestions. There's also a good hub called "Spring Lettuce Bowls" from Tuesdays Child that I read the other day. Let me know how it turns out! Take care, DF


Candelish profile image

Candelish 5 years ago from Florida

Thank you Dirt Farmer for a great Hub! I use grow lights in my house so my houseplants are wonderful, but last year my son and I started our first garden. Some from seed and some from plants. It did NOT turn out well. I live in FL and our property is mostly sand. I've decided to try container gardening. With that setup do you have any suggestions?


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, pertibha321. I'll check out your hubs, too. Take care, DF


pertibha321 profile image

pertibha321 5 years ago from india

hey dear u r great i loved ur writing and am going to become your fan.i know house grown vegetables are good for health and also save money.i just have written 2 articles on health one is http://hubpages.com/style/how-can-i-make-myself-fa try to check it out and give me suggestion.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, crystolite, for the comment--and for stopping by! --DF


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Very good info because some people don't really know you can start a garden inside.nice hub


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

I feel the same way, CYBERSUPE. Here in MD, the crocuses are blooming. It won't be long! Thanks for the comment--and happy gardening.


CYBERSUPE profile image

CYBERSUPE 5 years ago from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.

Hi The Dirt Farmer, I live in Pennsylvania and I can't wait for spring to get started outdoors. Good Hub.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for the comment, CennyWenny! Hope you have a healthy and bountiful garden, whether it's in the ground or on a tabletop.


CennyWenny profile image

CennyWenny 5 years ago from Washington

This is a very well written and helpful hub! I have a really short growing season where I live so starting seeds indoors or buying plants are often my only options.

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