Getting Your Spring Garden Started Indoors
There are numerous benefits to starting your seeds indoors for your spring garden. Not only is it amazing to watch life’s little miracles, but the quality of home grown and locally grown food is unbeatable in terms of freshness, quality, taste and nutritional content. Even better, you will be able to save money by growing your own harvest of tomatoes to get you through a good part of the year for much less than the grocery store prices or even your local farmers market.
If you are new to starting seeds indoors or want to refresh your knowledge on how to do it, I have your back. I am going to give you the rundown and easy tips to get your seeds started indoors, what equipment you need, recommendations of supplies and seeds and a step by step guide for a successful start to your garden.
Planning Your Spring Garden
Late winter may still be a time of cold and snow for many that has people bundled up inside. For me, this time of year is when seed catalogues start to find their way into my mailbox. It is my time to dream! Each year I like to try a few new varieties of plants but make sure to also restock my favorite tried and true varieties.
Not only do I like to start my plants from seed because it saves me money on plants, but it also allows me to have way more control over what I grow. When you start looking at your seed catalogues you begin to discover all types of plants and varieties of these plants that you may have never seen before!
Starting your own seeds allows you to watch the process from start to finish and insure that your plants are grown without using harsh chemicals. You get full control of this process and it allows you to watch this beautiful express of life on our planet. From a tiny seed all of the information that is needed to create a delicious, nutritious and just plain beautiful specimen is at your fingertips. Place your seed in the ground, nurture it and watch this miracle unfold before your eyes.
Even before you start picking out your seeds, you should be thinking about where you will be planting this year and the amount of space and light this space gets. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you first get started but start small to gain experience and as you go you can expand. When choosing what to plant be sure to also factor in the size it will be before it goes out. When you start your seedlings indoors early, it is likely that some will need to be transplanted into larger containers before planting time has come around.
How to care for seedlings
Don’t be intimidated by planting seeds. It really is a forgiving process and if you fail, you can try, try again. The key to caring for seedlings really begins with understanding the basic needs of what seeds need to thrive. They need a moist, mostly dark environment with soil to germinate (unless you are doing aquaponics). Some seeds prefer sunlight when germinating but most generally want to be covered up with some soil.
How to plant seeds
When you begin planting, your seed packet- if you have one is your trusty advisor. Most good seed packets will tell you the depth at which to plant your seeds, how many days to germinate and how many days to maturity. The first step is to get a good seed starting medium to begin with. Ideally you do not want to use potting soil but instead peat free seed starting mix. The reason for this is that most potting soil contains fertilizers and is much more coarse.
You can use many items to hold the soil. You can repurpose take out containers by drilling a drainage hole in the bottom, toilet paper rolls, yogurt cups and more. When you are ready to plant, moisten your seed-starting mix with lukewarm water with a spray bottle so that the soil material is fully moistened but not soaking.
Once your material is moistened, place the mix into the trays. Plant your seeds according to the instructions listed on your seedling packet. Be sure to pay attention to this piece as each seedling has different needs. Mist the soil on top after the seed is planted and use plastic wrap or a plastic dome to contain the humidity in the planting tray.
As soon as your first little seedling sprouts, remove the covering and place under your light source. If you are using a grow light you can keep it on for 18-24 hours. When you are ready to start blooming you drop that down to 12-16.
Each day, mist the seedlings as needed, focusing on the roots of the plant and not the plant leaves. If you are using a grow light, keep the light low enough so that it nearly touches the trays during germination. As your plants continue to mature, move the grow light up and away, staying roughly 4 inches away. Use your hand as a guide, if your hand is hot near your plants, the light is too close. Using a fan in the room or by using your fingers, supply the seedlings with a gentle breeze to help harden them as they grow taller.
When it comes to hardening them off, you slowly bring them outside on nice days for longer stretches of time each day. Do this for 1-2 weeks before you plant.
How much light should my seedlings get?
Most plants want 6 hours of direct sun. A south facing window is best. If they are getting leggy then they are searching for more light.
When to put my seedlings under light?
Once your seedlings emerge from the growth medium you can place it under a light.
How close should a light be to my seedlings?
I place mine 2-4 inches below the light. You can use your hand to feel where the plant is to see if the light is too warm or not.
When to buy seedlings?
If you have an LED light or access to a very sunny windowsill you can purchase seedlings up to 2-3 months before your last frost date. If you do not have a place to keep them safe from frost then wait until all danger of frost has passed in your planting zone.
When to start seeds indoors?
Each plant variety has a different recommended start date. You should be able to get this information off of the seed packet if you have one. If you have an LED light you can start much sooner than if you are just planting by a windowsill. I generally start seeds like salad and cold weather plants in February and really amp up my seeding in April to be planted out in late May.
How often to water seedlings indoors?
Your planting medium should be moist but not wet at all times. You can get a gauge for this by checking to see if the top inch of the soil is moist. If not, it needs water. I check on my seedlings everyday and some need more watering than others. It also depends on the pot size as bigger pots will retain more water. If you are using a plastic container it can also go longer without being watered compared to a paper pot which will wick moisture away. When you are water avoid watering the seeds and instead water at the base.
What are seed starting supplies?
It is easy to go overboard when getting your seed starting operation up and going but you really do not need to. At a bare minimum you will need seed-starting trays or small pots and a good quality seed starting mix or planting pellets.
Ideal conditions for seed starting is in a warm, room with plenty of light. Ideally you would use a grow light kit or have your seedlings by a sunny east south facing window.
If you are looking to up your seed starting game you may want to look at:
- Seed Starting Kit
- Heated propagation mats
- Grow Lights I prefer lights that offer full spectrum lighting (pink light)
- Seedling Markers or a permanent marker
- Spray bottle
Best seed starting mix?
I like to use SunGro’s Seedling Mix. You can also use coconut coir which is a renewable resource and expands when in water. A little can go a long way.
When to remove seedlings from the heat mat?
If you are using a heat mat indoors with warm temperatures, I turn mine off after germination.
When to start seeds indoors chart
My Favorite Seeds Brands
When looking for seeds, I often recommend people first turn to local seed companies or to seed swap meetups in your area. I am lucky in Denver, Colorado to have some fantastic seed opportunities. One of my favorite companies, which I have been purchasing seeds from for many years now is Botanical Interests out of Broomfield, CO. They have a variety of options that grow well in our soil and climate. With organic and heirloom seed options, Botanical Interests has seeds to start your vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials.
Why not plant medicinal plants in your garden this year? For interesting seeds for a wonderful variety of medicinal plants, I turn to Strictly Medicinal seed company. When choosing seeds for your garden, make sure you can provide the proper growing conditions for your plants of choice.
To see a complete list of my FAVORITE seed companies be sure to stop by here.
Benefits of using organic seeds
Look for organic or untreated seeds to avoid diminishing the life or your soil overtime. When conventional seeds are harvested, they have likely been more exposed to more pesticides and herbicides than seeds grown in an organic environment. A spiritual aspect also points to the fact that seeds carry knowledge and experiences with them, just like humans. Organic seeds retain nature knowledge within them.
How to cold stratify seeds
Each seed requires different planting dates, depths and some require stratification. To know what the seed requirements are, refer to your seed packet for the information you need to get you off to a good start. For those that require a cold moist treatment, which most native plants do, you can accomplish this by dampening a paper towel, squeeze out excess water, pour seeds onto the towel, wrap it up, place in a plastic bag and close almost all the way and place in the fridge for the recommended treatment period.
Stratification is completed by scarifying the seeds which just means roughing them up with some sandpaper.
When it comes to timing, you want to make sure not to plant your seeds too far in advance as they will be weak or root bound which will make them more susceptible to disease and pests.
For larger plants or those with root sensitivity look at using peat pots as you can place the plant pot directly in the ground. Over time the peat pots will biodegrade and the roots will grow out of these pots into the surrounding soil. I purchase mine from Botanical Interests as well.
Good luck and enjoy!