How to Start Spring Garden Seeds Inside
Home gardeners excited about getting started on plantings for the upcoming season might be tempted to start spring garden seeds as soon as temperatures begin to warm up. Unfortunately, depending on where you live, air and soil temperatures in early spring might not be as warm as they need to be for plants to be successful. Plus, there may still be winter storms around the corner, even if you’ve technically entered the spring season. Luckily, there are ways to start seeds early without exposing them to too-cold temperatures.
Starting garden plants inside is one way to get your garden started early, and it’s something even novice gardeners can manage! With the help of Woodie — an expert horticulturalist who has spent his life in the nursery growing beautiful plants — anyone can learn how to start seeds inside. Woodie works for Garden Goods Direct providing his expertise to gardeners like you and helping to establish the company as America’s online garden center. He wants to make a difference by encouraging you to add some green to your own space, and starting your garden inside is one way to do that!
There are benefits to starting seeds inside. You’ll save money, since seeds are less expensive than started plants. You will also find more options. With seeds, there’s a wider variety of colors and sizes to choose from. Woodie recommends ordering seeds online, which will give you access to the widest variety of options. If you’re looking for something specific, new or just something out of the ordinary, looking online is an excellent option.
Shopping online with Garden Goods Direct will give you access to a wide variety of Woodie-approved premium plants, and save you the time of having to walk around a nursery trying to figure out the right options. When you shop with Woodie, you have access to his extensive knowledge about plants. If you have any questions, you can drop him a line — he’s eager to help make sure you get the right products for your garden!
If you choose to start your spring garden seeds inside, by the time temperatures warm up, you will already have seedlings that are ready to be transplanted outdoors. You will also be able to harvest earlier, and have a greater yield than if you had started seeds directly in the garden.
Whether you are new to gardening, or just new to starting seeds inside, read on for Woodie’s seed starting tips for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
When Should You Start Your Seeds?
Certain plants, especially those that evolved in warmer climates like Central America, need warmer soil and more sun to get started. Some examples are peppers, tomatoes, beans and squash. If you try to start plants outdoors too early in a cooler climate, they are not likely to be successful. They may take so long to grow that the first frost would kill them before you were able to harvest any ripe vegetables.
If you want to start garden plants inside, but aren’t sure where to begin, start small and keep it simple! Begin with a couple of dozen plants in a few different varieties. When determining which seeds to start indoors, start with the information provided on your seed packets — it’s there to guide you.
Follow these steps for organizing your seeds in preparation for starting plants indoors.
- Separate the packets into two piles: those that will be started outdoors in the garden, and those that will be started indoors. If you’re not sure, ask a gardening-savvy neighbor or friend who is familiar with the local climate. Don’t hesitate to consult Woodie with any of your questions on seed starting as well! As a general rule, most vegetables and annuals can be started directly outdoors, while you’ll need to start most perennials indoors. However, certain long-season vegetables and summer-blooming annuals will be better off starting indoors.
- Once you know which seeds you’ll need to start indoors, you will need to determine the last frost date where you live. Once you have that date, count back in one-week increments. For example, if your last frost date is April 26, “Week 6” would be the week of March 15, “Week 8” would be the week of March 1, etc.
- Start separating the indoor seed packets based on the number of weeks ahead of the last frost date when you should start them. Each packet should give a range of time for sowing seeds, such as, “Start 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date.” Write the corresponding week on each seed packet, and separate them by week.
Some packets will only indicate the range of time it takes for seeds to germinate. If that’s the case, take that number and add six weeks. If you don’t even have that information, Woodie suggests starting the seeds about six weeks prior to when you plan to transplant them outdoors.
One of Woodie’s recommended tricks is to keep a record of all of your gardening activities, such as when you start seeds each year. It can be tricky to remember year to year, especially since you need to start different varieties at different times. Your records can serve as a guide during future years. Should you decide to expand your garden as years go on, having those records could be crucial to proper planning.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your schedule. If you are starting your seeds in a cooler environment, such as a basement, consider moving up your schedule by one or two weeks. Plants will grow more slowly if air and soil temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Conversely, you will want to move your schedule back one or two weeks if you plan to start seeds in an environment warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you start too early, plants may grow too large inside, and become stressed when it’s time to transplant. On the other hand, if you start too late, plants may not have time to mature before you’re ready to transplant. You may find a packet has more seeds than you need. Feel free to save them for next season, or plant them all and give some away or trade seedlings with friends. Try not to buy more seeds than you can use in a few years.
What Materials Will You Need?
You probably know any plant needs light and water to grow. When starting seeds inside, Woodie recommends gathering a few other materials, like growing medium, containers, heat and of course, some attention!
Having the proper medium is an important factor in your plant’s success. Seedlings are fragile, so the growing mix should be light so that it can hold the right amount of moisture. Soil that is too wet may become too heavy, and delicate new roots may not be able to make their way through the soil. The medium should also be sterile to prevent disease from forming.
A fresh, bagged seed-starting mix will do. You can also try compressed pellets, peat or coir, which expand when wet. Woodie says it’s OK to skip the fertilizer, since the seeds will contain all of the necessary nutrients.
Start with a three- to four-inch container. These are the containers in which your seeds will germinate and grow into the young plants that will be transplanted into your garden! Any type of container, such as recycled cell-packs, pots or yogurt containers, will work. Just remember to clean and sterilize them using a bleach solution. Make sure the containers have drainage holes, and be sure to place a waterproof tray underneath to hold them.
You may also try to use pots that will break down in the soil, such as those made from compressed peat or cow manure. Or, used recycled newspaper to form a pot you can fill with soil. When it’s time to transplant, you can place the biodegradable pot or newspaper right in the ground.
Warmth and Light
Your seedlings won’t need light right away. When they’re in the germination stage — when the embryo of the plant is emerging from the seed — it’s most important to keep the soil warm. You can use a heating mat, or place your seedlings on a dryer or refrigerator, or a few inches above a radiator.
Once the sprouts reach half an inch in size, move them under lights in a room-temperature environment — about 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Decide where to set up your plants. Choose a spot that is convenient for you and will allow soil to stay warm. You may be able to use natural light if you have an exceptionally sunny spot near a window — as long as it isn’t drafty. However, when growing seedlings indoors, Woodie believes you will achieve the best results if you use artificial light.
It’s important to get the right type of bulb, the right distance from the plant and for the right amount of time. Use a fluorescent bulb, which will give off more light than an incandescent bulb, but remain cooler. The heat from an incandescent bulb could be too much for your young plants. T-12 and T-8 fluorescent shop lights are inexpensive and available at most home improvement stores. Use a two-tube light fixture, with one cool-white bulb and one red-light bulb. This will expose plants to a wider spectrum of light.
Keep your lighting three to four inches above the plants as they grow, meaning you’ll need to raise the fixture as time goes on. Plan for the seedlings to receive 16 to 18 hours of light per day — Woodie likes to use a timer to control the lights to save him from having to turn them on and off every day!
Proper watering is key. You will want to keep the soil moist, but not so wet that the seeds are at risk of washing out. Be sure to start with moist soil when you sow your seeds, and keep the containers covered with plastic bags to hold in moisture while the seeds germinate.
After you remove the cover, always water your seedlings by pouring water into the tray. Never water from the top. Check the soil every day, and try to keep it moist like a damp sponge. Remember, it should be wet all the way through — not just on the surface.
Sowing Your Spring Garden Seeds
Once you have all the necessary materials, you will want to fill your containers with the growing mix and water it. This step may cause the mix to settle. If that’s the case, add more mix and water it again. Place the seeds into the mix at a depth that equals about four times the width of the seed. Add one seedling per container or cell, unless you are using older seeds, which may germinate at a lower rate. If that’s the case, use two or three. Once the seedlings sprout, keep the healthiest one and trim off the others at ground level.
Check on your seedlings daily. You should be examining the soil moisture, and looking to see if the seeds have sprouted, if lights are working properly, if you need to raise the lighting fixture or if it’s time to rotate plants — this last step is only necessary if they’re on a windowsill receiving natural light.
Transplanting Spring Garden Plants Outside
Be conservative and plan carefully when getting ready to transplant your seedlings. After all your hard work, you don’t want cold temperatures or a later-than-expected frost to kill the plants. Pay attention to the weather in your area, and plan to transplant after the last frost date. Woodie prefers to err on the side of caution and transplant later, rather than sooner.
When the time is right, you can transplant your plants gradually. This is called “hardening off,” and it involves taking the plants outside for a few hours at a time to get them used to the outdoor air, then gradually increasing the amount of time you leave them outside. You can start by placing plants outdoors during the day when the weather is nice, and bringing them inside at night. Do this for about a week before you transplant.
When you’re ready to transplant outside, choose a time when the sun is not too warm. You want to avoid stressing the plants by exposing them to full sunlight before they’re ready. Instead, wait to transplant until it is cloudy, or later in the afternoon. If you chose to use biodegradable pots, Woodie recommends cutting them down to soil level so the collar of the pot is not showing. In addition, cut holes in the bottoms of the pots to allow roots to spread throughout the soil.
Shop Online With Woodie for Your Next Project
Woodie can help you understand the characteristics of different plants and what size the plants will be upon delivery, as well as instructions for planting and ongoing care. With his help, you won’t have to feel intimidated wandering a nursery — unsure of which plants are right for your project — or worry about how to bring large or heavy plants safely back to your home. You also don’t have to worry about quality, because Woodie guarantees all plants will arrive alive and quality-inspected.
When you order plants from Garden Goods Direct, you can be sure they will have Woodie’s Quality Seal of Approval. Woodie or one of his growing partners grows all the plants, and ensures they are of the highest landscape grade. We can often provide next-day delivery, and all our plants are always in good health. That’s Woodie’s guarantee. If the plants you receive do not meet your expectations, you can send them back for a full refund.
Woodie is available to answer all your plant questions, from selecting the right plants to getting started on your next project, by phone or email!
He hopes to see you in the garden!