Starting seeds indoors is a great way to scratch that early gardening itch and to help jump start plants that need a little extra help.
If a plant can grow well from seed outdoors don’t worry about starting it inside (unless you have a specific reason to). There are some plant varieties in my area (Zone 5b) that need some extra time growing indoors due to the shorter growing season. Some plants are just fragile. If you start these plants indoors, it allows them the ability to develop strongly and have a higher germination rate.
If you’re wondering: “What Plant Zone am I in?”
Check out this map, also posted below.
The link allows you to click on your individual state and see detailed town and county names for your precise zone.
Listed below are common plants started from seed indoors. If I had 10 pages, I could write out all of the plants, but I don’t, so I’ll just highlight a few.
These are varieties that I start from seed well ahead of time
(8-12 weeks before last frost date, around the beginning of February in Zone 5b):
-Herbs (rosemary, lavender, thyme, basil, oregano, chamomile, parsley, chives, mint)
-Perennial Flowers (I rope these into my “garden plants” because I integrate pollinator attractors into my garden)
-Cold tolerant crops that can go outdoors after 4-6 weeks inside (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower)
Varieties to start inside 4-8 weeks before the last frost include:
Plants that you shouldn’t transplant are:
-Any root vegetable (carrots, potatoes, parsnip, turnips, radishes)
-Vining plants (peas, green beans, drying beans)
-Trailing plants (zucchini, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes)
And lastly, plants you can start inside but don’t have to, include:
-Cold tolerant plants that can be direct seeded (lettuces, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale)
Starting seeds inside requires 4 basic thingss:
1) A light source; either direct sunlight from a window or grow lights
2) Growing medium
Note: Before starting, make sure you clean whatever your plants are going to go in. (If they’ve been used before) Containers that have held previous plants or soil may have pathogens that will transfer to your new plants. If you’re using peat pots or new seed trays or pots, you do not have to clean them.
1) Label your containers/seed trays or write on your marking tags.
Trying to identify seedlings as they pop up is pretty much impossible, for all but the Botanist. I use tags in my seed trays so that I can re-use them year after year.
2) Fill your containers/seed trays with a seedling mix soil.
Seedling mix is a light weight potting medium that allows for good drainage and allows air to pass through. You want a “soilless” medium. DO NOT go grab soil from outside and try to use it to start seeds. Your soil could contain pathogens and who knows what, that could potentially hurt your transplants. Soil from outside is also too heavy for seed starting.
I check my medium that I buy, to make sure it does not have peat moss in it (which a lot of soilless mediums do). Peat moss is a natural accruing moss that grows in bogs. Harvesters scrape the top layer of moss off, disrupting the natural ecosystem. Distributors claim that peat bogs are easily re-established but the animals and native plant life is not. It can take hundreds of thousands of years to reestablish a thriving peat bog.
I also do not use vermiculite, for similar reasons. It is mined and is running out at an alarming rate.
I use Coir. This stuff is new to the market and crazy cool! It is the byproduct of the coconut shell! It comes in a compact package and when you put it in water expands like crazy! I love it because it is a recycled product. More and more people are switching to coconut milk and coconut products in their diets. When those food products are produced, the husk of the coconut is then used to make Coir products.
3) Plant your seeds according to the depth stated on your seed packet.
Most seeds can just be pressed lightly into the soil with a pen or pencil.
Note: Make sure you place your labels as you go if you’re using marking tags.
4) Water lightly.
I use a squirt bottle the first couple weeks on my new transplants. Just spray them enough for the subsurface to become moist. Watering with a watering can can be too hard on transplants and snap them off or bend them beyond repair.
5) Place clear domes over seed trays/plastic wrap over containers.
This creates a greenhouse effect or a humid hot house. It traps the moisture and heat inside the container, which helps with germination and prevents the seedling from drying out.
-If using plastic wrap, take off when your seedlings start poking up out of the soil. Take domes off of your seed trays when your transplants are almost touching the inside of it.
6) Place seed trays/containers under grow lights. Grow lights should start off as close to your plastic domes as possible, to prevent plants from “reaching” or growing spindly, searching for light. If you don’t have grow lights or you don’t want to purchase them, setting containers or seed trays in a sunny window will work as well. Just be sure you rotate pots and seed trays so your plants don’t lean to one side searching for sunlight.
7) Watch your plants grow.
Best. Part. It’s such a thrill seeing the first seedlings pop up out of your soil!
Some plants, like tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and any flowers you might be starting, may need to be transplanted once they outgrow their tiny container. (This is for those using seed trays)
I go from my seed trays to 4 inch pots for my tomatoes and peppers.
This lets them continue to grow and mature until the soil warms up enough for me to plant them outside.
Other plants, I transplant, just to separate them and keep air movement flowing between each transplant. For those, I use TOILET PAPER ROLLS! I try to be as “green” and sustainable as possible with my garden. By using something I already have, I don’t have to purchase plastic containers! (Tape the bottom, and you’ve got a great container).
For my 4 inch plants (pictured above) I use peat pots. These, as well as toilet paper rolls are biodegradable.
Watching my plants grow could easily be one of my favorite parts about the beginning stages of gardening. Seeing my first seeds poking up in my seed trays in the middle of winter, is almost a relief. I know Spring is going to come again, the sun will shine, the snow will melt, and the cycle will begin again.
Gardening brings me so much closer to God. I have always found him in nature, ever since I was a little girl. Whether it was in the thunderstorm rolling in, the quiet sound of snow falling, the new buds popping out on the trees, or the summer heat. Outside is and always has been my happy place.
Gardening to me, is a different feeling than going on a hike. Don’t get me wrong, I find so much joy and peace walking and hiking in nature. But digging in the Earth is another category all together.
My hands and feet in the soil create a zen-like experience for me. Like everything is right in the world when I’m in my garden. God is there when I’m in the garden, and I feel his presence so keenly, even when I’m at my dirtiest.
Do you have specific questions on what to start indoors, or how to start something indoors? Comment below! Chances are someone else out there has the same questions as you!