How to Start Vegetable Seeds Outdoors


Grow your own vegetables and save money by starting the plants from seed. Often you have access to a greater variety of vegetables if you decide to plant from seeds instead of from purchased seedlings. Many cool-season crops, such as peas and lettuce, grow well when directly seeded outdoors. Some warm-season vegetables, such as squash and watermelon, do not transplant well and should also be direct seeded outdoors. The back of the seed packet often details whether a plant can be successfully sown outdoors.

Step 1

Prepare the garden bed prior to planting. Apply a 2-inch layer of compost over a full-sun, well-drained garden bed. Fertilize the bed as recommended for the plant type. Generally, apply 1 to 2 pounds of 10-10-10 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) analysis fertilizer per every 100 square feet of bed. Till the compost and fertilizer into the top 10 inches of soil.

Step 2

Rake the the top layer of the garden bed until it is level and smooth. Break up any soil clumps with the rake as most seeds germinate best in a fine soil texture.

Step 3

Sow the seeds to the depth and spacing recommended on the seed packet. Plant most seeds to a depth twice their width. Plant small seeds, such as carrot, directly on the soil surface then cover with a 1/8- to 1/4-inch layer of soil. Keep the rows straight and space them far enough apart that you can work the bed between the rows once the plants are mature.

Step 4

Water the garden bed with a fine mist of water until it is evenly moist, but not overly soggy. Use a spray attachment on the hose so that there is no strong spray of water, which may wash away seeds.

Step 5

Thin the seedlings once they germinate, usually seven to 14 days after sowing. Pluck out any excess seedlings so the plants are spaced at the recommended distance as detailed on the seed packet.

Tips and Warnings

  • Warm-season vegetables that require a long growing season, such as tomato and pepper, should be started inside. Direct sowing in the garden does not give them enough time to reach maturity before fall frost in most climates. Cover the garden with netting if birds are eating your seeds before they germinate. Bird netting is readily available at garden centers.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Rake
  • Seed
  • Hose sprayer attachment


  • University of Florida Extension: Seeding the Vegetable Garden
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Starting the Vegetable Garden
Keywords: seeding vegetables outdoors, direct seeding, growing vegetable seeds

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Dollar Stretcher." Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.