Starting plants from seed is a fun and economical way to grow a wide variety of vegetables, perennials and annuals. Seed choices range from unusual, hard-to-find heirloom flowers to well-established, easy-to-grow vegetables. Although seed starting requires more time and attention than buying plants at a garden center, it is rewarding to "grow your own." The cost savings, too, is significant. According to Burpee, a large seed supplier, "A well-planned garden will result in a 1 to 25 cost-savings ratio, meaning $50 in seeds and fertilizer can produce $1,250 worth of groceries purchased at a supermarket."
Indoor Seed Starting Tips
Obtain your seeds. Browse seed catalogs and scan the offerings at a nursery or garden center. Seed-saver exchanges are growing in popularity. These local and national groups save and exchange rare and unusual seeds and are an excellent source of knowledge and inspiration.
Know your planting zone. Your last frost date will dictate when to start seeds indoors, when to set them outside and when to sow directly in the garden.
Start some seeds indoors. Plants that need a long, warm growing season like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and melons should be started indoors at least six to eight weeks before your last frost date.
Fill a waterproof flat with small cups, pots or expanding peat pellets. Be sure your choices are clean and have drainage holes in the bottom or sides. Fill the containers with a commercial seed starting mix or potting soil and water thoroughly. The soil should be uniformly moist but not soaking. Plant the seeds to the depth recommended on the seed packet.
Place the flats in a warm location--between 65 and 70 degrees F--until your seedlings sprout. Use a heated seed starting mat or place the flats on top of a television or refrigerator.
Move the flats to a sunny, south-facing window once the seedlings sprout. Turn them daily so that the plants grow straight. Water regularly, but do not allow the pots to sit in water. To prevent trauma to the seedlings, use room temperature water.
Starting Seeds Outdoors
Determine the proper time to sow seeds outdoors. Cool season crops like spinach, chard, lettuces and peas can be planted early in spring and again in late summer. Tender crops like string beans do not transplant well and should be sown directly in the garden after the last frost date. Root crops like carrots also transplant poorly; these can be direct-sown at two to four week intervals for a season-long harvest.
Prepare your seedbed. Amend the soil with well-aged compost and peat moss if needed and loosen the soil to a depth of 1 foot. Rake the seedbed to create an even surface.
Distribute seeds according to the planting instructions on the seed packet. Larger seeds will need to be planted more deeply than small ones. To avoid confusion, mark your planting areas with garden markers. Wooden popsicle sticks, slivers of plastic milk jugs or yogurt containers or venetian blind slats make handy, inexpensive plant markers. Use a waterproof marker to record the plant name and variety.
Water gently, using a soft spray hose attachment. Do not flood the area, because this can cause your seed to wash away.
Thin the seedlings once they reach a height of about 1 inch. Seedlings can be pulled out by hand, snipped with a scissor or, in some cases, removed with a rake.
About this Author
Moira Clune is a freelance writer who since 1991 has been writing sales and promotional materials for her own and other small businesses. In addition, she has published articles on eHow.com, GardenGuides.com and VetInfo.com.