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Nine Steps to Starting Seeds

Nine Steps to Starting Seeds

For many gardeners, late winter marks the beginning of planting season — time to plant seeds of many vegetables and flowers indoors for transplanting to the garden later this spring. (Gardeners in the most southern climates, already in high gear, began planting outdoors in January!)

Starting plants from seed is one of the most satisfying garden activities. Besides saving you money, starting from seed gives you access to hundreds of cultivars not otherwise available. But there’s another, very special reason to start your own plants from seed: the experience!

Even the most expert seed starters continue to feel awed by the miracle of germination and growth. By starting your own seeds, you can help make it happen and ensure that your garden is 100 percent organic, right from the start.


1. Choose a fine medium. For healthy seedlings, you’ve got to give them a loose, well-drained medium (seed-starting mix) composed of very fine particles. Don’t use potting soil– often, it’s too rich and doesn’t drain well enough for seedlings.

2. Assemble your containers. Many gardeners start their seeds in leftover plastic “six packs” from the garden center, or empty milk cartons. You can buy plastic “cell packs,” individual plastic pots, or sphagnum peat pots.

Set the pots inside a tray so that you can water your seedlings from the bottom (by adding water to the tray) rather than disturbing them by watering from the front.

3. Start your seeds! Moisten your seed-starting mix before you plant your seeds. Plant at least two, but no more than three, seeds per container. After you’ve planted your seeds, cover the tray loosely with plastic to create a humid environment.

4. Keep the lights bright. As soon as you see sprouts, remove the plastic covers and immediately pop the trays beneath lights. You can invest in grow lights, but many gardeners have good results with standard 4-foot long fluorescent shop lights.

5. Feed and water. Your seedlings will need a steady supply of water, but the soil shouldn’t be constantly wet.

6. Keep the air moving. Your seedlings need to be big and strong by the time you move them from their cushy indoor surroundings to the harsh realities of the outside world. You can help them grow sturdy, stocky stems with a small fan.

7. Give them space. Those well-watered, well-fed, and well-fanned seedlings will soon need more root space. Shortly after the second set of true leaves appears, thin your seedlings to one per pot.

8. Harden-off. About a week or two before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden, begin taking them outdoors to a protected place, for increasing lengths of time on mild days. This will help them adjust to the conditions outside.

9. Seal it with a kiss! Most important, relax! Except for hardening off, all of these rules are flexible.

Read more: Nature, Lawns & Gardens

Adapted from Seed-Starting Primer & Almanac, from the Organic Gardening readers. Copyright (c) 2002 by Rodale Press. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Press.
Adapted from Seed-Starting Primer & Almanac, from the Organic Gardening readers.

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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Seed-Starting Primer & Almanac

Hundreds of Ideas, Tips, and Techniques from the Organic Gardening Readers!buy now


+ add your own
12:59AM PDT on Mar 28, 2013


6:16AM PST on Feb 22, 2013

Thank you Annie, for Sharing this!

3:05PM PST on Dec 31, 2012


10:07AM PDT on Mar 19, 2012


5:08AM PDT on Apr 4, 2011

Thanks for the article.

3:56PM PDT on Mar 30, 2011

last year i planted my seeds straight from the seed packet to the garden i set up and made in my own backyard. it was great!!!! we had fresh homegrown tomatoes all summer unfortunately the "street's theiving groundhog", got fatter thanks to my garden. he/she didn't steal my tomatoes thankfully, but did keep coming to my garden and stealing all my cantoloupes i had been growing in my garden and even my watermelon! except for the theiving groundhog taking all my homegrown proudce (idk if he was taking the blackberries, peas, and plums we also had growing in our backyard every year) it was very fullfilling, and my youngest daughter and i loved being able to "pick" our fruit and vegetable for our daiy meals. we did all this while living in the city and not from us living on a farm or in the country. plus, no pesticides!!!! try it and make it a yearly tradition you won't regret the feeling of starting from a tiny seed to something big and juicy. thanks for the article!

1:27AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

Thanks for the info.

4:02PM PST on Feb 6, 2011

thanks, I try again this spring, last year I ended up with getting flowers and they went allll ways and up up up to the sky, not that handy on a windy terrace :)

12:20PM PDT on Jun 9, 2010


1:01PM PST on Jan 10, 2010

I'm saving up my egg cartons to grow all my garden plants from seed this year. This should be fun and hopefully a yearly adventure!

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people are talking

sounds good. :)

Important reminders, thanks.

If it works, that's great. Cute video. All cats and dogs need loving homes no matter what their age.


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