Seed starting is easier than you think. There’s nothing to be afraid of if you follow our simple steps. A lot of gardeners will back away slowly when the conversation turns to seed trays and heating mats, and they start muttering things like, “I just buy organic seedlings from my local nursery.” That’s one way to go. But to get the most out of your gardening dollar you cannot beat starting vegetables and flowers from seeds. Plus (and this is what motivates many gardeners) you can choose exactly the vegetable variety or much-loved flower that you want. Your major decisions will be: when to start your seeds, what to plant them in, and how to provide an environment for germination.
Timing your seed starts
If you already have your seeds in hand, check your seed packet for germination times and read the instructions on when the plant should be transplanted. For example, squash is sensitive to getting rootbound so it should be started 3-4 weeks before the last frost in a larger container. Tomatoes and peppers need longer times and are typically started 6-8 weeks before the last frost. If you’re doing cool weather veggies, some of them, like broccoli and cauliflower, should be set out BEFORE the last frost. The date of the last frost in your area is crucial. Planting your seedlings outdoors before the last frost typically leads to heartbreak when the seedlings are zapped by a cold snap. So please, don’t try to jump the gun on that outdoor planting date. Count back from the last frost date to calculate when to start your seeds.
How to choose a seed starting container
Seeds can be started in just about anything, including eggshells and paper milk cartons.
Some of our favorite re-usable trays are: Speedling trays have their own insulation and are designed to air-prune the roots. These trays are favorites with farmers because they last for years. I’ve seen ten-year-old Speedling trays still in service and looking great. Standard plastic trays are easy to work with and very durable.
The bio-degradable route is a great option for sustainability: To minimize transplant shock, try Soil Blockers This innovative method doesn’t use a container at all, just a compressed block of media. Roots are air-pruned and the block is dropped right in the ground. CowPots that are made from manure and can go straight into your garden soil. Their cousins coco peat pellets, and coco fiber pots are some other marvelous options. Fill your containers with a soilless mix, like our organic QuickRoot, place your seeds two to a cell (Tricia likes to use the Widger as a seed spoon), and water well with a fine spray. Our classic Haws watering can has a removable “rose” on the spout that will sprinkle your seeds and seedlings with droplets. Make sure your seeds and seedlings get a continuous supply of water. If they dry out during germination they will die.
Do you need an additional heating source for your seedlings?
Using Speedling trays, with their built-in insulation, means you don’t need a heating mat but can simply put the trays in a warm place (like the top of the refrigerator). Heating mats will help with all other containers — including soil blocks, which are set onto undivided trays. If you’re new to seed starting and just want to give it a try with a heat mat this Jump Start Windowsill heat mat and kit contains everything to get you going. Most plants germinate best in a temperature range of 65°F to 75°F. During cool weather that means a heating mat will be required. Feeling more confident? Don’t let seed starting scare you this year!