10 Tips for Seed Starting Indoors

seedstartingWinter in New England can bring on a severe case of gardening blues for those of us who thrive on digging in the dirt.  Our snow-covered gardens leave us yearning for spring’s thaw. But it IS possible to satisfy that yearning indoors by starting your seedlings. Not only is this therapeutic, but it’s a fun way to experiment with new varieties. It’s also more cost effective than buying plants and as you probably know, necessary for some varieties like tomatoes and peppers that require a longer growing season.

Nurturing seedlings isn’t difficult but it does require daily attention and adhering to the process.  Here are 10 tips to get you started:  

  • If this is your first attempt at starting seeds, give yourself a break by starting small.  Choose a few hearty varieties and get the process down.  As you learn and become more confident, you can expand into more varieties and experiment, experiment, experiment!
  • Choose fresh seeds from a reputable source and never use seeds that are more than 1-2 years old.  We carry hundreds of varieties of seeds at Agway, most which take between 60 to 80 days to mature.  As with anything, read the label carefully as you plan your growing schedule.
  • Plant seeds in small, individual containers, no more than 2-3 inches deep.  Divided planting trays are ideal, or you can use egg cartons, yogurt cups or similar (cleaned) containers.  There are a variety of seed starting kits available at Agway.  However we also carry  simple peat pots ranging in size from tiny to large, along with peat pellets which are easy to use. Don’t forget to label them. There’s nothing worse than planting seeds and then not knowing which is which!
  • Your choice of planting medium is important. A good quality soil mixture will hold water, reduce fungus contamination and be porous enough for the roots to push through.  Agway carries a variety of good seed starting mixtures.  Be sure to moisten it before planning the seedlings.
  • Start seeds according to their growth and harvest instructions, paying attention to recommended depth.  Also pay careful attention to the maturity time and calendar, making sure it’s in line with your planned transplant date after the last frost.  Using the largest seeds in the packet will generally yield the best results. After planting, cover them with the cover included in your kit or purchase a separate dome for this purpose (you’ll remove this at the first sign of your seedling).
  • Position seeds trays in an area with sufficient light and consistent temperatures away from vents or drafts, but allowing enough room for healthy plants as the seeds grow.  According to the Farmer’s Almanac, seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Proper light is essential for healthy growth.  It provides the growing seedling with a new energy source and wards off fungi.  When the seedlings appear, use supplemental lights to prevent spindly or leggy seedlings. Grow lights will work, as will cool fluorescent lights, and they should be kept 2-4 inches from the plants.
  • Supplemental heat will also increase success.  A heating mat placed under the seed trays will keep soil warm and encourage better growth for healthy seedlings.  
  • Water seedlings from below by pouring water into the tray they sit in. Keep them damp but not soggy, gently using a mister on the plants if necessary.
  • Don’t fertilize seeds until the first true leaves appear, then apply a liquid fertilizer once a week to provide adequate nutrition for healthy growth.

Congratulations, you’ll soon be ready for transplanting!  A quick word on that…
When seedlings are ready to be added to the garden, they must be hardened off so they can survive the transition to outdoor conditions. Every day, move the seed trays outdoors to a sheltered location, gradually increasing the time they spend outdoors from just an hour to most of the day. After 1-2 weeks of this process, the seedlings will be hardy enough to be transplanted, and the garden will thrive!
Indoor seedlings are a wonderful way for the gardener to toil in soil during the long winter months!  Have questions or need help?  Stop by Agway and let our knowledgeable team provide assistance.