Seed Starting Made Simple

Starting seeds indoors is a sure cure for the restlessness that plagues gardeners in the off season. Just follow these basics steps to prevent mistakes, such as damping off or using the wrong seed starting mix, and watch your seedlings — and your savings — grow.

| February/March 2012

You’ll love the benefits of growing your own transplants. You can grow unique heirloom selections as well as the best varieties for your garden’s conditions — which will boost your yields and reduce losses to pests, disease and severe weather.

The potential money savings aren’t small potatoes, either. Consider the cost of filling a single 4-by-12-foot bed with purchased transplants — typically selling for $4 to $5 each — versus paying $2 to $3 for a packet of at least 50 seeds. If you grow a big garden, the savings can quickly grow to hundreds of dollars. Indoor seed starting is easy, and the small initial investment in equipment will pay off quickly. Learn how to start seeds indoors with these 11 steps.

1. Sow What? Starting seeds indoors gives you a jump on the growing season, allowing you to harvest heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers and melons earlier and over a longer period of time. (If you have a short growing season, it’s the only way to get mature produce from these crops.) Some cool-weather crops, such as broccoli, also benefit from an indoor start so they have time to mature outdoors in spring or fall, before midsummer heat or winter freezes set in.

Not every crop is a good candidate for indoor seed starting. Beans, peas and root crops should be sown directly in the garden because they don’t transplant well.

2. Seed Matters. Start with high-quality seeds and varieties suited to your region’s conditions. Buy from reputable suppliers who do their own germination tests and, preferably, their own variety trials, advises Steve Solomon, founder of Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore., and author of Gardening When It Counts. Quality seeds sprout faster and at a higher rate, they grow into stronger seedlings, and they produce more, he says.

Try getting seeds well-adapted to your region from local seed swaps, or you can buy from regional suppliers. Companies that do their own germination tests and field trials usually say so in their catalogs. Most seed companies offer a free catalog, or you can order seeds from their websites. For background on nearly 100 mail-order seed companies, go to our Directory of Companies Offering Mail-Order Seeds and Plants. To search for varieties among a stock of more than 500 seed companies, use our Seed and Plant Finder.

2/25/2016 9:32:20 AM

To: C Koehn~ I had a mold problem on house plants and read an article that suggested plain cinnamon sprinkled on the soil. (even the cheap dollar store stuff) I’m happy to say that the mold is gone and I no long sneeze and wheeze around my houseplants. I hope this helps with your seedlings!

1/10/2015 5:05:16 AM

@C Koehn You should try with UV lamp irradiation, google about it... I never used UV lamp for that purpose, but it seems that it works. Here is one hint:

C Koehn
2/11/2012 6:09:57 PM

HELP!...mold wants to grow on my flats of seedlings. I've tried to keep them on the drier side , using only filtered water, spritzing with a 50/50 chlorox-water...all of which helps a little but not 100%. Any suggestions out there?

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