What are the tricks to successful seed starting? The most surefire I have found with a gadget is by using a heat mat under the seed starting tray. I have almost 100 percent germination rate with it.
You can start seeds in pots you make yourself with newspaper, toilet paper cores, paper towel cores, or paper cups and sterile, organic seed starting mix. A nifty way to do it is to cut used paper towel cores into sections and line with old newspaper. You can plant the whole thing or push out the newspaper insert and compost the core.
There are also peat pellets, peat pots and soil blockers. Peat is not a renewable resource, but there are substitutes for it now on the market. Just read the labels. Soil blockers can be found online and used year after year using only seed starting mix.
The key is using sterile seed starting mix, pots and containers. You can make your own seed starting mix with peat moss or coir (renewable), compost, and worm castings. Just be sure to heat the compost to at least 150 degrees to kill any pathogens before using to start seeds.
Place the seeds in premoistened starter mix in the pots and allow to wet thoroughly from the bottom (watering from the top can dislodge seeds). After fully saturated, they are ready to put in a catch pan. Make sure any catch pan that you use has been thoroughly washed so all pathogens are killed. Mine has a water reservoir in the bottom of it that wicks the moisture up under the seedlings.
I put my seed starts by a sunny window over a heat mat in a plastic tray and a clear plastic lid that I have had for years that you can buy at any big box store. Keep moist, but not wet, and with the clear cover on until seedling emerges. Once seedling emerges, remove the clear lid.
Make sure you label your seedlings as soon as you plant them; you may think you will remember two months from now what was where, but likely not! Now is also a great time to start keeping a journal. Start tracking what you planted when so you can review next year what worked well to repeat and what didn’t work so well to tweak.
Your seedling’s first leaves are not “true” leaves, think of them as baby teeth. The second set of leaves are their true leaves. They are ready to be hardened off when they have their first set of true leaves. Seedlings must be hardened and not just thrown outside. You take them out a little at a time, gradually increasing their exposure to sun and cold, only during the daytime. I try and plant when there is a warm spell forecasted to minimize the shock.
There are great selections of herbs and veggies at nurseries and big box stores nowadays so you have great options just waiting until spring is officially here and picking up what looks good at your nearby store in a couple of months. This is also a great back up if your first seed starting adventure goes a little awry.
Indoor Seed Starting Calendar for Zone 6 Gardens
End of January into February is seed starting time indoors. I have outlined by month the plant seeds to start indoors between now and April for our Zone 6 garden.
Many big box stores will begin getting in their seeds this month. There are great varieties that can be ordered on line. See my blog side bar for the seed companies that I really like to order from.
Seed packets will tell you how far in advance of your last frost date to start your seeds indoors.
January and February are cold season crops seed starting time. March and April is the time for warm season veggie and herbs to get their indoor start.
10-12 Weeks Prior (end Jan/early Feb in our Zone 6 garden)
- Beans (dry and lima)
- Summer savory
- Fruit trees and bushes
8-10 Weeks Prior (mid-February in our Zone 6 garden)
- Bee balm
March for Zone 6 Garden
- Lemon verbena
- Summer squash
April for Zone 6 Garden
- Winter squash
You can also start perennial flowers indoors as well. For any plant, look at the seed packet for when to plant according to your frost date. Then back up the time from there on when to start indoors. Typical seed starting is 6-8 weeks prior to the transplant date.