Tips for Successful Seed Starting

Reader Contribution by Shelby Devore and Farminence
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There are many reasons that you should start seeds indoors.  However, making sure that you’re doing it right is almost as important as getting the seeds going.  I’ve listed five tips to make sure that your seeds sprout into high quality plants.

The Seeds Themselves

This may sound like a no-brainer, but you want to make sure that you’re starting off with high quality seeds.  Many established seed companies provide you with a germination rate that you can expect from your seeds.  Keep in mind that germination rates will vary across both species and varieties.  If you can, compare the germination rate and choose the seeds with the higher rate.

It helps to soak your seeds before you plant them.  Soaking the seeds that you intend to plant tells the seed that it’s time to start sprouting.  Don’t soak the seeds too long or they will drown.  Overnight is plenty of time.

Soil For Seeds

Don’t try to sprout seeds in regular potting soil.  Normal potting soil holds copious amounts of water and packs tightly.  This makes it really hard for tender first leaves and roots to emerge.  Sprouting in potting soil will lower your germination rate, reducing the amount of plants that you’ll actually grow.

Use a seed starter soil mix.  You can purchase these at any grower’s supply store or you can mix your own.  Seed starter mix doesn’t compact as much and gives the seedlings plenty of water and nutrients without preventing tender growth.

Warmth and Sunlight

You’re probably aware that seeds and seedlings require light to grow, more specifically sunlight.  If you have room near a large window, start your seeds there so that they can be exposed to the sunlight during the day.  If you don’t have a good space indoors, you can start them inside a greenhouse considering it is warm enough.  If that’s not an option, grow lights can be used to mimic sunlight and get your seeds off to a good start.

You know that seeds need sunlight, but did you know that they need soil warmth also?  It makes sense when you consider the fact that seeds don’t start sprouting outside until the temperatures are right.  If your seeds are inside of your house, then it’s probably warm enough to get them going, especially if you found a window to provide them sunlight.  Sunlight through a window will also provide the warmth needed.  If you’re worried about it being warm enough for your seeds, you can purchase seed warming mats that go underneath seed starting trays.


Don’t try to fertilize the soil around your seeds.  Seeds are embryos, which means that they come prepared to feed themselves, at least for a little while.  Inside seeds there is nutrition to get them off to a great start without additional fertilizers.  Most seedlings can feed themselves until their secondary leaves form.  Depending on the plant, this could be anywhere from 10-14 days.  Keep an eye on you plants.  Once they start getting secondary leaves, you may want to give them fertilizer.  If your soil starter is fertilized, you may be able to skip or postpone this step until later.


I mentioned that soak seeds before putting them into the soil can increase the germination rates.  However, once your seeds are in the soil, you don’t want to overdo it and drown them.  You want to keep your soil moist, but not soaked.  Make sure that your seed starting trays have holes in the bottom for drainage.  Too much water can quickly kill a seed or seedling.  If your tray doesn’t have drainage holes, use a drill and put a few holes into it.

It’s a good idea to get a spray bottle for water.  You can easily gauge how moist the soil is and when to stop watering if you’re able to mist the soil with water.  Tender plants, especially many flowers, can’t handle hard watering and must be misted.  Young seedlings of most plants can’t handle hard watering either.  You will want to water your seeds 1-2 times per day.  The top of the soil should not get dry.  If it looks dry, mist it with water until it appears damp.

With these tips, you should be able to get your garden off to an amazing start by sprouting your seeds indoors.I’ve got a few more tips on timing over at my site, Farminence.

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of Shelby’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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