Seed starting is a rite of passage to spring for gardeners to get a head start on the limited growing season here in the Northeast. Growing your own garden from seed is a rewarding activity for mind, body, and financial wellness. For those new to the process, we share pro advice for keeping things simple when growing vegetables or flowers from seed.
Plan To Plant
A solid plan for what you would like to grow is the key to success. As long as you plant for your goals, seed starting is not as complicated as it may seem. Whether growing edibles or flowers from seed, timing and space plotting are your primary factors. Make a list of the things you want to grow and then check seed packets to note germination times and space required to grow.
Once you have your list, count backwards from the last frost date for your zone. Memorial Day is the typical last frost or safe outdoor planting date here in the Northeast. You will find most crops in your plan can be started indoors from seed about 6-8 weeks before planting outdoors. Some edibles that are harvested late in the season can be direct sown in the ground.
The biggest mistake newbies can make is to give in to the temptation to start seeds too early. Resist the urge and follow the packet recommendations closely. Your seedlings will need the proper space and the outdoor environment to thrive, when the time is right. We also like the Old Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar as a handy and reputable tool for planning seed starting in your zone.
Once you have your timing and space requirements planned, follow the seed packet instructions for proper seed depth and spacing, for seed starting indoors or out.
Pro seed starting trays or bio degradable pots can be purchased for starting indoors, but when possible we like to repurpose egg cartons, paper cups or plastic and cardboard liquid containers for sustainability. Check out these ideas from treehugger.com for more ideas on items you can collect around the house to make homemade seedling pots.
For best results, we do recommend starting with fresh clean soil, particularly a seed starting potting mix specially formulated for germination success. You can find these by the bag at your local garden center, greenhouse or nursery. Start by filling your trays or containers with the potting mix and then mark a stick or your finger with the proper planting depth for the seed type, according to the seed packet instructions. Make a hole at the proper depth, drop in the seed and then pinch the surrounding soil over top of the planted seed to cover.
Mist to saturate the soil and place your trays in a warm, sunny location. Keep the soil moist at all times, especially until seedlings emerge. Misting is better than a direct pour, so as not to wash or drown out seeds or tender new plants. Label your seed trays, including the date, and save your seed packets for future reference.
As seedlings grow, they will become stronger at the roots in their temporary starter containers. When the weather begins to warm, and a week or two before the recommended planting date, it is best to help your new plants acclimate to the outdoor sun and wind conditions, also known as “hardening off.” Do this by taking your seedlings outdoors to an area sheltered from full sun for short periods, and increasing the time outdoors by a little more each day.
When planting time comes, your seedlings will be strong and ready to place in the ground or larger containers as recommended for spacing on the packets. Continue to keep newly planted seedlings gently, but well-watered after transplant. As seedlings take root in the ground, regular watering is recommended throughout the season.
My Pro Tip:
If you are new to seed starting and nervous about getting it right, start small. Most seed packets contain enough seeds for an ample home crop, and then some. Choose a select few favorites to try your hand. A cutting garden or butterfly garden with 3-4 flower varieties is a great way to blossom into seed starting. I also like the idea of small kitchen garden with some of your household’s favorite vegetables, herbs or fruits. This is a great starting point for those with little area to plant, as many edibles can be grown successfully in containers on the porch or patio.
As always, the Garden Center at Studley’s is ready with seed starting supplies, including a seed selection appropriate for success in this region, and our pros are standing by to advise you with all your gardening questions. For those not ready for DIY, you’ll find a wide selection of established edible plants and flowers in season. Keep an eye on our Garden Center page for updates or visit our Plant Finder tool to view our inventory and build your spring garden wishlist!
See you at Studley’s!