Spring Gardening, Vegetable Gardening

Veggie Seed Starting Tips

It is January and it’s cold, but you are dreaming of spring and oh-so-ready to get your hands in the dirt.  Believe me, we 100% feel the same way.  As you know, many of your favorite veggies can’t be planted yet.  But don’t lose hope!  There are some that can! There are seeds you can start indoors and seeds you can (YES) start outdoors. To help you get started, we are sharing some general tips crucial to starting seeds indoors and out.  Then we’ll share some tips for each of those separately. 

General Seed Starting Tips
  1. Find a great resource that will help you know when to plant, whether indoors or out.  A couple resources we suggest:
    1. NC State Extension
    2. Clyde’s Garden Planner
  2. Get your seeds!! While there is a chance we will be fine and keep seeds in stock and available all year long, there are more people gardening this year in the US than ever!  So don’t wait!  Go ahead and plan what you want to plant this year and buy your seeds. Of course, we think you should come to FGS to get your seeds.  But if you are buying from somewhere else, make sure the seed packets come with the handy-dandy planting times and tips.  Ours do.  In fact, the packet is part of why we buy Botanical Interest seeds because the info is THAT good.  We’re pros.  You should trust us to have the best. 😉
  3. Piggy backing off that last blurb—READ THE PACKET instructions.  Seeds and their planting needs are very different for different varieties, so take time and pay attention to when to plant and how to plant.  Some of the biggest mistakes people make with planting seeds (like planting too deep or too many close together) can be avoided if you simply follow the directions.  You’ll thank us if you do this.  
  4. Soil and bed prep matters.  Whether you are planting indoors or out, the type of soil you use is critical to your seed’s success.   
Seed Starting Tips for Indoors

There are some seeds you SHOULD start indoors and some you may WANT to start indoors.  Either way, follow these tips for success.  

  1. First, make a list of what seeds you want to start indoors and how many you want to start.  With seed starting, you will definitely want to plant more than you plan on actually growing, as there is a good chance not all your seeds will germinate or ultimately succeed.  Err on the side of too many, but be realistic in regards to how much room you have for planting outdoors when it comes time to do that.  You can always share with a friend, too!
  2. Use a seed starting mix (available at FGS).  It is very lightweight and allows the seeds plenty of room to “breathe” and also has useful nutrients for helping the seeds grow. 
  3. Don’t use too large or too deep of a container for your seed starts.  Many people like to use the little peat seed starting trays like these, but you can also reuse items like egg trays or yogurt/pudding cups to start your seeds in.  Just make sure whatever you use has holes for drainage. One way to start seeds without little containers or trays is to use a Soil Block Maker
  4. READ THE DIRECTIONS for planting depths.  Generally, the smaller the seed, the more shallow you plant it. As we mentioned before, the planting depth can certainly affect whether your seeds germinate or not. 
  5. Don’t pack down the soil on top of the seeds too tight!! In fact, some gardeners will use a sieve to sprinkle soil over the top of their seeds to make sure the soil is not too compacted.  
  6. Keep your seeds cozy.  If you are planting inside, the seeds need temps 65-75 degrees F to germinate.  Find a warm spot, or consider purchasing a heating pad made specifically for keeping seeds warm. 
  7. Water properly.  Your seed’s success will be very dependent on whether you gave it the right amount of water.  Often, if seeds don’t germinate, it is due to not enough or too much water.  Consider placing your seed starts in water and allow them to soak in water from the soil instead of overhead watering.  You can cover them in plastic to help keep the moisture in, but be sure to remove it once the seeds have germinated. 
  8. Give those babies some light!  Seeds need 12 to 16 hours of light each day.  A south-facing window that receives a lot of sun is your best choice.  But you may want to supplement the light the seeds receive with indoor lighting or even invest in a grow light.  
  9. Rotate!! If you have your seeds starting by a window, rotate them about 25% each day so that the tiny plants will get sun on all sides.  
  10. Feed your baby plants.  Once true leaves have sprouted, feed them with a half-strength fertilizer once a week.  Not sure what a true leaf is?  Check out this post
What seeds should you start indoors?  

Again, refer to the resources we listed above, particularly the NCSU site.  Seeds we have in stock that can start from seed now and transplant in March include 

  • Arugula
  • Cilantro
  • Onions (we do not have bulbs)
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Spinach 
  • Swiss Chard
Seed Starting Tips for Outdoors

First a disclaimer.  We know how much you want to start seeds in February, and you CAN. We may wait until March when the ground is consistently warm enough.  BUT, if you are bound and determined to plant in early February…be aware there may be days when the temps drop too low for your baby plants to survive.  

There is a way to warm the soil artificially.  You can cover your soil with black plastic and then cut small holes where you plant your seeds.  This will help the soil to stay warmer when temps are cold.  Ideal temps for seed germination range from 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit.  The perfect temp is 60 degrees. You may want to consider building or adding a cold frame to your beds to start seeds this early. You DIYers can check out this link, but you can also buy cold frames if you aren’t particularly handy with a hammer 😉  Make sure to cover your plants with frost cloth any time temps are getting too cold.  And if it goes poorly, well…we told you so. 

  1. Soil prep.  Hopefully you cared for your soil in the fall at the end of the growing season by amending the soil with compost and/or manure, but if you didn’t, you will definitely should till the soil and add compost/manure.  Keep the soil nice and fluffy.  The seeds will not do well in heavily compacted soil. 
  2. I think we said this already, but READ THE DIRECTIONS for planting depths and planting SPACE!!!  Generally, the smaller the seed, the more shallow you plant it.  As we mentioned before, the planting depth can certainly affect whether your seeds germinate or not. One common error for gardeners is planting seeds too close together and this does not allow them to grow the way you want them to. 
  3. Don’t pack down the soil on top of the seeds too tight!! In fact, some gardeners will use a sieve to sprinkle soil over the sop of their seeds to make sure the soil is not too compacted.  
  4. Water as your seeds need it.  You will want to water once a day, most likely, unless it is raining.  And if the current trend continues, this means you may only need to water once a week. 😉
  5. Keep a close eye on temperatures, especially if you are not using a cold frame.  If temps are going to dip below freezing, cover your seedlings with a frost cloth. 
  6. Once you see true leaves emerging, fertilize with a half-strength fertilizer to keep those babies healthy.  
Seeds you can (cautiously) plant in the beginning of February (but again–we recommend March): 
  • Arugula
  • Carrots
  • Peas (bush and vining)
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga 
  • Turnips 
Planting Seeds is Kid Friendly!!

Seed starting is a great way to get kids excited about vegetables and gardening.  Enlist their help with the planting, watering and even fertilizing.  Most kids are super excited to see tiny seeds they helped plant grow into food they can eat.  So get them involved!  We need to raise the next generation of plant lovers, people!

We are here for all your needs, from soil to seed to fertilizer to our most valuable resource–our knowledgeable staff.  🙂 

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