EVERY year. Every, single, year I am stunned that this works. Take a seed, stick it in some dirty, old, soil then watch it sprout into a plant within days.
That seed may have been sitting around your house for 3 years minding it’s own business, not doing anything, just being a seed. But the moment you add some dirt and water to it, it instantly stops being a seed and starts to grow into a plant. Seriously. That’s some weird shit.
If you don’t think so, it’s just because you’re used to the idea. If I told you that you could stick an egg roll into some dirt and within 3 days it would turn into Chinese restaurant you would definitely think that was some weird shit. You would also think that you were very lucky.
And you are very lucky. Like I said, it’s just because you’re so used to it that you don’t reflect on how remarkable it is that if you stick a little black thing the size of your pinkie nail into some dirt you can come back in a few months and find a massive, sweet watermelon has taken its place. It really is that easy. Most of the time.
But over the many years I’ve grown seedlings I’ve also found what happens so naturally in nature can occasionally go sideways on you at home. Seeds don’t germinate, they germinate but keel over and die, your plants are spindly and scrawny or they look just great until you plant them outside, at which point they … keel over and die.
So I have for you a list of my most useful tips for starting seedlings.
10. SEEDS DON’T NEED LIGHT TO GERMINATE. THEY NEED HEAT. REMEMBER THAT.
If your seed starting room isn’t very warm put your seed starting pots or tray on a heating blanket. The seeds will sprout in less time that way but the soil will dry out faster so keep an eye on it.
9. SEEDS ALSO NEED MOISTURE TO GERMINATE.
So cover your seed trays or pots with plastic until they germinate. AS soon as they do take the plastic off and get them in a South facing windowsill or under your grow lights.
8. WATER FROM UNDERNEATH
Watering from above will a) disturb the seeds you just planted and b) seedlings that are in soil that’s too wet on top are more prone to damping off, a condition where your newly formed seedling falls over dead for no apparent reason and without any warning.
7. KEEP A FAN GOING
Keeping the air moving around the plants helps to prevent the top of the soil from staying too wet. So a fan also helps with preventing damping off.
6. USE WHITE TO REFLECT LIGHT
Whether you’re growing your plants in a windowsill or under grow lights, surround the area with white foam core or bristol boards. It’ll reflect as much light as possible back on the plants. And more light is always better for well developed plants.
5. USE A TIMER
Seedlings need 15 hours of light a day. That’s a lot of light. Since most people have their grow lights in the basement or an out of the way room, turning the lights on and off will first be a pain and second be forgotten. Just get a timer and set it to come on at 7 a.m. and go off at 10:00 p.m. Done.
4. PET YOUR PLANTS
Touch em’, move em’, shake ’em. Just running your hand over the top of your plants gets them ready for the terrifying world of wind and rain they’re soon going to be up against.
3. DON’T START TOO EARLY
You’re ready. You’re itching to get started and grow some plants. I know. I get that. But don’t jump the fun. In fact, I’m starting most of my plants MUCH later this year for two reasons. 1. Keeping seedlings alive in the house is way harder than keeping them alive outside. So the less time I need to keep them alive indoors the better. 2. By starting and planting things a bit later than normal you can sometimes avoid the life cycle of certain pests that go after them.
2. IF YOU CAN SEED OUTSIDE, THEN DO THAT.
There really aren’t that many plants you absolutely need to start indoors if you’re in around zone 6. Things that are hot weather crops like tomatoes, zucchini and peppers do benefit from a bit of a head start because they take quite a long time to grow and mature. You need as much time as possible to create a healthy plant that’s full of fruit. But other things like beets, lettuce, peas, beans and even squash seeds can be planted right in the ground and have plenty of time to grow. Doing this gives you more room under your lights for the plants that really need the lights.
1. IF YOU’RE USING GROW LIGHTS UPGRADE TO T5’s.
T5s are the newer style of grow lights. They’re smaller, produce less heat and more resemble sunlight than regular fluorescent lights. They cost more than regular fluorescent lights but you’ll get better, stronger, stockier plants. I switched to these kind of lights last year.
BONUS TIP – HARDENING OFF
You can’t just take your tray of new, baby seedlings and plant them outside. They need to get used to being outdoors. You have to “harden them off“.
If you’re feeling like you still need more information you can read my post on Starting Seedlings.
If you have NO idea when to start seeds you can use my Seed Starting Calculator.
If after alllll of this you still feel like you need more information to successfully start seeds, maybe just buy some plants. Or better yet. Forget growing your own vegetables. Just get some Chinese takeout from that place you planted your egg roll.