Starting Garden Plants From Seed – Growing Your Own Plant Starts

Not everyone needs to start seeds indoors if you live in the southern states that don’t have many (or any!) days below freezing and you have a LONG growing season, having your plants started by the time they need to go into the ground is not a concern for you. For the rest of us with a short growing season, we need to give those long season plants a fighting chance! That’s why growing your own plant starts is so important.

Ready to get your garden growing? Here's a simple but detailed tutorial on how to grow your own plant starts from seed instead of having to buy them!

Growing Your Own Plant Starts

Generally, your packet of seeds will tell you on it if the seeds need to be started indoors in advance to planting outside.

The most common types of plants to start indoors are:

  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower

Note before we get started….I’m not a professional gardener of any sort, just a home gardener that has had a few years of experience in planting food for a main grocery source. If you are very new to gardening you might be interested in an excellent book ALL about gardening such as The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. It is the perfect go-to book on gardening when you have a question! (There is also The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible for those growing in small spaces.)

Let’s get started!


Baker Creek Seeds

Know When to Start Your Starts

If you start too early your plants might get too thin and tall and if you start too late your plants may be too small and weak to plant outside. Most plants to be started indoors need to grow for about 6 to 8 weeks before you plan on planting outside. Since it can be hard to determine when the last frost will be in some areas, giving yourself a good range of time is important.

I always plan on planting my plants outside in the ground sometime between the middle and the end of May. (For zone 5) By planting the seeds indoors during the first weekend in April that gives me at least 6 weeks before the plants will go outside but not any longer than 8 weeks before they will for sure be headed into the ground.


Supplies for Starting Gardening Vegetables

I used to always use those little plastic trays to plant my starts in, I’ve since moved away from those as I’ve found better alternatives that work well for us. We currently use Coconut Fiber Pots to start our plants in. (3 to 4 inches depending on which size I find that year) I just love these!

They give my plants (tomatoes and peppers) plenty of space to grow a nice sized stem before I plant them in the ground PLUS you can plant the entire pot right in the ground and it will disintegrate through the summer. Being able to plant the entire pot right in the ground helps the plant adapt better and gives it less chance of having shock, this is especially important if you plant your starts in potting soil and have less-than-fertile soil in your garden to transplant them into.

Seed Trays

For smaller plants (like cauliflower and broccoli), these smaller Coconut Fiber Trays work well. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the black plastic seed starting trays if that’s what you have on hand. They won’t be able to be planted in the ground but you can use them again next year!

Something else to remember here…if you do not have a great warm place (or if you typically keep your house on the cooler side) to put your starts in you might want to consider a seed tray with a heated mat. If you have trouble with your starts being too thin, the heated mat tray might also be helpful for you.

Starting Garden Plants From Seed
Having a cute little helper is always a plus!

Dirt for Plant Starts

The dirt that you choose is important. The cheapest that you can choose is dirt straight from your garden, as long as your soil is healthy it will help prevent shock when you transplant the starts. (Just keep in mind that you may have some weeds grow in the starts if you choose this option and the soil may not be very airy.)

The next best option is a good Organic Potting Soil. I’ve seen some articles on making your own potting soil, which is also always an option, but personally I think that you may end up having more into the product by the time you finish it than just buying a bag potting soil. Unless you plan on starting a lot of plants, one bag of potting soil should suffice.

Gardening Planting

Know What Plants You Are Starting

Of course, you also need to keep track of what you are planting in your little pots! I struggled with this for many years thinking that I would just “figure it out” until I realized it wasn’t worth it and I picked up some little wooden plant labels. Oh so easy…

One big benefit to labeling your starts is in case you need to buy a few starts to replace those that don’t come up, you will actually know what you need to buy and not have to wait until they all bear fruit to see which variety you are missing!

Seed Trays

Another option would be to write the name of the plants on masking tape and tape them to the sides of your seed starting trays.

Let’s put this all together now!


Seeds in Dirt

Seed Starting

Planting your starts is really as simple as you think it is! Place your potting soil into the pots and place the pots on a tray. Poke your finger into the middle of the dirt in each pot until you have a hole about an inch deep.

Plant two little seeds in each pot and cover the seeds back up with a bit of soil. Plant as many pots as you will need plants…maybe a few extras just in case. (For advice on how many plants to plant based on how many members are in your family, check out this post!)

planting garden starts

This is a great project to do with your children! If you would like more details on how to involve children in your gardening, read this blog post about Introducing Children to Gardening.

Garden Starts

Give Your Plant Starts the Best Start

Give the pots a little bit of water (they will soak it up from the bottom so you can just place water in the tray to avoid over-watering your plants), and place them in a sunny, warm area. We have a large, heated sunroom in the front of our house that is perfect for my little plants. If you don’t have much space, a folding table set up in front of a sunny window will work perfectly.

If you don’t have a good sunny window, look into getting a Grow Light to put over your plants. You want a grow light to be a “full-spectrum light” for the best results. The light that comes from it may look purple.

Make sure to keep up with watering the starts when they begin to look a little dry. Do not overwater or the plants may begin to turn yellow and then wilt. They can also turn yellow if they don’t get enough sunlight so make sure that you position them in a very sunny place.

Don’t forget to talk sweet to your plants, they need all the love they can get right now. 🙂 You need to treat them nicely…they are going to feed your family!

Need more gardening tips? Here are a few more articles you may want to read before you start your garden this year:

Find more tips on my Gardening Page as well!

Are you getting your seeds started? What are you starting indoors this year?


gardening journalIf you are gardening or planning on doing any preserving this year, you NEED this wonderful sprial bound journal! Get your own copy here.


This blog post about Creating Plant Starts was originally posted on Little House Living in April 2016. It has been updated as of February 2020.

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  1. I used to grow tomatoes from seed every year until the one year they all died because of a late frost. Now I just buy the plants…

  2. Thank you for sharing your tips on getting the plants started. It’s always so fun to see their heads pop up through the dirt and exciting to watch the progress. That’s a great tip – using the coconut fiber pots!

  3. Thank you for this! I am going to start my pots this weekend. I want them to be ready for the raised bed my father-in-law is building me this year.

  4. I should really get started on this. I could have nice big plants before I know it. THanks for the tips. You should link up at Family Joy Blog Link Up Party.

  5. We planted our seeds a week or two ago and they’re all sprouting up nicely. We had such nice, warm, sunny weather and now it feels like winter again! I really hope it warms up soon enough for us to get them outside soon.

  6. These are some great tips, especially making sure to have everything labeled. I plan to start my vegetable garden back up this year, which I’m really excited about, so I appreciate the tips.

  7. Thank you for this, I”m planning on starting mine this weekend. I have a small greenhouse that I can put mine in. We just got a load of snow so it’s a good thing I didn’t start them last weekend.

  8. We live in one of those southern states that barely gets below freezing, but we’ve found that kale can handle the changing temperatures really well, even with a few cold days. Your tip for labeling is definitely something we learned by trial and error as well, thinking we’d remember which was which. Looking forward to a fresh garden this year!

  9. Thank you for this very informative article. Do you have any tips on hardening your plants before planting them? Last year was my first time gardening. I started my seeds inside, and they did great right up until I moved them outside to start getting them sun tolerant. It was this step that caused me to lose half my plants. I could really use some more information on this step.

    1. The easiest way could just be to set them outside during the day for a while before planting them outside. If it’s really warm where you live maybe start by doing just a few hours and work up to the full day?

  10. I have tomato and pepper plants going but will try the broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. I have also found it beneficial to start my corn ahead, about a month or so as I love in the North with a shorter growing season.

  11. I love those coconut grass pots that disintegrate, too, and I use them when I catch a good sale, but I have my standard cheap plastic old seed tray as well.

    Great tips! Thanks, Merissa!

  12. My husband and I have gardened for years in Northern Maine. I found paint pail liners at a salvage store. We drilled holes in them and use them for our delicate little plants…their own little individual greenhouses. Protects from surprise frosts or cool nights!!!

  13. I find that many plants do not want to be started a full inch deep. Many herbs can be “broadcast” by sprinkling them across the top and just covering with 1/4” of soil. Actually I have found that most plants do best at a depth of 1/4”-1/2”, and Marigolds need to be set on TOP of the soil, as they need LIGHT, not darkness to grow. Peas need to be 1” deep, though. Also, it helps to deeply moisten your seed starting mix first. And covering them with a clear plastic tub, or even plastic wrap helps to keep the moisture in the soil. Also, they say to add water to the bottom of the tray, but empty out any excess the plants don’t drink after about a half hour. This is to prevent the seeds from getting TOO moist and then rotting.