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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!)
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.
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:
- 10 Practical Tips for First Time Gardeners
- 14 Simple Gardening Tips
- Before You Start a Garden
- Buying Seeds
- Picking a New Garden Spot
- 5 Ways to Save Money Gardening
Find more tips on my Gardening Page as well!
Are you getting your seeds started? What are you starting indoors this year?
If 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.