At the very first hint of spring, you may be feeling the itch to get your hands in the dirt and start planting your own herbs, vegetables and flowers. But with the threat of frost still looming in some parts of the country, it’s a good idea to get your garden going by starting seeds indoors.

Growing seeds inside will give you a jump start on the growing season, so you can begin before the ground outside is ready. Seeds also open up all sorts of possibilities for vegetable varieties or flowers that you might not find locally. Plus, it’s also much cheaper to buy seeds than seedlings from your local garden store.

If the idea of growing from seed seems daunting, don’t let it discourage you – it’s actually quite easy! Sure, it takes some time, patience and a little know-how, but there’s a very simple satisfaction that comes from seeing a tiny seed sprout into life and eventually become something you can harvest yourself and eat. So  let’s get started!

Basil Seedlings

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • Seeds (if you’re growing something edible, choose organic, of course!)
  • Sterile soilless seed starting mix
  • Seed tray and cover
  • A windowsill with plenty of light
  • Grow lamp

You can find a good soilless growing mix along with a seed starting tray at your local nursery or garden shop. It’s important to include a grow lamp in your gardening toolkit because once the seedlings sprout, they’ll need lots of light to keep their momentum!

Timing Your Seeds:

Planting seeds is all about timing, so the first step is to determine the date of last frost in your area. Since seeds grow at different rates, the next step is to check your seed packet for the recommended indoor sowing time (measured in weeks before last frost). Working backwards from your date of last frost, count the weeks on the package to find out when to start. This way, your seedlings won’t be at risk of freezing when it comes time to transplant them!

Getting Started:

When gardening indoors, it’s always a good idea to cover your work area with newspaper to prevent the inevitable mess. Once your space is ready to go, fill your seed tray almost all the way with the growing mix, making sure that it’s evenly distributed across all of the cells.

Seed Starting

Gently water the whole tray until the mix is thoroughly moistened. Then, working in rows, sow your seeds according to the package’s instructions (usually 1-2 seeds per cell). While you’re sowing, take note of which seeds have been sown where so that you can label them when you’re finished. Otherwise, it’s just a guessing game!

Now that the seeds have been sown, sprinkle a light layer of the growing mix over the seeds, filling the cells to the top. Most seeds will need to be covered to about three times their thickness, while others can only tolerate a fine layer, so take a look at your seed packet for direction.

Drizzle a bit more water over all of the seeds and pop small labels in each row. Then, cover the entire tray with the clear plastic top, and prop it a bit to allow for ventilation. In order for the seeds to germinate, they’ll need to be kept sufficiently moist and in a warm space like near a sunny window or on top of a refrigerator (between 65 and 75 degrees).

Watch your seeds carefully! As soon as they sprout, place the tray in a south-facing window and supplement natural daylight with your grow lamp. To prevent them from getting weak and leggy, they’ll need at least 12 hours of direct sunlight a day, so put a timer on your lamp and let them grow, grow, grow!

When the seedlings are tall enough to reach the top of the plastic cover, remove it to gradually harden them off. If the weather is warm enough, transplant them to a container or straight into the garden. If not, you may need to thin out your seedlings if they’re starting to get crowded. Gently separate them, being careful not to damage the delicate stems and transplant into a larger pot.

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So what do you think, will you be sowing your own seeds this year? If you’re already an expert, do you have any great advice for our readers? Let us know in the comment section below!

Seedling images via Flickr L.RicharzCJ