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10 seed starting hacks to get your garden on the right track this spring

Debbie Wolfe is a mom of two rambunctious boys, wife, and work-at-home mom from Georgia. In her free time (when there is such a thing), she is in the garden or hidden away reading the latest post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama! As interests,...

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing

Vegetable starts can been expensive especially when you are looking to fill a garden.  Nonetheless, you can’t beat that satisfaction you get when harvesting your own homegrown veggies. Starting plants from seed is by far the most economic way to get lots of plants for very little. Also, there are so many more varieties to grow that you will never find in a retail garden center. Follow these tried and true tips and you’ll never buy plants at a garden center again.

1. Know when to start seeds

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Mike Mozart/Flickr

This is critical for success. If you start too early, then you won’t be able to put the plant out in your garden before it outgrows its starting container. If you start too late, you risk not giving the plant time to mature thoroughly before harvest. Most plants need six weeks before that last frost date in your area. However, that depends on your planting zone and what you are planting. Your seed packet will have a suggested seed starting time frame on the back. Read the packet thoroughly.

More: How to read a seed packet

2. Use fresh seeds

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Marie Shellcross/Flickr

I know it’s tempting to use old seed packets someone gave you when they cleaned out their shed, but the older the seed the more unpredictable germination will be.

3. Soak, scratch or chill

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Susie Morris/Flickr

Some seeds require special prepping before you sow them. For example, beets or cilantro benefit from soaking 24 hours before you plant them; this expedites germination. Your seed pack will give you specific instructions on how to prep the seeds.

4. Use a seed starting mix

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Suzy Morris/Flickr

Seed starting mix is soilless. It’s typically a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. Seeds do not need soil to germinate. Seed starting mix gives them a loose, well-drained medium to sprout.

5. Use your recycling

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: MyNeChimKi/Flickr

You do not need to spend money on special seed starting pots or trays. Use old yogurt containers, paper cups, toilet paper tubes, or fold newspaper into pots for seed starting. Empty water or soda bottles and rotisserie containers make great mini greenhouses to help keep your seedlings warm and most.

More: 6 things in your trash can you can use to seed your garden

6. Provide ample, bright light

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Christina/Flickr

For the most part, a large window may provide enough light for your seedlings. Eventually you will see them stretch and lean toward the light. A better option is to get an inexpensive, fluorescent light from a home improvement store for around $10. You can install the light under a shelf and place your seedling underneath. You will see a vast improvement.

7. Provide bottom heat

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Yutaka Seki/Flickr

Use a space heater or seed heating mat under your seedling tray. You can also set the tray on top of a radiator or on top of a refrigerator. Bottom heat will give you better germination rates and stronger seedlings. Your seedlings do not need light until after they germinate. Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C).

More: How to grow seeds indoors

8. Use a fan

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Emilie Duchesne/Getty Images

Seedlings need good air circulation. This toughens them up and encourages stockier growth instead of stretching.

9. Keep them moist

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Peeter Viisimaa/Getty Images

In the beginning it’s important to keep the surface of the seed mix moist. Use a spray bottle to gently mist the surface. Also, plastic wrap over the tray or container will help prevent them from drying out.

10. Toughen them up

Don’t spend money on garden center transplants — use these seed starting tips and get growing
Image: Natasha/Flickr

As you get ready to put your darlings in the garden, it’s important to prepare them. Up until now, they have lived a sheltered life. They need to be “hardened off” before they move out. Start by leaving them out in a shaded area for an hour or two for a couple of days. Gradually increase their outside time until you are able to leave them out all day.

More: Tips for having a successful vegetable garden

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