1. Know when to start seeds
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.
2. Use fresh seeds
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
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
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
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.
6. Provide ample, bright light
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
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).
8. Use a fan
Seedlings need good air circulation. This toughens them up and encourages stockier growth instead of stretching.
9. Keep them moist
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
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.