Starting seeds is an easy and affordable way to get more plants, but getting them off to a good start can be tricky if you’ve never done it before.
When I was 13, I decided to begin my own backyard vegetable garden. I bought my own seeds and seed trays, followed the directions on the pack, set them by a sunny window, and hoped. My seeds never did come up, though I followed the directions on the packs and kept the soil moist. What was the cause of this failure?
As it turns out, it was likely the lack of heat and direct light. Seeds need warmth, moisture, and light to grow, and the closer and more direct that warmth and light is, the better.
But 13-year-old me did not know that. To help others be more successful than I was, we came up with 15 tips to more easily start seeds this year.
Your Seed-Starting Setup
A good seed-starting setup doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive, although there are plenty of items on the market that are specifically designed to help you start seeds. Johnny's Selected Seeds and other seed catalogs or online providers have a number of seed varieties that you won’t find in the store, as well as equipment to make the job easier. Be sure you have on hand the following essentials:
- Seed-starting soil—Soil made especially for starting seeds tends to be lighter and easier for seeds to push through.
- A flat and somewhat shallow container—Use either purchased seed-starting plug trays or a reasonable substitute, such as a foil casserole pan with drainage holes cut into it.
- A system by which to water—Watering trays are easiest, but using a watering can works fine if you’re careful.
- A way to keep your seeds warm—Use a space heater or a heat mat.
- A light system—See below.
A lighting system may be the only item you want to spend a little more on. Shop lights work wonders for seedlings. You need the right kind of light bulbs—ideally they will be marked as full-spectrum bulbs, but bulbs with similar specifications will also do. Keep the lights close to the dirt, and move them frequently so that they are 3–4 inches away from your seedlings as they grow. This ensures that your new plants are getting light directly and growing at a reasonable speed. If lights are too far away, seedlings can get “leggy,” and their stems will be weaker. We show you an easy setup for a light stand in this video.
By Christine Alexander September 6, 2019