Alicia DeVore

Going to the local plant nursery to buy each season of vegetable plants, I soon figured out that buying seedlings was very expensive and made gardening unaffordable.

Have you ever felt this way?

Well, don’t let this discourage you from growing an affordable garden this year.

I quickly turned my attention to starting seeds indoors because one packet of seeds for $3.50, the same price for one plant, would give me 15-20 plants. That was a saving that I couldn’t overlook. And that made gardening very affordable.

As a new gardener, many moons ago, the idea of starting seeds indoors seemed like it would just be too difficult for me. I sure didn’t want to fail and end up needing to buy all the seedlings at a local plant nursery. I wanted to be able to grow from seeds and depend on these seedlings being healthy and big enough to plant out into my garden later for the spring, summer, or fall seasons.

Learning how and when to start growing seeds indoors ended up being easier with these tips and tricks that I learned along the way. Read this post to find out how you can start growing your healthy seedlings at home.

How to Start Seeds Indoors?

tender seedlings

Miracles within Each Seed

Each seed is a small miracle containing everything needed for a new plant to grow. What does a seed have inside of it to be able to sprout? For starters, it is composed of a protective coating that when removed or damaged allows water to be absorbed and the embryo inside can begin to develop.

Inside each seed there are also minute amounts of energy from carbohydrates and proteins, these will act as an immediate source of energy for its growth. A tiny seed is full of life.

What is the Right Environment to Help to Sprout?

A seed won’t be able to sprout if the environment is not right. Newly planted seeds require a few basic things.

Here is a list to make the environment ideal for growing:

  1. Light: Light is essential to the process of germination and growth. Without enough light, a seedling will struggle to grow healthy and strong.

  2. Water: Keeping your them evenly moist is also key for growth. A good way to do this is by using a spray bottle when watering since it provides even coverage without over-saturating.

  3. Soil: A good seedling potting mix is important for providing the right environment to begin growing. You should look for soil that offers good drainage and contains organic matter like compost or peat moss.

  4. Temperature: The temperature of the room you are germinating in is also important. Generally, the ideal temperature for seedlings to grow is between 68-77°F (20-25°C).

  5. Air Circulation: Make sure your seedlings have plenty of ventilation and air circulation when they are growing. This will help them become sturdy and able to withstand harsher conditions once moved outdoors.

gently getting placed in garden bed

Know the Timing of Your Seasons

When you have the right seasons with the plants that like to live in those seasons, then you have a winning combination of timing and plants. Plan on getting a head start to growing your garden in any season by adding 6-8 weeks to grow indoors.

Then take the planting temperatures below to know when to transplant seedlings safely in the garden.

Plant these crops indoors first for a better growing experience.

The crops that are easier to direct sow are not found on this list. Use this list to start indoors.

What to Grow in the Cold Season Indoors?

These crops need to be planted in the cool season when the temperature is between 35-75 degrees. After planting 6-8 weeks before the first frost, cover these crops with plastic or white cloth over hoops to withstand the colder temperatures and keep them warm enough for the then to keep growing throughout the winter months.

  1. Kale

  2. Broccoli

  3. Cabbage

  4. Cauliflower

  5. Spinach

  6. Lettuce

  7. Swiss Chard

  8. Bok Choy

  9. Greens

What to Grow in the Cool Season Indoors?

Growing these seedlings outdoors when the temperature is between 35-75 degrees is perfect for fall and spring gardens. For fall, make sure to get these seedlings in 6-8 weeks before the first frost. For spring, plant outdoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost.

You may need to add shade cloth in the fall if it is still too warm to grow cool-weather crops or plant cloth if the temperature changes too drastically in either season.

  1. Kale

  2. Broccoli

  3. Cabbage

  4. Cauliflower

  5. Spinach

  6. Lettuce

  7. Swiss Chard

  8. Bok Choy

  9. Greens

  10. Many Herbs

What to Grow in the Warm Season Indoors?

Starting indoors for these crops will give you a head start into your growing season. These crops like the weather to be warmer at 65-85 degrees. They like to have sunshade cloth if the temperatures get over 85 degrees.

  1. Peppers

  2. Eggplants

  3. Tomatoes

  4. Herbs

Before starting

Steps to Prepare your space to grow indoors.

  1. Determine the location of starting station. Use the information below to see 3 different options.

  2. Get the needed equipment. Check out the information below.

  3. Figure out the timing of your growing seasons. Use the information below.

    seedling tray and peat pots to start seedlings

What Seeds Germinate?

It depends on the season. The general rule is to start indoors 6-8 weeks before they need to be planted out in the garden outdoors. Some need more time to grow stronger roots before getting planted out.

One example is peppers. I first started peppers at the same time I started tomato seeds for my summer garden when I first started growing instead of buying at the local garden center.

What a mistake that was!

It took my peppers another month of being indoors to be ready to plant outside. By that time, I had missed the timing of getting them in the ground before the heat of summer came and stunted their growth.

Now, I start my pepper plants almost 3 months before I know I want to plant out in my garden. And that timing is when the soil is warm enough, the temperature is not too hot yet for my area, and the roots of the peppers will have time to get established before the heat sets in.

Others need only 4-6 weeks of indoor growth time to be strong enough to grow outside. Bok Choy, lettuce, and spinach are great examples of this shorter indoor growing time.

Do you Need Grow Lights?

Light does not affect germination. The warmth from light to germinate is what helps sprouting. Generally, they will germinate in the dark, as long as they have access to moisture.

After they have sprouted then providing light or natural sunlight provides UV-A and UV-B radiation needed for healthy plants to grow.

new plants from various stages of development

Do You Need a Heating Mat?

The temperature in your seed starting closet, garage, or living space will determine if you need a heating mat. If it is cold in these areas, then a mat is necessary to start indoors.

Most packets have an optimal temperature for vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers to germinate which ranges between 65-80 F (18-27 C) and is ideal for starting indoors. If you find that your home’s temperature is lower than this range then using a heating mat will help ensure you get a successful germination rate.

Three Kinds of Set-Ups in Growing Your Seedlings:

I plant in three different ways that all work, some work for me better than others. Let’s take a look at the three ways and see what will fit best in your situation.

Using Your Closet Shelves

What is needed:

  1. shelf

  2. a grow light

  3. miniature fan

  4. timer

  5. heating mat (depending on how cool your closet is)

  6. seed packet

  7. tray

  8. humidity dome

  9. containers

  10. seed starting mix

How to Set Up in the Closet:

This is a way to use space & keep your seedlings safe from outside elements. You need a sterile seed starting mix, water, and heat. You do not need light until the seeds sprout.

Find a shelf inside of a closet. Add a hook and a grow light that fits the length of the shelf area. Make sure that the grow light has a chain to be able to raise up and down easily as the plants are growing and need light closer the shorter they are.

Because there is no natural light in a closet, place your seedlings on the shelf under the grow light for them to get ample light exposure. Connect the light to a timer. Once they have sprouted, make sure that the plants get 16 hours of light per day and set the timer. I love using a timer for hands-off care of your seedlings.

Place a heating mat on the bottom of the shelf and connect an electrical outlet.

Set up a small fan that creates airflow in the closet. This is crucial because poor air circulation will encourage diseases and pests.

This is great for those who live in small spaces or don’t have much room for larger setups. I also had to set up my seed starting location in a closet because something was eating my seedlings in the garage area.

Keeping the seedlings close to me in the house, in their own space kept them protected and let me check on them more often.

Set Up on Garage Shelf

What is needed:

  1. shelf

  2. grow lights

  3. heating mat

  4. timer

  5. seed packet

  6. seedling tray

  7. humidity dome

  8. containers

  9. soil mix

How to Set Up Indoor Seed Starting Station on Garage Shelf:

In my garage, I cleared out one of the shelves on that I stored books and things. A garage is a great place to start growing because there is usually airflow and some natural light. You won’t need a mini-fan like you do when using a grow closet.

Hang the grow light on a chain above the shelf so it hangs at least 6 inches above the seed trays or pots. Plug the grow light into a timer and set the timer for 16 hours of light a day once they have sprouted. Place the heating mat under the seed trays or pots to keep them warm if starting your seeds when it is cold outside.

When the temperatures are warm in the garage, you may not need a heating mat. When I grow seedlings for spring and summer plants, I use a heating mat. When I grow my fall garden, I do not use a heating mat because the garage is hot enough and I usually have to water twice a day to keep the seedlings from drying out.

Using an Area Inside Your Living Area:

What is needed:

  1. table or area

  2. grow lights or lamp that can stand on it’s own or sunny window

  3. timer

  4. heating mat (depending on how cool your living area is)

  5. seed packet

  6. seed tray

  7. humidity dome

  8. seed containers

  9. soil mix

How to Set Up Seed Starting Station inside Your Home:

Choose a table or area that has a south-facing window for the sun.

You can use grow lights with a flexible arm so they can be adjusted to the right height for your seedlings.

You won’t need this light until sprouting has occurred. Set up a timer and adjust it to switch on and off as needed depending on how much sun is coming into the house.

Place your heating mat under the seed container. This will help keep your soil warm enough to allow germination to happen.

Add a humidity dome over the seed tray to help keep moisture levels constant. This will also help protect your seeds from any drafts and provide them with a warm, humid environment for optimal growth.

7. When the first sets of leaves have started to form, it is time to transplant your seedlings into larger containers. Follow the instructions on the seed packet for further information regarding transplanting and watering.

8. Make sure to adjust the height of your grow light periodically to keep it at the optimal distance from your seedlings. Keep an eye out for any wilting or yellowing leaves, as this could be a sign that they are

seedlings in a few pots

Soil Moisture for Planting Seeds Garden Soil Surface

When starting many seeds, use a sterile organic seed starter mix that you can get from a plant nursery. Add water to the mixture and mix it up for it all to get moist. You want the soil moisture to be wet, but not soggy.

Add the soil mix to the seed tray or use pots like peat pots that can be placed into the garden and will disintegrate as the plant grows. There are many choices for what to plant your many seeds in.

Place the tiny seeds at the soil line and then cover lightly with more moist soil. With larger seeds, make a small indention into the soil and then add soil to cover completely.

Keeping the seedlings moist during this germination period will bring you success within a few days or a few weeks depending on the type of seed.

3 seed packets with lettuce and herbs vegetables growing in a raised bed

Reading Seed Packet

Reading seed packets can be a bit tricky, but with a few simple tips, you will soon master it.

1. Check the date on the packet – The date tells you when the seed was packaged and is very important in determining its freshness. If the package is older than 3 years, consider buying new packets of seed.

2. Read the instructions – The instructions on the packet will give you the information needed for planting, such as how deep to sow the seed and when it should be planted. This is important to ensure successful germination. You don’t want the seed to be planted too deeply.

3. Check for additional information – Many seed packets also include additional information like sun requirements, soil type, and water needs. Make sure to read these instructions carefully to ensure that your plant has the best chance of thriving once it is planted.

4. Look for germination rates – Another important metric on a seed packet is the germination rate, which tells you what percentage of seeds in the package will sprout successfully under ideal conditions. If this rate is low, you may want to look for another variety of seeds.

How long do seeds take to germinate indoors?

Seeds germinate within 3-10 days to sprout. Keep the potting mix moist by wetting the soil surface with a spray bottle on top of the soil if you do not want it too wet. Seeds should have been watered once a day and once a day depending upon light and heat.

little vegetables

How to Sow Seeds in Pots Indoors?

Once you have the seeds, it’s time to sow seeds. Depending on the type of seed, there are several methods for planting.

Herbs and some flowers need to go through a process called stratification. This is where the seed is chilled and exposed to cold temperatures for some time before sowing.

Others can either be directly planted into the soil mix when the mix is warm enough or will need to have time to grow in a controlled environment for best results.

Here’s how you can Get Your Garden Started

1. Fill a pot with a high-quality, sterile prepared soil dry mix. Be sure to use a mix that is specifically designed for starting indoors – this will help germination and they will grow quickly.

2. Place the soil in the pot and tamp it down lightly with your fingers so there are no air pockets inside.

3. Moisten the soil with warm water until it’s damp but not wet with a gentle mist.

4. Place the seeds in the peat pots, egg carton, or seed tray. Sow in containers that have drainage holes as seedlings grow.

5. Cover the seeds lightly with a thin layer of potting mix in the proper depth.

6. Water daily to keep the soil moist but not wet.

7. Watch for signs of germination – this may take anywhere from several days to weeks, depending on the type of seed you are planting.

8. Once your seedlings begin to emerge add the artificial light and make sure it is close to the newly sprouting seedling. If the light is too far you will end up with leggy seedlings.

9. When the seedlings have grown several inches tall, begin fertilizing them with a weak solution of organic liquid fertilizer every two weeks or so.

10. Plant your seedlings indoors into larger pots as needed with potting mix and keep an eye out for any signs of pests or disease.

11. When ready for transplanting into the garden, do so carefully and water them well after planting.

poke holes for proper spacing and add seeds gently

What do I do after my Seeds Sprout Indoors?

Once they have sprouted indoors, take off the humidity dome and give them the nutrients needed to continue growing with organic liquid fertilizer. Follow the directions on the container to know how much to add to the water. I usually add half strength fertilizer so that it is not too strong.

Try not to get the fertilizer on the leaves. If you can water from the base, that works best. You only need to add fertilizer once every two weeks.

After about a month, it is time to add potting soil to bigger pots and transplant seedlings to new homes. They still need the heat mat and the grow lights to continue growing.

When to Plant Vegetable Seed Packets and How Long to Keep Them Indoors?

Seeds come in all shapes and sizes and all differ in how long it takes to grow into seedlings.Starting indoors will work for some better than others. Look in this post to see which vegetable seeds grow best starting indoors for your garden in each season.

Which Seeds for Sowing Seeds Outdoors?

Direct Sowing Seeds Outdoors

Some seeds do best by sowing into the ground. This is called direct sowing. It also can depend on what growing zone and planting dates match the temperature of where you live in with which of these types grow best by seed sown directly into the ground in very warm soil.

A few that do well with directly sowing in the ground versus starting indoors are carrots, sweet pea, beets, and radishes for cool weather temperatures, and cucumbers, pole beans, bush beans, winter squash, and summer squash. I sow outdoors when the soil is warm enough to help them sprout.

Many of these plants mentioned are quick growers and do not need the extra time that growing indoors provides. These types like to establish their roots and do not like to be moved after the roots have started developing.

start indoors in good growing medium

Is it Better to Start Seeds Indoors or Outdoors?

It depends on the seeds. Some do not do as well growing indoors and then getting transplanted into the garden. Others won’t sprout in harsher environments outdoors and need the extra time indoors.

Indoor seeding provides you with more control. You can monitor the growth rates of your plant seeds by adding water or heat. Seedlings can survive in a controlled environment with a lesser risk of disease and pests.

What Happens if Nothing Sprouts?

If after planting two or more seeds in each container and you have the right soil warmth and moisture and still have not seen sprouting, then they may just be too old.

Oftentimes, most seeds can last for years before being used, but germination rates depend on lots of seen and unseen factors.

What do I do after the Seeds Sprout?

Once sprouted, keep watering lightly to keep them moist. I often water the bottom of the containers so that the seedling can drink from its roots and then the top does not mold or get hard.

Growing Healthy Seedlings

After the seedling has grown for a few weeks, I get rid of any unwanted sprouts that are planted too close to each other by cutting the stem at the base or pulling the seedling roots apart carefully and then replanting in another pot. I want the strongest seedling to get all the nutrients possible from the soil and not have any competition.

After 3-4 weeks in small seed trays, I use an organic potting mix to then to transplant them into larger pots. The young seedlings will grow stronger with more space & nutrients than the soil mix provides.

Continue adjusting the levels of the light so that they do not get leggy.

many plants of vegetables

When to Transplant Seedlings?

Plants grow best when the environment is right. After the 6-8 weeks of being indoors with the right light, moist potting soil, the warm temperatures from a heat mat, and artificial light then your young seedlings are ready for a few weeks called the hardening off period.

During this time, you will take your plants outside in the shade for a few hours, then increase their exposure to the outside elements. Do this hardening-off period til the plants can be out overnight.

Ready to Grow Outdoors in Garden Soil

Your healthy plants are now ready to be planted outdoors in your garden. You started indoors and now they have acclimated to the elements outside and are ready to grow on their own.

This feeling of growing a few seeds and watching them grow to then produce is one of my favorite things in the world. What an incredible experience I get to have every season of the year. Having a variety of many vegetables and growing vegetables can be fulfilling for you and your family.

I hope this information helps you to try to grow seed indoors and then into healthy plants to grow in your garden each season. You will save money, enjoy the benefits of slowing down to watch things grow, and know your garden well.

Growing indoors is a great way to give your vegetable garden an extra boost. With the right care and attention, you can be sure that your new garden will survive when planted outdoors and produce vegetables. It’s very satisfying to watch as they progress from small seeds in containers to healthy and vibrant outdoor plants. So why not give it a try?

Other Resources for You:

Gardening in 10 minutes a Day in February

Gardening in 10 minutes a Day in March

Life Skills to Teach Gardening with Kids

10 Minute Gardening Tips

Seed Starting Mini-Course


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About the Author

Alicia has been teaching her whole life from elementary teacher to workshops for beginning gardeners.  Go HERE to read Alicia's story into gardening from plant killer to pro grower and garden coach.  If you want to send Alicia a quick message, then use her contact page HERE.

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