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Starting Seeds

"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."

~ Henry David Thoreau

Growing your own plants is a rewarding act. You no longer are limited to the plants available at your local garden center. The world of seeds is immense and diverse. Seed catalogues are a warm spot during the cold of winter, providing hope and anticipation for the coming spring. One can easily get swept up in the pictures of lush plants and colorful fruit. Slowly turning the racks of seed packets at your local garden center one can become dizzy by the myriad of available options. Starting your own seeds allows you the ability to select exactly what you want. Maybe you love Thai food, so why not try growing Thai basil or Thai peppers? It is easier than ever before to tailor your garden to your exact tastes. Take advantage of seed racks and seed catalogues and explore. You could find a new favorite plant and create a garden that is perfect for you.

Starting seeds is quite simple. With a few easy steps and some basic requirements your seeds will flourish. The following supplies will be needed:

  • Lightweight Soil

  • Container

  • Healthy Viable Seed

  • Water

  • Light

  • Heat Mat (optional)


Lightweight sterilized soil mixture allows a seed's fine young roots to navigate and grow. While not exactly necessary, sterilized soils are free from pathogens that could thwart tender seedlings and are highly recommended. A soilless mixture that is created for seed starting is much lighter and finer than regular potting soil mix. Many potting soils are too rich in nutrients and fertilizers. Seeds contain the majority of the nutrition they need to start growing. It is easier to add specific fertilizer to your seedling when they are older. We prefer Black Gold Seedling Mix. This OMRI certified mix is perfect for starting seeds.


You can start seeds in a variety of containers. Using shallow and small containers can be easier to manage. When the container is shallow it is easier to control the moisture in the soil. Majority of seedling deaths occur because the soil is too wet or too dry. Seed starting trays are easy to use and particularly useful if you want to grow one plant per cell. Peat pots can be planted directly in the ground. They are a great choice if you are growing plants that susceptible to transplant shock (i.e. nasturtiums). Old plant pots can be reused after they have been cleaned and sanitized. You can make your own seed pots out of toilet paper rolls or newspaper. Old carry out containers make great seed starting containers. Just drill some drainage holes and they are ready to use. What ever containers you use, make sure they allow for proper drainage.

Time to plant!

When to start seeds will depend on the type of plant and your local weather. Many summer flowers and vegetables should be started 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date. The average last frost date for Northern Kentucky is May 15th. Check your seed packet to determine a start date.


  1. Fill container with potting soil. Gently tap down to firm soil. Moisten soil if it is very dry by lightly sprinkling with water.

  2. Plant seeds according to the depth on the seed packet. Your finger is the best tool you have. Don't be shy about getting dirty.

  3. Gently water, being careful to not force seeds (and soil) out of pot. If using a shallow container you can water by placing it in a basin of water. Remove once the top of soil is saturated. (You can make your own seedling watering bottle by drilling small holes in the lid of a sanitized bottle.)

  4. Place in a suitable location based on the directions on the seed packet. Not all seeds need direct light to sprout.

  5. (Optional) Placing a humidity dome over newly planted seeds will create a warm humid environment that encourages germination.

  6. (Optional) Place on seed heating mats to accelerate germination. Make sure the seeds want heat. Some plants, such as pansies, kales, and brassicas, require cooler soil temperatures for germination.

Growing Your Seedlings

Majority of seeds prefer the soil to be slightly moist, but not wet. Overly wet and overly dry soil can inhibit seedling growth. Don't be surprised if not all your seeds sprout. It happens for various reasons, that is on reason why there are a lot of seeds in a single seed packet.

Once seeds have sprouted continue watering as you have been. Seedlings don't need fertilizer until their first true leaves appear. These leaves are the second set of leaves to grow. Liquid fertilizers are better than slow release granular fertilizers. Your seeds grow quite rapidly. Granular fertilizers are too slow for seedlings. Seedling roots are very delicate and fertilizers, including organic ones, should be diluted by half. You can gradually increase the strength of the diluted fertilizer solution as the seedling grows.

As seedlings grow you may need to thin out to allow room for healthy root growth. Thin out plants by gently removing them from the container. The easiest method to remove plants is to use your fingers and gently tug. It may feel a bit heartless to remove the young plants, but the remaining plants will grow stronger by having the extra room.

Once seedlings have a few sets of true leaves they are ready to be transplanted into larger containers. Using a pencil, plant label, or popsicle stick gently lift the seedling's roots out of the container trying to maintain as much soil as possible. Be patient and don't rush the seedling out of the container. Plant the seedling in the large container at the same depth it was growing. Be careful not to crimp the seedling's stalk. Gently water your newly planted transplant. The video below shows a borage seedling transplanted into a larger container.

A couple of weeks before you plan to move your plants outside you will need to "harden them off". The process of "hardening" is acclimating the plant to the weather outside. Begin by placing plants outside for just a couple of hours a day. Gradually increase the time spent outdoors until they are completely moved.

For more information the UGA Cooperative Extension has a great article on starting seeds.

Tomato plant ready for the garden.

Take the time relax and reap the benefits of growing your own plants.

May your garden be filled with luscious plants and free of weeds. Happy gardening!

"The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies." ~ Gertrude Jekyll

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