Seed Starting Tips for Beginner Gardeners

Over the past few years, I have amassed a number of posts here about growing from seed that should be helpful to beginner seed starters. While these seed starting tips are aimed at beginners hopefully, they will be of use and interest to more experienced gardeners who may not have done much seed starting in the past. These tips on seed starting cover what items you can repurpose in your home to make seed starting pots, seed germination, and the types of seed staring mixes you can use. If you find that there’s a seed starting question that has not been answered you can leave a comment below or try my seed snatcher search engine which is exclusively devoted to information on seed starting and seed saving.

Organize Your Seeds Before Seed Starting

Seed organizer for seed starting


The first thing I do in preparation for starting seeds is to take inventory of my seeds. Make a seed organizer so you know what you have on hand and do not buy seeds you do not need. Once you are organized, test your older seeds for germination rates.

Seed Starting Soils

Last year I tried Jiffy-Mix from Ferry Morse and it worked fine. I cut it with coco coir, which is what I mainly use as a seed starting mix. You can find coco coir bricks at most garden centers now, but the cheapest source for the bricks is you local pet shop where coir is sold as reptile bedding. This year I’ll be experimenting with Organic Mechanics‘ new line of seed starting soil.

Seed Starting Pots

Repurpose disposable containers like yogurt cups, clamshells for fruit and pastries, and you can even start seeds in plastic soda bottles. If you want to save on seed starting soil and pots, you can sprout seeds in plastic sandwich bags and transfer the seedlings into pots after they have germinated.

Biodegradable Seed Pots

egg carton seed starting pots

Toilet paper rolls, newspaper pots (square newspaper pots can also be made) eggshells and egg cartons work well as seed starting pots. Because egg cartons are so shallow, use them for seeds you will transplant quickly after the seeds sprout. Then there are the commercially available biodegradable seed starting pots available at garden centers, and compostable seed starting trays available from your local garden center.

Do You Need Seed Starting Lights?

Indoor seed starting lights

I do not believe you need seed starting lights, a windowsill works pretty well, but there are inexpensive options for indoor seed starting under lights.

Make Your Own Seedling Labels

homemade plant labels from recycled plastic milk jugs

You will not remember which seedling are which after a couple of weeks. Make your own seedling labels and markers from empty milk gallons and other plastic you are going to throw away. Save yourself the trouble of handwriting out many seed labels if you are planting several varieties of one plant. Use colored Popsicle sticks for seedling labels if you are planting a lot of seedling that look the same.

Temperature for Seed Germination

Different seeds will germinate at different temperature, but 65F to 75F is best for most plants. Once your seeds have germinated ten degrees less is a good temperature range for growing them on until you are ready to harden them off and transplant outdoors.

Preparing Seeds for Planting

seed scarification, stratification and seed soaking

Depending on the types of seeds you’re planting the seeds may require stratification, scarification or they may benefit from some soaking prior to planting. If the seed packet doesn’t have recommendation on whether the seed needs scarification or stratification you can usually assume that large, hard seeds will benefit from being scarified and soaked overnight.

Moisture and Seed Starting

Keep your seeds moist once germination has started. When a seed dried out it can kill the embryo. Seeds need as much as 50% of their weight to germinate. To achieve this you need to make sure the soil is moist and the seed is in contact with the moist soil. As the soil, dries out it can wick out water from your seed and dry it out resulting in the embryo’s death. Take off seed starting domes after the seeds have germinated.

Make a Seedling Watering Can

homemade watering can for seed starting

You may have noticed that using a regular watering can will splash a lot of water around that displaces your seeds and seedlings. Make yourself a little watering can out of a plastic water bottle that provides a gentle stream of water to keep seeds and seedlings in place.

When to Sow Seeds Indoors

Start your seeds 4 to 12 weeks before your last spring frost. Outdoors you can start seeds after all dangers of frost have passed.

How deep to plant seeds

The depth you plant your seeds at is very important. One rule I like to follow is to plant at 1.5 times the size of the seed. If I am direct seeds sowing and there will not be rain for a few days I will plant the seeds 2-2.5 time the size of the seed. For smaller seeds, I like to just barely cover them with a fine layer of seed starting mix, sand or vermiculite.

How to Sow Small Seeds

how to sow small and large seeds

Tiny seeds can be quite the hassle to sow. Mix your small seeds in a container like a matchbox or a mint tin with sand or finely sifted compost to evenly space the seeds when sowing.

Direct Seed Sowing

paper tube seed collars

Sowing seeds directly into the ground or containers will save you a lot of time and trouble. If you are unfamiliar with what your seedlings will look like make some collars for your seedlings out of paper tubes. When you are digging or weeding around in your garden you will know the plants growing in the paper tube collar are seedlings and not weeds.

Fuzzy White Stuff on Seed Starting Pots

fuzzy white stuff on seed starting pots

When starting seeds in biodegradable materials like newspaper pots, paper tubes and peat and coir pots you may encounter a fuzzy white growth on the pots or the soil. The fuzzy white stuff growing on your pots is called mycelium, and it is pretty much harmless. It occurs and spreads when the soil and biodegradable pots are too wet and the pots too close together and there’s not enough air circulation. To prevent the white fuzzy growth from occurring make sure you’re not over watering and there’s plenty of air circulation. Open nearby windows or install a small fan to move air. If the fungus has grown and spread you can try some home remedies like sprinkling cinnamon or watering with chamomile tea to kill it.

Homemade Cloches 

Early spring temperatures can fluctuate widely and put your recently planted seedlings and transplants at risk when the temperatures dip at night. To protect your seedlings from frost and cold temperatures you can cover them with homemade cloches.

Starting Seeds Too Early

It is easy to jump the gun and want to start seeds the moment spring officially arrives on the calendar. Unless you can provide seedlings with the proper light requirements, temperature and moisture wait until the weather warms up enough.  I know it is hard, but resist starting seeds too early to ensure you start your garden with healthy plants.

How to Make Seed Bombs

How to make seed bombs

Seed bombs are a great tool for guerrilla gardening. They can also be used to get kids and groups involved in planting seeds in a way that is more interactive and educational than just seed sowing. Seed bombs allow for creativity and fun in the garden. See How to Make Seed Bombs for directions with pictures and video.

If you have questions about starting seeds that are not covered in these tips for beginners you can leave a comment below. Hopefully this collection of posts on how I start seeds and answers to some of the frequent questions I receive on seed starting will cover all of your questions. Answers to questions or problems on seed starting can also be found in the seed snatcher search engine. Give it a try and let me know what you think. I’ll add to this post but you can also refer to the tab on seed saving for more posts on seed starting and saving.

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