When you look at that tiny seed in your hand, it's hard to imagine the spectacular plant and the bounty it will provide!

Buying a pack of garden or flower seeds will grow about 50 plants for about the same price it would cost to buy just one plant to use in your yard and garden.  Do it yourself with a little effort and save a lot of money.  Growing seedlings is a good way to teach children to love gardening and growing their own food.  You will have to prepare a suitable space to do this.  A corner in the garage works well because you won't have to worry about dirt or water spills! 

SeedlingsCredit: coldclimategardening.com

There are four basic requirements to start a seed successfully:

  • Good seeds
  • Good light
  • Good starting medium
  • Proper watering

Good Seeds

Make sure you purchase quality, healthy seeds from a reputable growing company.  Also make sure they are not outdate.  You can find out if your seeds are healthy by trying a simple germination test:

  • Take 10 seeds and place them on a damp paper towel.
  • Roll up the towel with the seeds inside and place it inside of a large plastic bag.
  • Partially close the plastic bag but do not seal completely shut.
  • Place the bag in a warm place, like on top of the refrigerator, and check every couple of days.
  • Add moisture if necessary to the keep the paper towel damp.
  • After 10 days or so, count how many seeds have germinated.  Multiply this by 10 and you have the germination rate.  If you have less than 70% use more seeds to compensate for the poor germination rate when your are planting. 

Good Light

Good lighting is essential ot ensure sturdy, strong seedlings that will be ready to be moved outside when the time is right.  Even a bright, sunny window will not provide enough light to avoid leggy, weak-stemmed seedlings.  It's easy to make your own inexpensive "growing light system."

  • Suspend a standard shop light with florescent bulbs so that the lights are never more that 3 inches from the plants.  Depending on how many plants you are growing, a four foot light fixture is easy to manage.  Hang the lights from a ceiling with small link chains.  You can also hang from the shelves of a three-tiered plant stand that holds about 12 flats of plants.  You can purchase all of these materials from your local do-it-yourself center.
Growing LightCredit: homeharvest.com

Most plants require 16 to 18 hours of light with just a few hours of rest.  A timer connected to the growing light fixture is very handy for this!  By using a time you won't forget to turn on and off the light as needed.

As the seedlings grow, be sure to repot them into larger pots so they don't crowd each other out.  This will also provide more root space and gives the leaves more surface area to be exposed to the light. 

If you use regular florescent light bulbs, you should replace them each year before the growing season with new ones to get the most intense light as possible.

Good Planting Medium

Don't use regular soil for planting new seedlings!  Use a top quality, light, soil-free planting mix.  There are many types available at your local garden or do-it-yourself center.  A soil-free planting medium is preferred for several reasons; it is light and open and will encourage sprouts to push up to the surface, it can hold generous amounts of water without becoming water-logged, and it is sterilized so it doesn't hold harmful fungi which cause diseases. 

Make sure you disinfect all old containers before using with a nine parts of water to one part of bleach solution to prevent disease in new seedlings.

Proper Watering

This is probably the hardest part of starting seeds correctly.  It requires some practice to figure out how to "keep them wet, but not too wet!"  The planting medium should be consistently moist but not at all soggy.  It is okay for the surface to feel a bit dry but if the leaves are beginning to droop or if shiney leaves start to look dull, the roots are not getting enough moisture down deep.  It is probably better to have too little water rather than too much, but either extreme will stress the plants and produce weaker seedlings.

Consider bottom watering for your seedlings.  This helps to avoid wetting the leaves and assures even and thorough watering of the plant medium.  Use a large flat plastic container with shallow sides, add 2 to 4 inches of un-softened water, and then set your plant pots right into the water!  The water will slowly filter upwards through the planting medium until the surface is wet.  Try it and see!  As soon as you begin to see the surface get dark, lift the pots from the water, drain for a moment or two, and then return them under the growing lights.

When the seeds are newly planted and covered with plastic, you will need to water less often than when the plants have grown to 5 or 6 inches and have more leaf surface. 


Planting the seeds is an enjoyable part of the gardening process.  The children love to participate in this!  You will need to assemble the following materials:

  • Planting containers - 6 cell planters are the most popular but use any small pots with good drainage
  • Plant markers - you want to know what you are growing!  Use inexpensive popsicle sticks to label each container of plants.
  • Good healthy seeds
  • Planting mix

Fill the containers with the planting mix and pack it down gently.  Check the seed packets for instructions on planting depth.  Plant several seeds in each container, and cover with planting mix according to the directions.  Gently water each container thoroughly, label, and then cover with a clear plastic bag or clear plastic dome.  Put in a warm place like the top of the refrigerator and when the begin to grow place them under lights. 

Always follow the instructions on the seed packets and soil mix for the best results.