Seed-starting indoors

Find the biggest choice in plants by starting them from seed.Credit: Photo by Jane Gates

Even if the weather is too cold to do any planting where you live, you can still get a jump start on spring by starting seeds indoors. There are lots of ways to start seeds in your house even if you don’t have a greenhouse or sun-room. The important elements you will need are good light, temperatures that stay around 60’ F or warmer, humidity, and clean soil.

Containers can be fiber or peat pots, small plastic pots, newspaper pots, multiple containers like 6-packs or seed starter kits. There are biodegradable pots made of rice and other vegetable fibers or even pots made of cow manure that will nourish plant roots as the pot dissolves in the ground. Plants that will resent root disturbance are best germinated and planted in these kinds of self-composting pots so you can put the whole thing in the ground. Many peat pots can resist breaking down once planted unless you make sure the soil remains damp and make sure the top edges of the peat pots do not stay above the soil line and dry out. Some other fiber pots will break down easier.

Plant big seeds in larger pots and set flat seeds like squash and flat beans on their thin edges with the growth point facing up. Tiny seeds can be mixed with loose sand to keep them from growing too close to each other.

Make sure the soil in which you plant your seeds doesn’t dry out, but don’t keep it sodden either, or seeds can rot. Keeping seeds and germinating seedlings surrounded by humid air makes it easier for seeds to break their seed coatings and encourages growth. One of the best ways to control the environment for your seeds indoors is to use a clear plastic dome cover. You can find seed trays, seed growing grids, individual pots or other growing mediums that will all be neatly enclosed with a plastic dome. This will form a mini environment around your delicate new plants.

If you don’t have a space indoors with strong daylight to start your seeds, add grow lights. Grow lights will add the ultraviolet and infrared light waves that seeds and seedlings need to grow well. You can even find handy grow-carts that offer built-in shelving and lighting for starting your seeds indoors.

Getting a jump on the growing season means you can have your seeds several inches high and well on their way to cropping or flowering as soon as the soil is warm enough to plant them outdoors. Starting seeds indoors also means your flower garden will be in bloom and your vegetable garden will be producing fool earlier than everyone else's. Planting your seedlings out in degradable pots will avoid transplant shock and growth delays. And starting long-season crops like peppers, tomatillos or eggplants from seed – if you live where the growing season is short – is probably the only way you can grow some of the less common varieties of plants. What’s more, growing seeds indoors can be fun and give you a chance to enjoy the springtime long before it arrives.