10 Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors

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It's that time again when gardeners, stuck inside in cold winter weather, start dreaming of springtime gardens. One garden task that can be done indoors during the winter is starting seeds indoors. Starting seeds indoors can be a little tricky though, so I'm sharing a list of tips that help me each year.

10 tips for starting seeds indoors

10 Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors

Find out your spring frost-free date

It's very important to know your spring frost-free date to start seeds at the right time. Head over here and plug in your zip code if you don't know! My area, Eastern Iowa, is normally frost free around the end of April and almost always guaranteed to be frost free after May 15. This is not fool proof, however! Last year we had a hard frost on May 16 - the first time in the eight years I've been gardening in my area that we had a frost that late. While knowing the spring frost-free date, isn't full proof, it is generally pretty accurate and you must have a target date in mind as you start your seeds.

Start seeds at the right time

Knowing your spring frost-free date will help determine when to start your seeds. Many seeds need to be started indoors to give them enough time to grow and produce well. Using my spring frost-free date of May 15, I would calculate backwards to figure out when to start my seeds. I don't want to start them too soon or I might not be able to keep them alive or they might get too big to transplant safely, but starting them too late is bad, too, because they won't be strong enough to move outdoors.

Here's a list of common garden plants and how many weeks ahead of time you'll want to start them:

Plant How many weeks before sowing to start inside
Basil 6 weeks
Broccoli 4-6 weeks
Cabbage 4-6 weeks
Cucumber 3-4 weeks
Eggplant 8-10 weeks
Marigolds 6-8 weeks
Melon 3-4 weeks
Peppers 6-14 weeks
Pumpkins 3-4 weeks
Tomatoes 6-8 weeks


For a longer list with more plants, head over to Organic Gardening and take a look at their handy chart.

Find the right location

It's important to find a good location to start seeds. You'll want a warm spot (most seeds will germinate at 70 degrees), with good light. It's also important to keep the seedlings away from pets like cats and dogs as they can wreak havoc on your poor little seedlings. Take some time to find a safe location to keep your lovely little seedlings.

Use adjustable lights

Adjustable lights are your friend as you start seeds indoors. The baby plants grow toward the light and if the light is too far away, they get leggy and don't develop a strong central stem. Weak stems break and die easily outdoors, so start your seeds as close to a light source as possible and then move the light further away as the seedlings grow taller. You can see the homemade seed starting shelf my husband built for me last year, over here.

10 Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors - save containers

Start saving containers

You don't have to spend money on fancy seed starting containers - many of the containers you may already be recycling will make the perfect seeds starting pots. Start saving yogurt containers and toilet paper rolls now. Here are simple instructions for making seed starting pots out of toilet paper rolls. I've also used egg cartons and other plastic containers to start my seeds. Go ahead and poke drainage holes in the bottom of clean plastic containers and you'll be ready to go in the spring, provided of course, you can find them when it's time to plant.

10 Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors - make a plan

Have a good plan

It's too early for starting seeds in December, but it is not too early to make a good garden plan. Now is the time to be pouring over seed catalogs and decide what to plant. Here's a list of free seed catalogs to request and as the catalogs arrive, the promise of springtime will lift your spirits! As you decide which seeds to order, don't forget about companion plants! Herbs and flowers aren't just yummy and pretty, they also help keep away bad bugs in the garden. As you choose which veggies to start, don't forget to add herb and flower packets, too.

Use the right soil

While fancy seeds starting containers aren't necessary, the right soil is vitally important. Make sure to buy a good quality seed starting soil and also milled sphagnum moss (a natural fungicide). You can also add compost after the seedlings have germinated to give them even more nutrients.

Feed and water them

Keep your seedlings moist and don't forget to give them a boost with an organic fertilizer, like a fish and seaweed fertilizer. This is am important step to help them grow as strong as possible. You'll want to feed them an organic fertilizer once a week until you plant them in your garden.

Don't forget to label

I can tell you from experience that it's really easy for seedlings to get mixed up and to forget what you planted where. To keep everything neat and organized, don't forget to label the pots. You can write seed names on masking tape and tape the containers, or write the names on seedlings markers - just make sure you have some way to remember what you plant where, especially if you start more than one variety of a specific type of seed (like tomatoes, for instance).

Harden them off before planting outside

Finally, your seedlings will get quite a shock if you take them directly from warm indoors to a harsh outdoors when you finally plant them in the garden. To help them survive the transplant, start acclimating them to the outdoor weather by gradually increasing the amount of time you put them outside. Start the hardening off process about a week before you plant them outside.

Have you ever started seeds indoors? What tips help you the most?

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I’m Michelle and I blog over at Simplify, Live, Love. I live in rural Eastern Iowa with my husband, 4 kiddos, 17 chickens 3 rabbits, 1 dog, AND a cat. We are self employed crazies trying to balance it all and live sustainably at the same time. In addition to blogging, I garden, can, homeschool, and teach online community college classes too! Hop on over for more on our crazy life in Eastern Iowa.

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