We are slowly chipping away at the winter season, with the hope of spring just around the corner. For me, planning my spring garden is a reprieve from the cold, dormant winter, I’m like a kid at Christmas when the seed catalogs start rolling in. Get a head start on your garden this year by learning How and When to start seedlings indoors.
How & When to Start Seeds Indoors
Spending time pouring over pages of heirloom seeds is a family tradition – with each of my children selecting what they will be responsible for growth in the upcoming season. We tend to let them dream big – growing giant lime green zinnias and fences full of snake gourds.
Once the new seeds are here and our reserves from years past are pulled from their boxes, we set to work.
As a beginner, I dreaded it. The time, love, and money – to watch them shrivel. So after years of trial, error, and some neighborly expert advice, I now know the joy of starting seeds indoors.
I’ll share what you need to know to start planting and before you know it, you’ll be transplanting seedlings into your garden in no time.
When to Start Seedlings Indoors For Spring?
Firstly, plan the garden according to what you want to harvest and the needs of your family. This determines the types of plants that will need to be started early.
I choose to start a majority of seeds indoors to achieve an earlier harvest and only direct sow a select few.
Next, you need to plan to start seedlings 6-8 weeks before moving them outdoors. This means seed starting should be planned around the last frost for your area. This information can be found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac and also on various websites.
Depending on what you are wanting to plant, your seed packets will have a suggested plant date, what zone they grow best in, as well as a germination date.
Finding Your Frost Date
The frost date for your area is different than mine so you’ll want to go to the Farmer’s Almanac and enter your zip code to find your last frost date.
Once you know your planting zone and your last frost date before Spring, you can start your seeds 6-8 weeks before that date.
If starting seedlings for fall, make sure to allow enough growing time (see maturity time on seed package) before the first frost.
When Should I Plant Seedlings for Spring?
Typically, people start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before their last frost date. However, you can start and grow seeds indoors all year long to be honest.
I’ve grown many things inside all year, it’s always fun to have something growing.
Unless you plan to grow the plant indoors the entire duration, you will still need to harden off your seedlings once it’s time for planting them outdoors.
You don’t want to take a seedling that has been inside all nice and comfy and plant it in the hot sun in the middle of Summer without getting it used to the outdoors first.
Is it too Late to Start Seedlings Indoors?
If you’re trying to beat the clock for your growing season, try to get quick growing varieties. We have a list of quick growing vegetables for you to try.
When To Start Seedlings Indoors For Fall
Without a doubt, fall is my absolute favorite time of year, that includes gardening too.
Of course, many people are putting their gardens to bed for the winter (see our fall gardening tips), it is the perfect time for your cold-weather crops in areas that experience a milder winter.
July through September is the idea time to start your seedlings indoors for fall and winter gardens.
Make sure to check your seed packet for maturity dates and know your first frost date according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
Space for Seedlings Indoors
While they may be tiny, they take up some serious space! Dedicate a space that can be left somewhat undisturbed for the next few months.
I use the full-length window in my dining room and two windows in my laundry/utility room. South or north-facing windows are perfect, as it prevents too much sunlight roasting the seedlings.
I use a 3-4 tiered shelving unit. It goes directly in front of the window, where the trays will stay.
Shelf spacing should allow for lighting, watering, and growth.
Shelving does not need to be fancy, simple boards on blocks would work in a pinch.
Seeds need light to germinate and not everyone has enough natural light to produce strong seedlings. Not everyone uses grow bulbs (an ultraviolet light that mimics the sun) but I have found I can grow seedlings quickly and with stronger stems than the “leggy” seedlings I once sprouted.
The trick is that the light must be incredibly close to the seeds and directly above them. I hang mine from the ceiling or from the bottom of the shelf above the tray I’m lighting.
If the light is too far away the seedling stem grows too long and weakens the plant. If the lighting is not centered above it, the seedlings grow toward the light and end up sideways.
I turn the lights on at daylight and off at dark, to allow the seedlings to sleep. Leaving lights on 24/7 is not ideal.
Much like grow lights, heat mats help seeds to germinate. The heat mats slowly warm the soil so the seeds grow strong and healthy.
Think of them like a heating pad for your seeds that you start indoors.
You can learn more about heat mats at Seedling Heat Mats: How To Use A Heat Mat For Plants ~ Gardening Know How
I love growing food year round but it gets too cold here in the winter to grow outdoors. I have this vertical garden called the GreenStalk Garden.
It has 30 different planting pods to grow food, herbs, or annual flowers.
You can use plant starts or direct sow your seeds and place it where you want it.
It comes with wheels and a base so you can move it around if desired.
Right now, GreenStalk, is offering all of my readers a discount with my coupon code MYHOME10.
You can find out more about this vertical garden by going to GreenStalk.
Trays and dirt
A quick trip down the gardening aisle can be overwhelming. I love to reuse and recycle, so I reuse the plastic seed trays with square cells.
I also love the clear plastic covers that create a tiny greenhouse for germination. Egg cartons or even eggshells work great and they’re recycled!
Any option should drain well, sit upright, and be able to contain the tiny plant you are growing.
What you use is not as important as what you put in it.
When filling these tiny pots with dirt, it should be of good quality. For beginners, a store-bought seed starting mix can be easy and effective.
There are also options to create your own mix or simply use high quality sifted garden soil. Whichever you choose should be lightweight and retain moisture well.
Avoid any pre-purchased mix with added chemicals or plant foods. Simple is best!
How Do You Start Indoor Seedlings?
- Fill containers ¾ full with potting soil.
- Place seeds in cells, and sprinkle dirt over them.
- Avoid poking the seed down or packing soil on top of it.
- Lightly sprinkle water onto the soil, ensuring to not uncover the seed or “float” it out of its spot.
- Labeling trays with popsicle sticks or plastic markers are ideal so you know what is in each one.
- Then cover my trays with a clear plastic lid (or cling wrap) and set the covered trays under the grow lights.
- This covering should be removed once seedlings sprout to allow them to grow.
Care and Maintenance
- Check daily to ensure the soil is moist.
- If using a plastic tray with plastic cells, watering from the bottom (filling the tray with water so it soaks up) is ideal.
- If not, sprinkle water onto each pot/cell until moist.
- Do not allow the soil to become completely dry or over water them.
- Ensure the space stays warm (not cold and not hot!) to help them to grow.
- Limit temperature fluctuation as much as possible.
- Wilting seedlings can indicate inaccurate water (too much or too little) or incorrect temperature.
Preparing The Seedlings for Transplanting
As the weather warms and transplanting time approaches, it is helpful to “harden” or temper the seedlings for the elements they will face.
Slowly exposing them to sun, wind, and light rain will help them to be stronger for the day they go outdoors.
It is crucial to only do a little hardening at a time, as to not kill your seedlings.
Seedlings can be exposed to wind & sun through an open window for small amounts each day when weather permits.
Eventually, seedlings may be placed outside in their trays to begin to adapt to weather conditions prior to planting.
Don’t Know Where to Start?
Are you new to gardening? Don’t worry, we all start out as beginners and even for those of us that have grown a garden for over half a century, we still make mistakes, and plants still don’t grow like we want them to.
Thankfully, us old-timers like to share our mistakes and things we’ve learned from our vegetable gardens along the way.
You can check out some of my tips here in
This Is A Collaboration Guest Post
by Aleshia Garrison
I am a real-life rural housewife, with four amazing children. I am a homeschool momma, a hobby-farmer, and serve as volunteer firefighter in rural southwest Missouri.