Why bother growing plants from seed? Wait a few weeks and the big box retailers will have plants a’plenty, right? Well, yes and…

  • You’ll find a much wider variety of vegetables and flowers in seed catalogs than in any nursery or plant store.
  • Plants raised for the big retailers are a higher risk for diseases that could potentially wipe out your crop (and your neighbor’s crop as well).
  • You’ll save money. You could buy a four pack of marigold plants for $5.00 or so at your local nursery. Or, for under a dollar you could get a pack of 50 marigold seeds.

What you’ll need:
Good seed starting medium (look for medium without fertilizer), clean containers (use a mild bleach solution to clean) with drainage holes, and of course seeds. Good sources of seed include Pinetree, Southern Exposure, Territorial Garden Seeds and Park Seed.

Some Seed Starting Tips

Read the label
The seed packet is a valuable source of information – does the seed need warm or cool temperature to germinate? Light or dark? How deep should the seed be planted? Should it be started indoors or sown outdoors (peas, beans, root crops such as radishes and carrots are sown directly in the ground)?

When to plant
Work back from the average last frost date in your area to see when you should start your seeds, generally 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date. Here in DC, April 10th is the average last frost date.

Seedling needs
Once the seeds emerge, they’ll need light. Florescent shop lights (mix of cool light and warm light) hung a few inches over the plants work just fine – no need for expensive grow lights. Move the lights up as the seedlings grow.

Disease prevention
Damping off (seedlings quickly collapse) is a result of humid, moist conditions – prevention includes providing air circulation, add a thin layer of sand to the surface of the soil,  thin seedlings so they’re not overcrowded, and be mindful of over-watering.  Watering from the bottom helps.

Some good resources on seed starting are found here and here. Next up, transplanting and hardening off~