Starting Seeds Indoors

Growing by seed

Get a head start on your kitchen garden...

Why grow from seed?

One important reason is to know how and where your food comes from… Unless you buy organic vegetables in the grocery store, most likely, you will have some residue of pesticides on your vegetables… even after washing them. The food with the most pesticide residue is spinach, celery, tomatoes and peppers. Another reason is that you can find more variety when growing from seeds than in the grocery store. Plus, it's fun to tend a tiny sprout, encouraging it to grow and picking a mature fruit or vegetable right from the vine. 

How do you start? 

Planting seeds indoors is always a magical experience. Did you know that there is more information in a tiny seed than in a room full of computers?

  1. Choose seeds from vegetables, flowers, herbs or microgreens that you love. We stock Renee's Garden, Botanical Interest, Lake Valley, Pagano, Prairie Future and Ferry-Morse.
  2. Look for a good seed starting mix. You'll want a quality mix that is loose, lightweight, sterilized and free of disease, yet holds moisture such as BlackGold's Natural & Organic Seedling Mix in 8 qt., 16 qt. and 1.5 cu ft sizes/
  3. Almost any container can be used to start seeds. Clean yogurt cups, egg cartons and other throwaway containers can be candidates. Or, make it easy with a starter seed tray with small partitions for seeds from PlantBest or try Haxnicks' Growing Mats that fit into their Bamboo Fibre seed trays. You can also make your own newspaper pots from newspaper that can be planted directly into the garden.             
  4. The back of the seed packet has almost all of the information that you will need… look for optimal growing conditions (light, water, fertilizer or special care), organic growing methods, when to start indoors, when to sow or transplant outdoors and is it a GMO* or Non-GMO seed?
  5. To accelerate the germination of seeds, the Sun Blaster Heat Sheet (9" x 19.5") gently warms the root area up to 20 degrees over the ambient air temperature. This will increase the success of seedlings and cuttings.
  6. When seeds outgrow their initial plug, PlantBest offers Plantable Coir Pots (Natural, peat-free & organic) that can be transplanted into the ground. You can avoid transplant shock by using a 'plantable' pot.
  7. By planting with seeds, you'll get a head start and have more control over your growing conditions when the weather is unreliable.


How much light is right? For healthy growth, seedlings need about 14 hours of light per day. You might want to supplement natural light with special grow lights on a timer… make it really easy to be successful!


What is the average Last Frost Date for the Chicago area? According to the Chicago Botanic Garden, General Garden, the Chicago area's average last frost date is May 15.

When you know your last frost date, it’s easy to count the number of frost-free days in your growing season and make the best decisions on what to grow. (The average last frost date is the date that there is a 50% chance that frost is over until the end of the season.)


Does soil temperature matter? If you want to get a head start on growing certain plants such as pumpkins or tomatoes (ideal soil temp for germination is 70 –90 degrees), a seedling heat mat might help with seed germination. Once germinated, plants can grow in cooler soil temperatures.


When is the best time to plant seeds? 

8-10 weeks before average last frost date:
Dill, Endive, Leek, Pepper, Stevia


6-8 weeks before average last frost date:
Borage, Cabbage, Catnip, Chives, Lemon Balm, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Sage, Tarragon, Thyme


4-6 weeks before average last frost date:
Basil, Broccoli Romanesco, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Fennel, Kale, Lettuces, Radicchio, Swiss Chard, Tomatillo, Tomato


2-4 weeks before average last frost date
Broccoli Raab, Cucumber, Melon, Pumpkin, Spinach, Squash (summer & winter), Watermelon


When should you transplant seedlings?

If you have been successful, the seedlings have grown too large for their containers. If it’s not warm enough to plant them outside, you must transplant seedlings into a larger pots and continue to water and watch them grow inside. Once outdoor temps are consistently warm enough, you have to ‘harden them off’ or gradually get them used to their new outdoor environment before planting them in the ground. (usually one week before your last frost date).


Ask questions and get growing tips… at Pasquesi Home & Gardens, Chicago Botanic Garden, Master Gardener extension offices, friends or neighbors.

Remember, everyone is always learning. Join a group of gardeners who grow their own vegetables and have double the fun as you learn from others and learn by doing. Gardeners always share their bounty, so you might end up with more vegetable and fruits for your own table!