Melinda's Beginner's Guide: Seed Starting

Melinda's Beginners Guide: Starting Seeds

DIY fun!...

Starting plants from seeds can be fun and simpler than you think. Seed starting kits, containers and supplies help increase your success with less stress on your part.


Selecting Seeds

Make a list of the plants you want to grow this season. Gather ideas and inspiration with a visit to Pasquesi’s seed racks or the online store where you will find lots of flower, vegetable and herb seeds suitable for our area.

Check the back of the seed packet or the individual plant information on their website for the best time to plant the seeds you want to grow. Some plants like tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, celosia and salvia do best when started indoors. They need quite a few days to reach maturity, flower or form fruit. Starting them indoors ensures quicker results and a timely harvest in our relatively short growing season.

Most planting dates are based on the average spring frost. The Chicago area’s average last spring frost is mid May, but it can vary greatly from year to year. Use this date for starting seeds indoors but let the weather be your guide when moving the plants outside.

You’ll find helpful information about planting depth, spacing and preferred growing conditions on seed packets and Pasquesi’s website as well. Review your wish list then make sure the seeds you select match the sun or shade where they will be growing.


Gearing Up

Peat or Coir Pellets: Just add water and these compressed pellets expand to form a pot and planting mix all in one. This is a ‘no-mess’ way for starting flower, herb and vegetable seeds.

Peat, Coir or Paper Biodegradable Pots: Fill these containers with potting mix, add seeds and grow. Leave plants in the pots when it’s time to move them into the garden. This eliminates transplant shock that can occur when moving plants out of their pot and into the garden. These pots eventually break down adding organic matter to the soil.

Cells or Inserts – plastic molded 3, 4, 6 or more planting units. Seeds are planted in the individual cells and the inserts are placed in a plant tray (flat).

Plant Tray (Flat) – Shallow containers used to start seeds or hold seed starting containers like peat and coir pots and inserts. Those without holes help protect the surface below.

Seed Starting Mix: Fine textured planting mix designed for starting seeds.

Potting Mix: Soilless mix of organic material, perlite or vermiculite, bark or other plant friendly ingredients used for indoor and outdoor container gardens. You can also start seeds in most potting mixes.

Grow and Humidity Domes: Create your own greenhouse indoors. These clear covers help maintain heat, humidity and soil moisture increasing your seed starting success.

Greenhouse Kits: Most kits include a plant tray, pellets, pots or inserts and a plastic dome.


Create a Seed Starting Calendar

Time passes quickly and it is easy to miss planting dates. Make it easy to keep track of the best time to start the seeds you purchase. Mark your calendar with the name of seeds on the dates they should be started. Or make a chronological list of seeds and their recommended start dates. Consider organizing your seeds in chronological order by planting date to prevent misplacing or overlooking some of your favorites.


Step-by- Step Planting and Care

  • Soak peat and coir pellets in warm water to expand or fill containers with sterile seed starting or quality potting mix.
  • Plant two seeds at recommended depth in each container. This ensures you end up with at least one healthy seedling per pot.
  • Gently water to help settle the seed in place. Water often enough to keep the planting mix moist but not soggy wet.
  • Cover with plastic or a dome to keep soil moist and reduce watering frequency
  • Once planted, place containers in a warm location to speed seed sprouting.
  • Light is not needed for most seeds to sprout.
  • Move them to a sunny location or under artificial lights as soon as any green appears.
  • Remove the plastic cover
  • Regularly rotate plants growing in sunny window for even growth.
  • Adjust artificial lights as plants grow, keeping them 4 to 6 inches above the top of the seedlings and lights on for 14, no more than16, hours a day.
  • Once seedlings develop two sets of true leaves (these look like the leaves of the plants you are growing) it is time to do some thinning.
  • Leave one strong seedling in each individual container. Avoid damage to the remaining seedling by cutting the weakest seedling off at ground level.
  • Once seedlings have been thinned and are actively growing, use a fertilizer labeled for use on seedlings.
  • Continue to water thoroughly and often enough to keep the potting mix slightly moist but not soggy wet.


Moving Your Plants Outdoors

The move from the comfort of your home to the outdoors is quite a change for your plants. Help them adjust with a technique called ‘hardening off.’

Move plants outdoors to a sheltered and shaded location after the danger of frost has passed. Stop fertilizing and allow soil to dry slightly before watering thoroughly.

Gradually increase the amount of sunlight the plants receive each day. Cover or move them indoors when frost is in the forecast.

Move transplants into their permanent location after a week or two of acclimating them to the outdoors. Check the seed packet for proper spacing and desired growing conditions.

Water new plantings thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil around the plant roots slightly moist.  Gradually increase the time between watering once plants are established.

Enjoy the beautiful blooms and tasty vegetables you started from seed yourself!


Written by Melinda Myers. Melinda is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience.  She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Beginners Guide with you!