Search May Dreams Gardens

Friday, March 07, 2008

Seed Sowing Secrets

The last of my seed orders arrived in the mail today and now I have all the seeds I need and want for my 2008 garden.

It's hard to imagine that I could be sowing some of my seeds outside in just a few weeks when I see the garden still covered with a light snow. Winter is still very much in evidence here.

But it is time to start sowing some seeds indoors.

I’ve been sowing seeds indoors for many years and have had my share of disappointments as well as triumphs. I’ve learned some lessons the hard way and figured out some ways to make the whole process of indoor seed sowing a little less intimidating.

Here are some of my secrets for success with seeds indoors.

Don’t sow seeds indoors too early. Yes, we are anxious to get our hands in the dirt just as soon as the holidays are past. But if you sow seeds indoors too soon, especially tomatoes and peppers, which are two popular vegetables to start indoors, you will end up with weak, leggy, pale plants begging to go outside when it isn’t yet warm enough.

I wait until there are only 6 – 8 weeks until the garden will be frost free to start my seeds indoors. For me, the frost free date is around May 10th, so I start my indoor seeds no earlier than March 10th. And if it is a few days or a week later than that, I don’t panic because in the spring, the vegetable garden is the last garden I plant, just to be sure we really are frost free before I plant my tomatoes and peppers outside.

Use supplemental lighting and get it as close to the seedlings as possible. You can’t give the seeds too much light. I use regular shop light fixtures, with full spectrum fluorescent light bulbs.

Touch your seedlings. Actually, I don’t touch them just to touch them. I lightly move the little seedlings back and forth by waving my hand across them. I read somewhere that this makes them grow stronger stems. It is like they are being blown a bit by the wind. It toughens them up! Plus I just like to touch plants.

Keep the seedlings evenly moist. Don’t let them dry out and wilt, but don’t drown them, either. You’ll have to watch closely as there may be times when the seedlings need water every day.

Watering is easier if you make sure the seed starting mix is completely wet and soak the peat or coir pots before you sow the seeds. Seed starting mix in particular seems to almost repel water at first, so mix in lots of warm water and let it all soak up before you use the mix for sowing seeds.

Don’t be too anxious to move the seedlings outdoors. First, you should gradually acclimate the seedlings to the outdoors by taking them outside for a few hours at a time over several days, each day increasing the amount of time they are left outside. This process is called “hardening off”. But you should also keep checking the weather forecast, especially the ten day weather forecast, to make sure that there really is no danger of a late frost before you transplant your seedlings outdoors.

But even if you check the weather and think that it is finally warm enough, sometimes you can get surprised by a late frost. This happened to me one year, and even though I covered all my tomatoes and peppers, it got too cold and all of them died. Sadly, I had to buy all new plants that year. Ouch, my wallet! And it just wasn’t the same knowing that I hadn’t started those plants from seeds.

If you are looking for me in the next few days, I'll probably be in the sunroom sowing seeds and dreaming of my summer garden, even though it still feels like winter.


Kevin & Michele said...

Great post. Thank you. This is my first year trying to sow seeds indoors and I'm nervous. I've found a lot of information online, but you sort of sum up the important stuff and reiterate what I need to know. Thanks again :)

vonlafin said...

I need to get my seeds started too. I usually don't start planting until mid-March, so I am right on schedule.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Great indoor seed starting tips. It is really hard to wait until mid-March to sow seeds, I have to sow earlier.

I do put the lights as close as possible and gradually raise them as the plants grow. I had read once about touching the plants like you said, but forgot all about it. That would be a great experiment, I'd love to know if it really makes a difference.

Jon said...

Very informative post! Doesn't it give us a lot of satisfaction to sow seeds and envision the coming year's growing season and cross our fingers for good results?! Spring always gives me a new lease on life. Good luck with all your seeds. Jon on 3-8-08 at

flowergardengirl said...

I have heard that most folks who grow seeds put a small fan somewhere so it just lightly stirs the air around the plants. Same things as moving them every so slightly--if not--the plants will grow spindly. Great Post. I'm going to try this next year.

Paul Sayer said...

Thank you for the great information Carol. I have never had much luck with seeds, probably because I'm not very patient about that kind of thing.

Its going into autumn here in Australia but I think I'll look for some winter seeds and follow your tips.

Melanie said...

Carol, I'm afraid I was too anxious this year and already started some seeds. I'll blame it on the fact that I'm teaching gardening and I did it for my class. Good thing I held back seeds from each plant type.

My furnace room is set up with shop lights with florescent bulbs. They hang from chains and I can lower them and raise them depending on the height of the seedlings. It's a nice place to go and think of gardening :-)

Pam/Digging said...

May 10?? My, you really have to be patient to see the end of winter in Indianapolis. I can see why you northern bloggers all grow so many houseplants and sow seeds indoors to get a jump on the season.

Frances, said...

Carol, what good tips for new and mature gardeners alike. We don't use lights, probably should but we do have a fan for the orchids. I didn't know it would help the seedlings too. Wonderful.

Frances at Faire Garden

Carol said...

All, Thanks for the comments and additional tip about using a fan. I have an overhead fan in the sunroom that I turn on to keep the air moving in there.

Good luck to everyone with their seed sowing!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens