Ready, Set, Sprout! A Guide to Seed Starter Basics

A pack of 100 seeds can cost the same as just one starter plant! Here’s how you can save money in the garden by starting seeds indoors.

 

Do you consider yourself something of a self-starter? Then make 2022 your year to start your garden from seed! Seed starting can save you quite a bit of money—a packet of hundreds of vegetable seeds can cost the same as a starter plant. While it isn’t difficult to pull off, there are some important things to know before you begin, so you can ensure your seedlings start strong! Here’s everything you need to become a master seed starter. 

 

Get Some Seed Starter Mix

Seed starter mix is quite different from typical potting soil; it’s much more sterile and has a lower nutrient content, which helps prevent your delicate seedlings from contracting diseases. Fill your seedling containers with seed starter mix, and then once they reach a few inches tall and sprout a couple of small leaves, you can add in a little bit of fish emulsion or another soil amendment. 

Wallace's Garden Center- Seed starting basics -dome for seedlings

Seed Starter Kits

To make sure your seeds are off to a great start, you need to maintain proper light levels, humidity, and temperature control. Seed starter kits make this super easy! Many come with built-in sun lamps that run on a timer and plastic dome lids to trap in moisture, so you can be sure your seedlings get exactly what they need to thrive. You can set up a seedling station anywhere in the house that’s free from cold drafts and close to a power outlet, so you don’t have to take up all your available windowsill space with little seedling cups. 

 

When Should I Start Seeds Indoors?

Timing is everything when you’re starting seeds—you want to make sure it’s warm enough outside once they’re ready to be transplanted. First, determine the frost date of your geographic location. From there, check your seeds to see how early you must start them before the frost date. So, if you’ve got a plant that needs to be started eight weeks before the frost, mark down the frost date and count backward. 

Here in Iowa, our final frost date is typically around April 17th. You’ll need to start some plants earlier than others, so it helps to create a schedule in your calendar of all your seed starting dates. If you start them a bit behind schedule, it’s not a huge deal—your growing season may just be cut off slightly short. Don’t start them too late, or they might not develop in time for the harvest season.

Wallace's Garden Center- Seed starting basics -thinning seedlings

Thinning Out Seedlings

We recommend that you start 2–3 seeds per cup because some seeds might be duds and won’t germinate properly or display spindly, weak growth. Some seed varieties are so fine, like powdery dust, so it isn’t easy to control how many you plant. 

Once your seedlings sprout two leaves, pluck out the weakest ones so you can allow the strongest to remain. You can’t grow them all in the same seed cup—there won’t be adequate space for their roots to grow. Remember that the strongest seedling isn’t always the tallest one—taller seedlings may display leggy growth down the road. 

Hardening Off Seedlings

When it’s time to transplant your seedlings, you can’t just immediately transfer them from indoors to outdoors. Their foliage isn’t used to the powerful sun rays, and they need to build up a tolerance for intense light. Hardening off is a process where you seedlings outside temporarily for slightly more time each passing day until they’re ready to stay outside permanently. Start with half an hour, then one hour, two hours, three hours, and so on. 

Wallace's Garden Center- Seed starting basics -transplanting seedling in garden

Transplanting Your Seedlings

When it is time to plant your little green babies, make sure your garden soil is loose, well-draining, and amended with compost and fertilizer. Transplant fertilizers with high phosphorus can be effective for boosting root growth, but you’ll want to avoid using it in high quantities because high phosphorus levels in the soil can be bad for our waterways. However, if you’re gardening in containers or a raised bed, you can avoid this issue. 

Ready to add “Master Seed Starter” to your list of skills and achievements? Visit Wallace’s to get all the seeds and seed starting supplies you need for an outstanding garden in 2022!

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