Seed-Starting 101


Hi friends! Spring is rapidly approaching which means it is almost time to plant our first seedlings out into the garden. In Richmond, our last frost date is April 15th. After that, I will plant out the tender annuals into my raised beds without the risk of cold damage. This is an important date to know, so this is a good link to figure out which zone you are in.

I know there are a ton of great garden tutorials out there already.  This one by Garden Tom is a wonderful place to start. I have also loved following along with Peonies & Peppers on Instagram. Therefore, I don’t want to spend too much time on the logistics of seed-starting. Rather, today my plan is simply to share a few things that have worked for me & also to encourage you to give it a try if you are on the fence. Let’s get started…

Seed-Starting Set-Up

There are two main things you need when seed-starting: good soil & good seeds. I have found success with this seed-starting soil. Note: not any soil will work here…it should specifically say seed-starting on the packaging. The rest of the below is completely optional & can be added as each year progresses. Use what you have, learn from the season & add to your supplies each year. It doesn’t need to be a big upfront start cost. I want to highlight a few supplies that have worked well for us.

  • Lights: If you don’t have access to a super sunny location, lights are the first thing to add to your stack. We use these simple LED lights on a timer. Seeds need 14-16 hours of light each day so this is an easy solution!
  • Grow Rack: This year we followed this tutorial by Urban Farmstead to set up our cheap & easy grow rack. It’s helpful to have multiple levels. For example, germinating seeds go on the top rack and they are not under lights until they germinate. Baby seeds go on the bottom shell with the lights 2″ off the trays. Finally, larger seedlings go in the middle rack with the lights raised as the plants grow.
  • Heat Mats: Heat mats will aid germination rates and speed up the process. Very helpful. I was always unsure of how long to leave the seed trays on the heat mats. My rule of thumb: I remove from heat once 75% of the tray has germinated.
  • Fans: The biggest threat to baby seedlings is called dampening off. Adding small fans to your growing station will increase air circulation & keep the fungi at bay. There are also other ways to prevent this including not overwatering and keeping the air in the room warm.
  • Seed Trays: Next up, you need something to grow the baby seeds in. I recommend the 50s or 72s seed trays but I have also seen people have great success with egg cartons, plastic cups, and yogurt dishes. It does not need to be fancy!
  • Humidity Dome: Finally, you will want something to trap the moisture while the seeds germinate so a humidity dome is recommended. This set is great for all in one. You can also try a plastic wrap or even a leftover salad carton.


Planning What to Grow & Buying Seeds

There are so many options when it comes to seed varieties and choosing what you want to grow in your garden. Personally, I chose to focus mostly on flowers in my first year. In my second year, we will grow veggies in a small garden for my children. I’m hopeful this will encourage them to eat what they grow. I would suggest you start by creating a wish list of flowers you love (you can further narrow this down by color palette, time to flower, etc) or vegetables and fruit you like to eat, etc. From that list, you can start honing in on your final list based on your garden space and what seeds you can get your hands on.

Below are some of my favorite places to buy seeds:

Additionally, you can often buy seeds locally at nurseries or garden centers in your area.

Caring for Seeds

The main thing to keep in mind when starting seeds is light & water. Most seeds need 14-16 hours of sunlight to fully thrive. Give your plants the best chance by setting them up in a sunny location if you don’t have access to the grow lights. Watering is where people get into the most trouble. I have struggled to find the right balance between under-watering and over-watering. The majority of the time, I am over-watering and you are probably right there with me. This is more harmful to young plants than underwatering. I would suggest checking the plants every single day but only watering them every 2 days until they have really popped up.

Seeds are hardier than they look – don’t baby them too much!

Go For It!

Finally, if you have ever wanted to give gardening a shot, I would highly encourage you to start this spring! It’s been a fun way to get outside and my kids truly loved checking the garden each morning in the summer. I realize all of this can be daunting, but please feel free to reach out with any questions. I love this stuff.

I’d love to know: are you planting a garden this year? what are your favorite places to buy seeds? any favorite things in your garden?

PS: what we grew in our garden last year and my garden shop

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