Here’s how to grow vegetable and flower seeds indoors for bountiful gardens
Starting seeds indoors is an ideal project to get kids interested in gardening.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Starting a garden from seeds isn’t complicated. After all, the seeds already know what to do.
Give seeds the basics, and they’ll reward us with a gorgeous garden, said Mari Keating, founder of Food Not Lawns Cleveland. “It’s not like we have to teach them what to do. It’s up to us to screw it up,” Keating said. Food Not Lawns is a national organization that advocates for turning lawns into gardens.
She tells new gardeners not to be intimidated by the expensive high-tech seed-starting supplies they see in catalogs. “You can do this without investing money in high-tech equipment,” she said.
Vegetables, herbs, annual flowers and perennial plants can all be started from seed.
The increasing number of gardeners interested in seed starting has brought new traffic to Lowe’s Greenhouse in Chagrin Falls, said owner Jeff Griff. He pointed to the economic downturn, an increased desire for food that’s chemical-free and demand for locally produced food as reasons behind the uptick in interest.
Many gardeners do it to save money since an inexpensive packet of seeds will make dozens of plants. Gardeners interested in heirloom varieties will find a greater selection in seeds, Keating said.
It’s time to think about growing seeds for spring. Let’s get started with some tips from Griff and Keating on when to start seeds, soil, watering and more. See the related article for information on seed-starting classes and relevant websites.
WHEN TO START SEEDS
If you want to plant seedlings at the end of May, and your seed packet says it will take six weeks for seedlings to grow, then count backward from May 31 to figure out when to plant seeds.
Memorial Day is the traditional Northeast Ohio benchmark for planting in outside beds with no threat of frost, but cool-weather crops such as lettuce can tolerate going in the ground earlier, Griff said. Peas, onions, potatoes, cabbage and cauliflower are in this category.
Warm-weather crops such as tomatoes, squash, peppers and corn need warmer soil to do well.
Don’t start seeds before April 1 if you intend to grow them under natural light, because the still-weak winter sun will cause seedlings to grow spindly and flop over.
Read the seed packet and follow instructions. Some seeds germinate in darkness; some must be soaked in water and some can be sown directly in outdoor garden beds.
Seeds that haven’t been stored properly might not germinate. Test your seeds by placing a few of them between two sheets of moist paper towels. They should sprout in two to three days, Keating said.
CONTAINERS AND SOIL
Griff advocates for using separate kinds of soil for germination and another kind for growing seedlings. Germination requires special seed starting soil that’s very light and porous. This allows seeds to be placed at the correct depth, he said. Look for soil labeled “seed starting soil.”
When seedlings are two inches tall, it’s time to separate and put them into individual pots filled with potting soil to promote healthy root systems, Griff said. Fertilize with a water-soluble, half-strength solution.
Keating prefers to germinate seeds in a mixture of soil, sifted compost and vermiculite. She leaves them in that soil mix until time to plant them outside. “I think the plants are healthier (this way),” she said.
If you’re reusing pots, sterilize them first with dish soap or diluted bleach to eliminate plant diseases that can kill small plants.
Clear plastic take-out containers that snap closed can be turned into mini greenhouses, Keating said. Be sure to poke draining holes in the container. Leave the container lid closed until the seeds sprout, then open the lid to be sure in interior isn’t too humid. That can lead to mold growth.
Give water to germinating seeds from the bottom by placing seed trays in a pan of water and letting the soil suck up moisture. A common mistake is keeping the soil too wet, which leads to mold, Keating said.
If you don’t have a sunny windowsill, place an artificial light about 5 inches above the plants; raise the light higher as the plants get bigger. Plants that are tall, pale and spindly were grown with a light source that was too far away, Keating said.
HARDENING OFF AND TRANSPLANTING
About seven to 10 days before you plan to transplant seedlings to the garden, it’s time to get them acclimated to the wind and sun in the outside world. Otherwise, the seedlings may go into shock, Griff said. This process is called hardening off seedlings.
Place the seedlings in a protected place outdoors or on a porch. Griff advocates leaving them outdoors all day; Keating says to leave them outside for just a few hours each day. Leave them outside at night if temperatures are above 40 degrees.
Cold-tolerant vegetables can be planted outdoors in early May; warm-weather veggies should wait until the end of May. Be sure your garden bed’s soil has been amended and is light and fluffy.
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Here’s how to grow vegetable and flower seeds indoors for bountiful gardens Starting seeds indoors is an ideal project to get kids interested in gardening. CLEVELAND, Ohio — Starting a garden
Planting Calendar for Columbus, OH
For the Almanac’s fall and spring planting calendars, we’ve calculated the best time to start seeds indoors, when to transplant young plants outside, and when to direct seed into the ground.
Planting Dates for Fall
Planting Dates for Spring
How to Use the Planting Calendar
This planting calendar is a guide that tells you the best time to start planting your garden, based on frost dates. Our planting calendar is customized to your location in order to give you the most accurate information possible. Please note:
- The Frost Dates indicate the best planting dates based on your local average frost dates. Average frost dates are based on historical weather data and are the planting guideline used by most gardeners. Although frost dates are a good way to know approximately when to start gardening, always check a local forecast before planting outdoors!
- The Plant Seedlings or Transplants dates indicate the best time to plant young plants outdoors. This includes plants grown from seed indoors at home and small starter plants bought from a nursery.
- When no dates(“N/A”) appear in the chart, that starting method is typically not recommended for that particular plant, although it likely still possible. See each plant’s individual Growing Guide for more specific information.
- The Moon Dates indicate the best planting dates based on your local frost dates and Moon phases. Planting by the Moon is considered a more traditional technique. We use Moon-favorable dates at the very start of the gardening season. It’s a little complex for a fall planting.
To plan your garden more accurately in the future, keep a record of your garden’s conditions each year, including frost dates and seed-starting dates!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do You Start Seeds Indoors?
In the spring, starting seeds indoors (in seed trays or starter pots) gives your crops a head start on the growing season, which is especially important in regions with a short growing season. Starting seeds indoors also provides plants with a chance to grow in a stable, controlled environment. Outdoors, the unpredictability of rain, drought, frost, low and high temperatures, sunlight, and pests and diseases can take a toll on young plants, especially when they’re just getting started. Indoors, you can control these elements to maximize your plants’ early growth and give them the best shot at thriving when they are eventually transplanted outdoors.
For most crops, you should start seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date. This gives the plants plenty of time to grow large and healthy enough to survive their eventual transplanting to the garden.
How Is Planting for a Fall Harvest Different?
Planting in late summer for a fall harvest has many benefits (soil is already warm, temperatures are cooler, fewer pests). However, the challenge is getting your crops harvested before the winter frosts begin. When we calculate fall planting dates (which are really in the summer), we must account for several factors, such as the time to harvest once the crop is mature and whether a crop is tender or hardy when it comes to frost. The “days to maturity” of a crop and the length of your growing season also factor into whether you start seeds early indoors or directly sow seeds into the ground outside. Note:
- Warm-weather veggies like beans, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and watermelons are all sown directly into the ground.
- Tender heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants take a long time to mature and have a lengthy harvesting period, so we generally don’t plant a second round of these crops for fall, as they won’t ripen in time. (In regions with mild winters, this may not be the case.) These crops are typically started indoors early in the season and transplanted.
- Root vegetables (beets, carrots) do not transplant well, so start seeds directly in the soil outside.
- Peas are also best seeded into the ground; do not transplant.
- Cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage could be direct seeded, but because of the heat of mid- and late summer, it’s better to start them indoors and then transplant them into the garden.
- We tend to direct-sow leafy greens such as lettuce, chard, and spinach, though some gardeners will also sow indoors. It depends on your climate.
- Note that garlic is not included in our planting chart. It’s a popular fall crop, but the dates vary wildly based on location and it’s really best to gauge garlic planting dates with a soil thermometer. When the soil temperature is 60°F (15.6°C) at a depth of 4 inches, then plant your garlic. We’d advise checking our Garlic Growing Guide for more information.
When Should You Transplant Seedlings?
When seedlings have grown too large for their seed trays or starter pots, it’s time to transplant. If it’s not yet warm enough to plant outdoors, transplant the seedlings to larger plastic or peat pots indoors and continue care. If outdoor conditions allow, start hardening off your seedlings approximately one week before your last frost date, then transplant them into the garden. Get more tips for transplanting seedlings.
What Is Planting by the Moon?
Planting by the Moon (also called “Gardening by the Moon”) is a traditional way to plant your above- and below-ground crops, especially at the start of the season. Here’s how it works:
- Plant annual flowers and vegetables that bear crops above ground during the light, or waxing, of the Moon. In other words, plant from the day the Moon is new until the day it is full.
- Plant flowering bulbs, biennial and perennial flowers, and vegetables that bear crops below ground during the dark, or waning, of the Moon. In other words, plant from the day after the Moon is full until the day before it is new again.
Old-time farmers swear that this practice results in a larger, tastier harvest, so we’ve included planting by the Moon dates in our planting calendar, too. Learn more about Planting and Gardening by the Moon.
Planting calendar for Columbus, Ohio. Find the best dates for planting and transplanting vegetables and fruit! Our free planting guide calculates the best dates for sowing seeds indoors and outdoors, and for transplanting seedlings to the garden—all customized to your location. Based on frost dates and planting zones.