How to Grow Plants From Seeds Step by Step
Maybe you want grow plants from seeds to save money. It’s definitely cheaper than buying transplants. It will also be easier to find seeds of varieties not typically available for sale as transplants. Whatever the reason, starting plants from seeds is probably not a hard as you think. And growing plants all the way from seed to maturity is one of gardening’s most rewarding endeavors.
Here are the basics in 10 steps.
1. Choose a container.
Seed-starting containers should be clean, measure at least 2-3 inches deep and have drainage holes. They can be plastic pots, cell packs, peat pots, plastic flats, yogurt cups, even eggshells. As long as they are clean (soak in a 9 parts water to one part household bleach for 10 minutes), the options are endless. You can also buy seed-starting kits, but don’t invest a lot of money until you’re sure you’ll be starting seeds every year. If you start seeds in very small containers or plastic flats, you’ll need to transplant seedlings into slightly larger pots once they have their first set of true leaves. Keep in mind that flats and pots take up room, so make sure you have enough sunny space for all the seedlings you start.
2. Start with quality soil.
Sow seeds in sterile, seed-starting mix or potting soil available in nurseries and garden centers. Don’t use garden soil, it’s too heavy, contains weeds seeds, and possibly, disease organisms. Wet the soil with warm water before filling seed-starting containers.
3. Plant at the proper depth.
You’ll find the proper planting depth on the seed packet. The general rule of thumb is to cover seeds with soil equal to three times their thickness – but be sure to read the seed packet planting instructions carefully. Some seeds, including certain lettuces and snapdragons, need light to germinate and should rest on the soil surface but still be in good contact with moist soil. Gentle tamping after sowing will help. After planting your seeds, use a spray bottle to wet the soil again.
4. Water wisely.
Always use room-temperature water. Let chlorinated water sit overnight so chlorine can dissipate or use distilled water. Avoid using softened water. It’s important to keep soil consistently moist, but avoid overwatering, which promotes diseases, that can kill seedlings. Try not to splash water on leaves. An easy way to avoid this – as well as overwatering – is to dip base of your containers in water and allow the soil to absorb moisture from the bottom until moist. Some seed-starting kits supply a wicking mat that conducts water from a reservoir to dry soil. This may be the most goof-proof method of watering seedlings but you still have to be careful that the soil doesn’t stay too wet. Whatever you do, don’t miss a watering and let seeds or seedlings dry out. It’s a death sentence.
5. Maintain consistent moisture.
Prior to germination, cover your container to help trap moisture inside. Seed-starting kits typically come with a plastic cover. You can also use a plastic bag, but it should be supported so it doesn’t lay flat on the soil. Remove covers as soon as seeds sprout. Once seedlings are growing, reduce watering so soil partially drys, but don’t let them wilt.
6. Keep soil warm.
Seeds need warm soil to germinate. They germinate slower, or not at all, in soils that are too cool. Most seeds will germinate at around 78°F. Waterproof heating mats, designed specifically for germinating seeds, keep soil at a constant temperature. You can buy them in most nurseries and garden centers. Or, you can place seed trays on top of a refrigerator or other warm appliance until seeds sprout. After germination, air temperature should be slightly below 70°F. Seedlings can withstand air temperature as low as 50°F as long as soil temperature remains 65-70°F.
Start feeding your seedlings after they develop their second set of true leaves, applying a half-strength liquid fertilizer weekly. Apply it gently so seedlings are not dislodged from the soil. After four weeks, apply full-strength liquid fertilizer every other week until transplanting.
8. Give seedlings enough light.
Not enough light leads to leggy, tall seedlings that will struggle once transplanted outdoors. In mild winter areas, you can grow stocky seedlings in a bright south-facing window. Farther north, even a south-facing window may not provide enough light, especially in the middle of winter. Ideally, seedlings need 14-16 hours of direct light per day for healthiest growth. If seedlings begin bending toward the window, that’s a sure sign they are not getting enough light. Simply turning the pots won’t be enough – you may need to supply artificial lighting. Nurseries and mail order seed catalogs can provide lighting kits. Follow instructions carefully.
9. Circulate the air.
Circulating air helps prevents disease and encourages the development of strong stems. Run a gentle fan near seedlings to create air movement. Keep the fan a distance away from the seedlings to avoid blasting them directly.
10. Harden off seedlings before transplanting outdoors.
Before moving seedlings outdoors, they need to be acclimatized to their new, harsher surroundings. This procedure is called “hardening off.” Click here to learn more.
Want to start your plants using seeds? Following these 10 simple steps in the gardening process will teach you how to grow plants from seeds step by step.
How to Grow Any Flower From Seed
Growing plants from seeds is not only easy to do but is also one of the cheapest ways to fill your garden with abundance. Some people may only think of growing vegetables from seeds, but flowers are just as easy to plant. As a bonus, you’ll have a greater choice of variety and color if you’re willing to start your own varietals from seeds rather than just buy what’s already being grown and sold at nurseries at the start of the season.
Perennial flowers may not bloom their first year, but if you have the patience to wait, you can fill your garden for a fraction of the cost of buying mature plants. Annual flowers will bloom right on schedule, and many of them will even seed themselves, so you’ll only have to plant them once to receive years of beautiful blooms. If you’ve been dreaming of nonstop color, pick up some seed packets, and get started with the tips below.
Growing Annual Flowers From Seed
Annual flowers are the backbone of billowy cottage gardens. Many annuals will seed themselves, so all you have to do is leave the flower heads on the plants at the end of the season. They will eventually drop seed, and the seeds will weave themselves throughout the garden with a little help from the wind. You may sometimes end up with too many seedlings in one spot, but they should be easy to pull or transplant.
Keep in mind, annual flowers tend to grow quickly, so even those you direct sow outdoors in the spring will flower at their usual bloom time or very soon afterward. Just about any of the annuals that self-sow are good candidates for starting from seed, either indoors or direct sown.
Growing Perennial Flowers From Seed
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Most perennial plants don’t bloom until their second year, spending their first season growing a strong root system and lots of leaves for photosynthesis. You can sometimes get around this waiting period by starting your perennial seeds in the fall and fooling the plants into thinking the following spring is “year two,” but more often than not you’ll just have to be patient.
After your perennial flowers are established, they will begin blooming and grow larger every year. In a few years’ time, you’ll be able to make even more plants by dividing the ones you have.
How to Speed Up Seed Starting
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Not all seeds know it’s time to sprout just because they’re planted in soil. Some need a signal that it’s time to germinate, either from a change in temperature or moisture levels, or an increase in light. To trick your seeds into germinating sooner than they might typically, you can use one of the below methods:
- Winter sowing: To sow your seeds in the winter, you’ll want to start them outdoors while the temperatures are still frigid. Not all seeds can survive freezing temperatures, but there are some that need the freezing and thawing action to break dormancy or to crack their hard coverings, including heartier vegetables like broccoli, beets, and carrots.
- Scarification: Seeds with really tough or thick coverings (think: apples, nasturtium, and false indigo) can take forever to germinate. Scarification (nicking them or rubbing them with sandpaper) can help give them a jump start and speed up the process a bit.
- Stratification: Stratification is a way to simulate the warming and cooling conditions seeds would be privy to if left in their natural environment through the winter. It’s especially useful for people in zones that don’t have a long enough (or cold enough) winter for their desired plant, as well as any gardener looking to harvest delicate perennials like delphinium and violets, which will germinate more seeds if they’re put through the process.
Starting Seeds Indoors
If you have a short growing season or are just impatient to see those late-blooming flowers, starting seeds indoors can help move things along. To do so properly, you’ll need to know your last frost date, as your seed packets will note which varietals can be successfully started indoors (not all seeds transplant well) and the proper time frame. To start seeds indoors, you’ll need potting mix, something to plant your seeds in, and a way to keep them moist. Your supplies can be anything from paper cups or paper egg cartons and clear plastic bags, to tiny pots, peat pots, or seed-starting trays with a clear lid.
Some seeds may require hardening off (exposing to cool temperatures) before planting outside, but this will be noted on the seed packet if required.
Growing flowers from seed can take some patience, but it's an inexpensive way to fill your garden with color. Use these tips to get started.