Your guide to starting seeds indoors

With winter winding down, many of us are thinking about warmer days when we can return to our gardens. While it may be too cold to start planting outdoors, there’s plenty of opportunity to get started inside – ideally, six weeks before the last frost of spring.

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Indoor seed planting is a great way to get the most out of your garden. Except for the most tropical areas of the United States, summers in the U.S. are too short for plants to complete the fruiting cycle, meaning you’re missing out on precious tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers every year. By starting seeds, you can choose from many varieties of veggies and herbs that have been chosen to work well in your region.

Preparing your seeds for indoor planting

Creating the right conditions for your seeds to thrive is an important first step. We recommend using a Grower Starter Kit, or a Grower Refill Pack. They come with plenty of individual cells for all of your plants and are designed with watering and moving in mind.

TIP: Don’t use soil from your garden. There are too many pollutants, weed seeds and fungus organisms for indoor planting. Instead, use a seed starting mix or potting soil. They are blended to be light and porous so your seedlings get the moisture and oxygen they need.

Keeping warm during germination

Most warm weather plants like tomatoes and peppers need 80-85 degree conditions to start germinating. While some opt to simply place their plants atop refrigerators, we do not recommend this approach. You need to keep the temperature consistent to ensure germination of as many plants as possible. The best way to do this is with a Seedling Heat Mat. It’s designed to warm the root area 10-20 degrees above the ambient temperature.

Lighting the way to a beautiful garden

While waiting for the plants to germinate, it’s essential to keep the container moist, but not soggy. If you keep a diligent eye on them, your plants should start germinating in a week or two (5-10 days for tomatoes, and 5-14 days for peppers). As soon as baby seedlings emerge above soil level, get them into the light. Use grow lights for a consistent source of light, because a few too many dreary days can stop your plants before they start.

Picking out and potting them

When seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall with several ‘true leaves,” (the second set of leaves that forms after the seed germinates) it’s time to give them room to grow. Gently remove the plants from the Planter Kit, and transplant into deeper containers or individual pots. While a small individual container works well, a coconut coir pot is better for planting into your garden later, because you can plant the biodegradable pot directly in the ground.

Out of the house and into the garden

Two weeks after the last frost, or once the temperature is around 50 degrees at night, you should start gradually acclimating your plants outdoors. Start by placing them in a shady spot, where they’re protected from direct sunlight. After 3-4 full days, you can move them into direct light, starting only in the mornings and later for full days. Once you feel your plants are ready for the garden, pick a cloudy day to plant them. The lower light helps the plants with the stress of the move.

With the right tools, the move to the garden is easy. A good hand transplanter and hand cultivator really make or break the gardener.  

The last bit of advice for the garden move is to be generous with the compost layer – although be sure not to cover up your freshly planted seedlings. You can use many well-aged organic materials, but peat moss works great for promoting root development and helps retain water.  It's best to mix the organic matter into your garden soil prior to planting your seedlings.

Your garden of Eden

If you’re looking to cultivate a unique garden, indoor seed planting is a great way to go. You can raise unconventional varieties of tomatoes from Central America next to unusual varieties of peppers from Eastern Europe. The only limit is your imagination.

Of course you can always count on your neighborhood Orchard to help - we carefully select plants and seeds based on the climate zones they are sold in to ensure your home gardening success. If you’re unsure of when to start your seeds indoors, stop by your neighborhood Orchard and talk to a team member in our Nursery – we always look forward to helping out a fellow gardener!