Starting seed indoors for the garden

Posted April 11, 2013 at 12:21 pm

by Marilyn Odneal, horticulture adviser

Starting your own seed and growing your own transplants is fun and offers you a wide selection of plant varieties to try. Once you purchase your seed and have decided the best time to plant it indoors for outdoor transplanting, you are ready to go. Starting your own seed gives you a head start in spring.

For best germination make sure you purchase your seed from a reliable source and check to make sure the seed has been packed for the current year. This date is stamped on the seed packet.

Once you have your seed, you need to plant them in a sterile potting media. The media should be lightweight, porous, and well-drained so the seeds will be moist but not saturated with water. Some potting media is milled especially fine and is specifically used for seed germination.

Many different containers can be used to germinate and grow transplants. Start seed in clean flats, trays, plastic six- or four-packs and peat pellets or pots. Make sure that the container has holes in the bottom so the water drains through. If the container has been used, it needs to be cleaned and disinfected before using again. Wash the containers in soapy water, and then disinfect them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and nine parts water.

Once you have your media in the container, it is time to plant. Make sure you moisten the media and plant the seed according to directions on the packet. Some seeds, like lettuce, need light to germinate. All seeds need to remain moist, not wet, during germination.

When you water the newly planted or germinating seed, make sure you use very gentle droplets of water. Squeeze bottles with perforated caps are designed to water young germinating seeds without disturbing the medium or washing the seed out of the pot, and they are fine for a few flats. Special wands that you attach to a hose can also be purchased to gently apply water if you have lots of flats full of seedlings. You can water from the bottom by placing the flat or container in a larger container partially filled with water and letting the water soak to the top.

The majority of seeds germinate best at temperatures between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You also need adequate light from a window or a set up with a combination of warm and cool fluorescent lights or grow lights. Check your seedlings daily and water when necessary.

Once your transplant is grown and it is time to plant outdoors (this will vary depending on your plant), make sure you give the transplant some time to get used to the great outdoors. For a few days before planting directly in the garden, put the transplants out in a protected location, usually close to the house. After this period of “hardening,” they are rough and ready to be put out into the garden to grow and produce delicious veggies or beautiful flowers!

For more information, comments or questions concerning this column, contact Marilyn Odneal via email at; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our website at

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START OUTDOOR PLANTS INDOORS – These pepper plants have germinated and are growing well in the greenhouse. Before you transfer plants grown in the greenhouse or indoors out into the garden, you need to allow them to get used to the outdoor environment by “hardening” them off for a few days.