Starting Seeds Indoors

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Here are tips from The Old Farmer's Almanac on how to start your seeds indoors.

  • Team up with a neighbor for starting seeds, since a packet often yields much more than you will need.
  • Don't start your seeds too early, especially tomatoes! Most annual flowers and vegetables should be sown indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost in your area.
  • See our annual Best Planting Dates for Seeds chart which is based on your frost dates and by the Moon.
  • You may have to soak, scratch, or chill seeds before planting, as directed on packet.
  • Use clean containers. Most seed catalogs offer seedling flats, peat pots, and other growing containers, but egg carton compartments make good containers, too. Be sure to poke holes in the sides near the bottom of the containers you use.
  • Label your containers now! There's nothing more frustrating than forgetting what you planted.
  • Fill clean containers with seedling mix. Use soilless peat moss and mix in equal parts vermiculite and perlite to hold enough water and allow oxygen to flow. Don't use potting soil.
  • Pour soilless mix into a large bucket and moisten with warm water. Fill your containers to just below the rim.
  • Plant your seeds according to your seed packet. Most seeds can simply be gently pressed into the mixture; you can use the eraser end of a pencil to push in seeds.

Seed Tip: When planting seeds, plant the largest seeds in the package to get the best germination rate.

  • Cover containers with plastic. Prick holes with a toothpick for ventilation. Water as directed.
  • Water newly started seedlings carefully. A pitcher may let the water out too forcefully. A mist sprayer is gentle but can take a long time. Try using a meat-basting syringe, which will dispense the water effectively without causing too much soil disruption.
  • Find a place in the kitchen where there is natural bottom heat—on top of the refrigerator or near the oven. (Move the tray if the oven is on, as it may become too hot.)
  • Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C).
  • When seedlings appear, remove the plastic and move containers into bright light.
  • When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, prepare individual pots filled with a potting mix with plenty of compost. Move the seedlings carefully to the new pots and water well. Keep pots out of direct sun for a few days.

Now, go to our article on how to transplant your seedlings!

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Comments

I started seeds indoors and

By Donna Hurst on April 10

I started seeds indoors and they were doing good. I took them outside and I forgot to bring them in one night and it poured the rain and they got over watered and died. I want to start the seeds over by planting new ones. I was wondering if I could just let the soil dry out and take the plants that died out or if I would have to start over with new soil? I read about plants damping off and it has me worried that that happened because they turned yellow and died. But can I reuse my soil or not?

Most plants won't die because

By Almanac Staff on April 11

Most plants won't die because of one night of rain.  If the soil is stays wet, however, they could certainly yellow and die. We're not clear that they have a disease.
If you can get the soil to dry out, you need to bulk it up by mixing in plenty of organic matter; the rain washes away nutrients so you need to add those nutrients back to the ground.
If poor drainage and waterlogging are a consistent problem, you may need to rethink your planting site, the type of plants that you grow, how to add drainage, and/or a raised bed option.

I have 2 questions...I want

By Crystal Minner on April 7

I have 2 questions...I want to plant all of my vegetables, flowers and herbs by the moon phase and sign. #1 When starting seeds indoors, would go by the phase/sign favorable for that particular plant or is that only for sowing directly into the ground? #2 When transplanting my seedlings into the ground (I know favorable signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces), do I follow the moon phase favorable for that plant as well or is that only for seeds? Thank you!

Hi Crystal, It's great to

By Almanac Staff on April 7

Hi Crystal, It's great to hear from you!  Gardening by the Moon applies to both seeds and transplants.
The dates are related to whether the plant bears its crops below or above the soil.
We just added our Gardening by the Moon calendar to make planting dates easier! See below page--and then click on your region:

http://www.almanac.com/content/planting-moons-phase-gardening-calendar

All the best! The OFA staff.

started seeds far too early

By paul plewes on April 3

started seeds far too early .. tomato
how do I slow them down a bit about 3 inches high .look great.... pepper about 1 inch high ..slower growing .. look great .. they may be O . K .
.... urgent .... worried ....

It's fine to transplant the

By Almanac Staff on April 3

It's fine to transplant the seedlings into bigger containers that can be put outdoors during warmer days and moved back indoors at night.

I started my seeds in an

By christina yoder on April 14

I started my seeds in an indoor greenhouse and the cukes, melons, and squashs are 6inches tall already and its going to be another month before I can plant them in the garden. Can I cut them down without them dying?

I live in Sudbury Ontario

By barb kingston on April 1

I live in Sudbury Ontario Canada. I started scarlet runner beans indoors three weeks ago, they are now a foot tall and due to our exceptional winter, I will not be able to plant them for at least two months. Should I be cutting them back? They are growing so fast you can almost see them grow. April 2 2014

Thank you for your response.

By Barb Kingston on April 2

Thank you for your response. I have already moved them into bigger pots and have staked them with bamboo, I guess I just have to hope that they survive until I can plant them.

You could transplant the

By Almanac Staff on April 2

You could transplant the seedlings into bigger containers that can be put outdoors during warmer days and moved back indoors at night. The only problem may be space (the runner beans grow really tall and need a trellis).

I started some tomato plants

By Pam Silbor on March 26

I started some tomato plants indoors and have some seedlings. Unfortunately they are yellow. What did I do wrong? Is there anything I can do to save them or the pots that haven't germinated yet? Any help would be appreciated.

It could be related to

By Almanac Staff on March 27

It could be related to over-watering, but it could also be a disease called Fusarium Wilt which affects seedlings; the symptoms are yellowing and wilting lower leaves.  Take a sample to your local garden nursery or cooperative extension as it is hard to diagnose online.

The most practical way to control Fusarium Wilt is to plant disease-resistant tomato varieties. Ask you local nursery.

Spraying with a copper-based fungicide such as Kocide or Fungus Fighter may help in some cases but usually the plant will need to be pulled. You really want to avoid replanting tomatoes in that diseased soil for at least two years, some say four years. Crop rotation is always essential.

 

Thank you for the advice. I

By Pam Silbor on March 29

Thank you for the advice. I stopped watering and they're looking ok, but now I'm dealing with moldy peat pots. I'm learning as I go!

I live in WNC and would like

By Juanita James

I live in WNC and would like to start my tomato plants today, in peat pots. I have many different kinds of heirloom tomato seed. The signs are in the reigns today but the full moon is waning. What to do? My mom always planted by the signs.

We recommend to plant and

By Almanac Staff

We recommend to plant and transplant when the Moon is in a fruitful sign (Cancer, Scorpio or Pisces). It is also suggested that you plant veggies that bear above ground crops in the light of the Moon (from the day the Moon is new to the day it is full). Feb. 20-21 are Scorpio if you want to follow the signs. If you want to wait for a waxing Moon it will be new on March 1.

Thank you for your response!

By Juanita James

Thank you for your response! I had already planted 7 peat pots with tomato seeds. I will definitely follow your advice and come next light moon, I will plant more. Thank you again.

Hello! I am a new gardener.

By Heather-n-Barnhart

Hello! I am a new gardener. I've been composting for about 18 months now and I've been doing a lot of research at my local library. Needless to say, I was so excited to actually begin planting my asparagus seeds indoors last week. I know asparagus takes at least one season to be harvestable, but it's been a week and I haven't had any germination. I used a 60/40 Miracle Gro potting mix (I'll use seedling mix next year)/compost mixture. I put a "hot house"--a shallow under-the-bed storage unit--over my seedlings only to grow mold! I sprinkled some cinnamon on my seedlings and replaced the "hot house" today. So, all in all, I haven't had any germination. The plants are being grown in my basement. I don't the exact temperature of my basement, but I'm assuming it's about 65 degrees. Should I just be more patient? Does asparagus take a long time to germinate? Sorry this post is long. I just want to start growing food for my new family! Thanks!

Asparagus is slow to get

By Almanac Staff

Asparagus is slow to get going from seed. It can take three weeks before the seeds germinate. The seeds should be planted about 1/4-inch deep using a sterile seeding mix for best results.

How do you get rid of

By Barbara Orris

How do you get rid of earwigs? Over the past 2 years I tried to grow lettuce but at harvest they were full of drawings.

You can trap earwigs in

By Almanac Staff

You can trap earwigs in rolled up newspapers or in old tuna fish cans baited with fish oil or vegetable oil. Place traps near the problem areas and check them each morning. Shake live insects into a pail of soapy water to kill them.
Converting the backyard to a dry, sunny environment with few hiding places will also help control earwigs. Remove any shelter sites, prune low-growing bushes, avoid growing the earwigs' favored food plants, and destroy moss and algae. Avoid overwatering and don't use thick organic mulches.
A variety of insecticides available labeled for earwig control. Talk to your garden center. Read the label to determine the proper sites and vegetable restrictions.
We appreciate your interest in The Old Farmer's Almanac and our web site.

Last year...WOW...sluGs...! I

By Serena a Streitz

Last year...WOW...sluGs...!
I live in north western Washington state...what in the world to do about slugs ...I've tried beer in a bowl...salt at every strategic point...it makes a huge problem for gardening...but keeping them off of my sliding glass door and windows would be nice...they even slip in under the threshold from time to time?
Please advise...
Thx, Serena

For slugs use a small, fairly

By Almanac Staff

For slugs use a small, fairly shallow dish. Put oil (canola, corn, vegetable) in the dish, about 1/2 cup or so. Then pour some soy sauce in the dish. The slugs are attracted to the soy sauce and once they get in the dish they can't get out because of the oil. Here are a couple of more tips. Spread wood ashes, crushed eggshells, or copper sheeting around the area where you see the slugs. You can also try this spray: Stir together 1 quart of water, 1 tsp of liquid dish soap and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not dilute before spraying.
Also, you might enjoy our video, "The Slug Board Game" (humor required) here: http://www.almanac.com/video/gardening-beer-slug-board-game

This will be my first year

By Dana L

This will be my first year attempting to grow herbs indoors in a small apartment in Newark, NJ. I have the perfect spot picked out for my 'babies' but I was wondering if I needed to invest in a heating mat, as I'd like to start germinating in mid-February.

A heating mat isn't

By Almanac Staff

A heating mat isn't necessary, but it does help to encourage germination, so seeds sprout faster, which is especially helpful for those plants that have a long germination period. Some herbs may prefer different soil temperatures than others; check the seed packet or catalog description. There are also home-made versions that provide bottom heat as well; some people set their containers on top of the refrigerator, which provides a little warmth. A heating mat specifically made for seed starting provides more control over the soil temperature.

How do you get rid of the

By everettg08

How do you get rid of the mold/mildew on the plants?? I just noticed my flats are covered in it! We are going to be moving them outdoors soon. Should they even be moved or will it infect everything else?

You should physically scrape

By Almanac Staff

You should physically scrape off the mold/mildew and then try sprinkling your flats with ground cinnamon.

Why do you recommend not

By irishiz50

Why do you recommend not using potting soil? I live in the Midwest and have used potting soil for the past couple of years and didn't seem to have a problem using it. Why would using soilless peat moss, mixed with equal parts vermiculite and perlite be better, besides allowing oxygen to flow?Thanks!

Potting soil is often heavy

By Almanac Staff

Potting soil is often heavy and doesn't drain well. Delicate new roots of young seedlings have a harder time developing in potting soil. Soilless medium is much lighter and easier to handle when you move pots around. Potting soil that hasn't been sterilized may also spread diseases.

I've found that for most

By Eternius Windblade

I've found that for most small ant and bug problems, Bergamot essential oil works really well. If you burn three drops in a tea light per large area, or put a couple drops along the window sills or door entryways (every few months), they hate that stuff. Not sure if it helps in the actual seedlings, but if someone can answer that it'd help me too. Thanks!

What make your plants so

By Shirlley

What make your plants so leggy when planted indoors from seeds

Hi Shirlley, The most likely

By Almanac Staff

Hi Shirlley, The most likely cause is not enough sunlight. The seedlings stretch for the sunlight. To solve this problem, repotting the seedlings in bigger pots and maybe adding a grow light will help. Some seeds are better planted directly in the garden when the soil has warmed up.

Good basic article on

By Me from Maine

Good basic article on starting seeds indoors. Just one VERY IMPORTANT tip is missing. Even when using clean pot, etc., Damp-off is often a problem. (mold/mildew that kills young seedlings) The solution? Cinnamon! I have a jar of Cinnamon. I replaced the sprinkle top with a piece of nylon stretched tight... like the foot of pantyhose, knee-hi, etc., and hold on with an elastic.
When I'm through planting a seed flat, pots, six-packs, I lightly dust each one with the cinnamon. Organic, natural, proven to work every time! Will no slow, prevent, harm newly sprouted seeds of any kind!

You could always move north,

By Home_grown

You could always move north, we don't have fireants here in BC. Just sugar ants and borax mixed with icing sugar is a good bet. our bigest problem here is the deer

Where can you find info on

By sharlynn53

Where can you find info on when to dig to plant post?

If you're looking for best

By Almanac Staff

If you're looking for best days based on the Moon, we have the dates on when to plant posts here: http://www.almanac.com/bestdays/timetable

i was told by an old farmer

By jakcie

i was told by an old farmer that the dark side of the moon will keep posts in. The light side will pull them out. Has always worked for me.

Fire ants are the bane of a

By SuzieHomemaker

Fire ants are the bane of a Texan gardener! I am going to try dehydrated molasses...anyone else done that?

The most effective solution

By Almanac Staff

The most effective solution is fire ant baits with Spinosad. Don't wait. Sprinkle it around each mound in the later afternoon or when fire ants are foraging. See this page for brand names:
http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/gardening/hgic1263.html

I agree with briddog501. But

By nhfireman1

I agree with briddog501. But add this...mix some confectioners sugar and water with the borax. Ants can't pass this up. Be aware of other animals that may eat this (pets etc). So use in protected area or at a height where it won't be attainable by other animals.

I have several plants in

By Monika Reed

I have several plants in large containers. It's a constant struggle to keep the ants from moving into the containers from the bottom. Ants are like weeds: you never get rid of them!!!!!

Try making a strong garlic

By Fathom

Try making a strong garlic tea and put it in a pray bottle, good for all sorts of bugs.

House Hold Bleach will red

By PattyC

House Hold Bleach will red ants

Try cinnamon power around the

By Tom Ato

Try cinnamon power around the base & beneath the containers. The ants will move somewhere else.

Mint, mint, and more mint.

By geezergardener

Mint, mint, and more mint. Ants don't like just about every type of mint. Use dry or fresh mint on top of the soil or for better results mix it in with the soil. Also planting mint in the pot will make the ants go away.

I found the perfect solution

By DL Will

I found the perfect solution to a terrific ant problem. I moved to a different state.

I also have an ant problem

By peacefulpotter

I also have an ant problem that i went to my local nursery about. They sold me some fire ant killer aka orthene. You spray the dirt and area around plants. Works like a charm. Smells like a dead animal's bowels.

I've been told by wise older

By wjudd91

I've been told by wise older gardeners that if you put cornmeal at the ant infested area, it will kill the ants because they will eat it and cannot digest it. Don't understand it, but it DOES work!!

I too have the problem of

By dedeec44

I too have the problem of ants getting into my containers! It is not fun to find a big hill of them in your plant you are trying to re-pot! I am allergic to their bites...

I was concerned if the Orthene will harm any plants you have in the planter at the time you spray it? Anyone know? Thanks for all the useful and informative info here!

I live in Maryland and we

By Beckster5126

I live in Maryland and we have "sugar ant" problems every year. I use a mixture of borax and regular corn meal. The ants can digest the cornmeal or the borax so it eliminates them. Safe and no pesticides.

Here's a recipe that makes

By Nativetejana

Here's a recipe that makes the ants move away:4 oz orange oil (can be purchased at most organic nurseries) 4 oz of blackstrap molasses or gardening molasses,1 gal of water.

try putting borax around your

By briddog501

try putting borax around your pot on the ground

i don't know what they use

By max-n-tx

i don't know what they use but once every 2 years... the pest control company wants to do it every year....i pay a pest control company to spread they're ant poison in the yard. I live in ant central. coastal Texas i've had very little trouble with ants since i started spending the money on the pest control people.

1 side note. since i don't have ants anymore the armadillos and opossums love my yard for digging up grub worms. big ugly cuts right down the center of the yard.

kind of exchange 1 problem for another...

Treat to kill the grub worms,

By Ricky Ervin

Treat to kill the grub worms, no food the problem leaves. If you have a garden this will kill the good worms as well you may not want to treat the garden and watch for run off potential to reach the garden.

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