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Growing Green - Successful seed starting

We have discussed how to select seeds to use in your garden. Many of these seeds will need to be started in advance of planting them outdoors. Why start seeds ahead of time? The short growing season in Minnesota can eliminate some of the varieties you would like to use in your garden. By starting seeds ahead of time, you get a jump start on the season with earlier harvests/bloom time, greater variety of plants, and stronger/healthier seedlings. Starting your own seed is also less expensive than buying flats of plants from your local nursery. Seed starting isn't difficult, once you know the basics. With that in mind, let's review some seed starting techniques that will facilitate success in your seed starting endeavors.

Always start with high quality seed. If this is your first time starting seeds indoors, purchase new seed from a reputable source. Seed packets should have the year harvested, number of seeds per packet and germination rates. Many types of seed have a very low germination rate; look for varieties that have 85 percent or greater germination.

Select a sterile, fine growing medium. Many companies sell seed starting mix. This mixture is generally light and spongy, with the ability to retain moisture. It usually contains sterile peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. These mixes may contain a starter fertilizer, but this is not required.

Use containers that have been sterilized with a 5 percent bleach solution. Egg cartons, yogurt cups, seed flats and plastic pots make good seed starting containers. Use what you have on hand, or purchase seed trays from your local retailer.

Follow the germination suggestions provided by the seed company. Some seeds require light to germinate, others require darkness. Some seeds need to be pretreated: soaked overnight or scarified. Start the seeds at the recommended time prior to the last frost date (our last frost date is May 21). If the seed packet does not contain the information, check the company's website.

Cover your seeded pots with plastic wrap to increase humidity.

Use a standard shop light with 40 watt bulbs. Place seed containers under the light, and place the light an inch above the containers. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the plastic covering, and raise the light as the seedlings grow, always keeping it about an inch above the seedlings.

Fertilize your seedlings with half strength fertilizer solution once the first true leaves have emerged, and weekly thereafter.

Harden off your transplants prior to planting them in the garden. About a week before you want to plant them outside, place your trays of plants outdoors in a protected area, out of full sun. Each day, increase the time they spend outside and the amount of sunlight they receive. This will strengthen the seedlings and prepare them for the rigors of outdoor life. Don't skip this step. You will stress out and lose seedlings if you do.

For more information about seed starting, visit:

Until next time, happy gardening!


"Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream."

- Debby Boone