How to Plant a Seed

Never planted a seed before? Here's the lowdown.

As someone who’s been growing a garden – or at least helping to grow a garden – since I was a child, it is almost unfathomable to me that someone could not know how to plant a seed. I’ve had several people ask me about seed starting recently, though, so I have to assume that there are more people out there who have yet to acquire this knowledge. Good news: It’s simple!

To get a head start on the growing season, plan to start your seeds 4-6 weeks before you’ll be ready to set them out in the garden. This will be determined by your region’s last frost date. You don’t want to plant your garden too early, only to have Jack Frost kill all of your little plants.

You will need:

  • A container: You can reuse nursery containers if you have them, or alternatively, use plastic containers scrounged from the recycle bin*
  • Potting soil (available at nurseries or hardware stores)
  • Seeds

Fill your containers with potting soil to within 1″ of the top. Seed packets include planting directions and will note the planting depth for each type of seed. The general rule is to plant a seed twice the depth of its size. Large seeds like squash and beans will be planted deeper than tomato, peppers, or lettuce seeds. Set a seed or two into the appropriately sized planting hole, cover it with soil, and water it. If more than one seed sprouts, you’ll just use small scissors to snip one off when they get a bit bigger.

The most important thing about growing seeds is that the soil needs to be kept moist during germination. If the soil dries out too much during germination, the little seed will die before you even see a sprout. On the flip side, you don’t want to drown them. Try to maintain a moisture level similar to a wrung out sponge. One way to keep the soil moist without disturbing the soil is to mist your seedlines with a spray bottle.

You also need to make sure the seeds have a nice steady temperature and enough light. Some people use grow lights, and those are certainly necessary in colder climates. In warmer climates, you might get by with just a sunny windowsill. Temperatures in the 65-70 degree Fahrenheit range are ideal for starting most seeds. If you don’t think your home stays this warm during the time you’ll be germinating seeds, you could also try using a heat mat.

Of course, some seeds are best planted directly in the garden once the soil warms. I find that squash, beans, peas, and root crops do better with direct sowing. You’ll do it the same way; just skip the pot.

Have you ever planted a seed? Are you new to gardening, or an old hat?

*Yogurt containers, sour cream containers, and plastic bottles with the top trimmed off are all fair game. You MUST make drainage holes in the bottom, though. To do this, heat the pointed end of a large nail and push it through the bottom of your plastic container to make four or five drainage holes.

 

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  • I need to get the timing right for my seeds. I may start some indoors this year. We’ll see. A greenhouse is a must at our altitude, but often it still gets well below freezing in there overnight through May … which shortens the growing season even more.

  • I try to plant seeds. I also buy starts from the farmer’s market. The starts invariably do better than the seeds (sniff) but I will try again this year!

  • I’m one of those one’s who has good intentions but no luck with gardening. Thanks for this. Right now I’m trying to grow basil from the seed. I don’t know if it’s getting enough sun or not. I don’t think I’m getting enough sun though, either!

    • Grateful child ,

      Lots of good suggestions here in the article, with a couple of things I’d like to add. First, don’t use potting soil, or any soil. Pro mix or a seed starting mix without soil is best. Heat will encourage your seedlings to sprout, but it will also encourage damping off (pythium), …a fungus that pinches off the young seedling at the base and kills it. For that, you can help by using drug store 3% Hydrogen Peroxide. Mix 16:1 parts of water to H²O² to initially wet your medium. Keep a plastic dome, or even a plastic bag over the containers until they first germinate. It is very important to get the young seedling to a light source as soon as possible after emerging. Otherwise the stems will grow very long and be susceptible to diseases. And remember, plants like cucumbers and peppers do not like the cold. The will die if temperatures reach under 45° for prolonged periods. Once the seedlings have emerged, don’t water from above. This again will encourage diseases. Dip the bottoms of the containers in a half strength water soluble fertilizer like Peter’s 20-20-20. Continue until the plants have got bigger and the stems have a ‘skin’ on them. At that point, it’s soak, and dry. Soak your plants and then let them dry. If you leave your plants wet they will die of fungal issues in the roots. I’ll be starting my brassicas, spinach, and lettuce in a week. And basil is a bit difficult to start from seeds. For that, I would purchase them at a greenhouse in early June. They also do not like the cold. It isn’t hard to start seeds and they will give you much better plants than you will get from a greenhouse. In a greenhouse they are grown in flats all clumped together and don’t get the sunlight they should to make them stocky. I wish you a great year for gardening…

  • This was very helpful. I do not have a very good success rate with seeds. One year, I watched the woman I worked for, who has an incredible garden, and imitated what she did. We had lots of tomato seedlings that year. Since I quit that job, I cannot get the pots and seeds quite right.

  • NoPotCoooking ,

    I’m great at starting seeds. It’s once they’re in the ground when I get into trouble! Weeding, watering, keeping the rabbits out, none of it goes well!

  • Sheryl ,

    What a great, helpful tutorial. Planting for Dummies. I needed that. What’s the opposite of a green thumb?

  • Marianne Gizzi ,

    Thank you !

  • Mary Engel ,

    Great article. Like using recycled pots, the store-bought peat pots always dry my babies up. Also, I plant only one (sometimes two) seeds per pot. That way I have extra for next year (or a restart if this year fails) I also start extra seedlings because some don’t make it, then trade with friends and family. Not filling the pots is good too because if/when they get leggy you can add more dirt. Love it! Keep growing!

  • Tracey Hopewell Was Shelbourn ,

    i have grown most peppers and chillis from my saved seeds x

  • Tammy Brown ,

    I just read a tip the other day to use your empty toilet paper roll. cut it in half and tuck the bottoms in an use it like a peak starter pot.

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