Idiot Proof Indoor Seed Starting

Gardening can be fun and educational for the whole family, plus you get tomatoes! Gardening can be that break you need from the hustle and bustle of the work week. Gardening can be that connection you were looking for, to get your child away from the X-Box. Dropping a seed in some dirt can do miracles for your health, family and your pocketbook.

In the beginning, you might feel overwhelmed by the plethora of gardening catalogs and websites, so it’s best to start by trial and error. Here are a few idiot-proof tips for starting seeds indoors that will boost the beginning gardener’s success rate and confidence.

Dig In!

The simple tools you will need to get started are seed packs, trays, starting pots, starting mix, watering can, labels, and a marking pen.

Begin by making your seed selections early, come to the Grass Pad and wander through the thousands of new and heirloom vegetable and flower seed packs. Feel free to bring mail order catalogs along for ideas and compare prices. Things to ponder, how much area will you be planting? And do you have full sun or shade areas?

Seed Selection

Don’t use old seed. The older seeds become, the less likely to sprout they are. Always look on the back of the pack for the “sell by date”, planting depth, spacing, sunlight, maturity dates and gardening tips for each variety. At Grass Pad, we receive fresh shipments of flower and garden seed packs at the beginning of each season and continue to refresh our seed racks regularly throughout the seasons.


Planting times are not the same for all plants. Using information from your seed packs to determine the germination time, weeks to transplanting outdoors, and weeks to maturity.

Seedlings can be transferred outdoors when the temperatures warm enough to support them. Starting seeds too early, you may need to“shift up” – or transfer the baby plants to larger pots to allow for more root growth.

Pick your Pot

You can start seeds in open trays, in individual plastic packs, or in peat pots. Individual containers are best, because the less you disturb baby roots, the better. Some containers, such as peat pots, transplant right into the garden with the plant during transplanting. Plastic pots must be removed before transplanting.

Use Seed Starting Mix

Pro-Mix™ seed-starting mix is best for starting seeds indoors. Avoid potting soils with fertilizers – these are meant for mature plants and may do more harm than good for starting seeds. Pro-Mix™ seed starting mix contains Mycorise Pro™, beneficial organic fungi found naturally in soil, improving plant survivability after transplanting into garden soil. Also Pro-Mix™ contains a wetting agent to help the peat to hold moisture.

Don’t Over Water 

Before you plant the seeds in Pro-Mix™ seed starting mix, moisten the mix with water to reach the right amount of moisture. Soil should be damp, but not too soggy. Seeds need to be in contact with moist soil to germinate, but too much water will kill your efforts. Covering the pots or tray after planting with clear plastic or dome will help to maintain consistent moisture level.The covering should not be sealed tight. Water only when necessary, when the soil is dry and seedlings wilting. Using peat pots in an open tray for watering from the bottom up will make idiot proof watering. Pour water into the tray bottom and wait for peat pots to soak up enough water so the top soil is moistened then drain the extra.

Avoid Leggy Plants

Warmth is needed to stimulate the seeds to sprout. Additional heat, using a heat mat, under your trays will keep soil mix consistently warm. Once the seedling puts pops up from the soil, light and warmth are critical. The ideal temperature will depend on what you are growing, but all plants need adequate light to grow. Baby seedlings will grow quickly to the light source, and if the light is not bright enough, the stems will stretch and grow in an unhealthy way.

Give your seeds 12 - 16 hours of light daily. Providing adequate light is the best way to avoid leggy plants. You could get extra light by setting plants near the south window. Another option would be to build an outdoor cold frame or to use grow lights. Cold frames may not be for the beginner. If you see the seedlings are becoming leggier than they should, you can shift them up by transplanting the seedlings deeper into a larger pot, to bury most of the stem. Or, start a second batch.

Be Kind 

The process of acclimating the seedlings to the outdoors is critical. Transplant shock can cause issues, stunted or slow growth and even plant death can occur. Hardening off your seedlings when the outside temperatures are mild enough for the plant you are growing is essential to their survival. Seedlings started indoors have a sheltered environment, so to begin with, they need just a few hours of outdoor conditions, protected from the wind and direct sunlight. Bring them in at night.

Over the next few weeks, increase their exposure to direct sunlight, the wind, and rain. Gradually decrease water. Once your plants spent an entire day and night outdoors, they are ready to plant in prepared garden beds.