A step-by-step guide to the best seed starting supplies and how to start seeds indoors for beginners new to growing your own garden plants from seed.
The Best Seed Starting Supplies For Beginners
When you first decide that you want to start some of your own seeds it can feel a little overwhelming. What are the best seed starting supplies you need to get started? What are the best seeds to buy? How do you know how to care for them? There are a lot of questions that can come up when starting seeds, which is why I wanted to take this time to walk you step by step through everything you need to know to start your own seeds.
Why Do You Want To Start Your Own Seeds?
The whole point of starting your own seeds is to be ready to plant some already started small plants in your garden right when the weather is warm enough and the threat of frost has past. This often will help you save weeks of time in your growing season and can result in healthier, stronger plants that often don’t do as well if started from seed directly outside once the weather is warm enough.
But why not just buy seedlings from your local nursery store instead? You honestly can, and I supplement my own seed started plants with some nursery grown seedlings every year. There really is nothing wrong with buying seedlings from your local nursery, they often will be very healthy because they have been professionally cared for, and can really simplify the process of getting a garden started.
However, buying all your seedlings from the nursery does mean that you don’t have as much control on the specific varieties you want to grow. Buying seedlings from the nursery is also much more expensive than growing your own seeds, so if you want to grow a larger garden it can get quite expensive.
Ultimately, the choice to jump into seed starting really is a personal one, and you can choose to start as few or as many as you like. Personally for beginners I recommend jumping into seed starting by starting with seeds that you can plant directly outside and in the ground. Leafy greens, root vegetables, and even cucumbers are great examples of plants that are easy to start from seed outside.
Once you get a little more experience under your belt you can choose to move into starting seeds indoors. Starting your seeds indoors for the first time will be a learning process, but remember to have fun and not take it too seriously! You can always buy some seedlings from your local nursery if some of your seeds don’t do as well as expected, the point is just to start and learn along the way!
Common Seed Starting Terminology
Before we get jump in the seed starting supplies you will need to grow your own seedlings, let’s go over a few of the most common terms that you will probably encounter when learning how to start your own seeds.
Germination: Germination is the process of a seed sprouting and growing into a tiny seedling.
Seedling: A seedling is a small new plant that was grown from seed.
Seed Spacing: How far apart you should space your seeds when planting. This will help ensure that your plants have enough space to grow big and strong.
Thinning: Often seed packets will talk about thinning, which refers to snipping back some of the sprouted seedlings to better space out your seedlings and allow for them to grow into the strongest plants. If you don’t thin your seedlings appropriately they will compete for nutrients and may not grow as big or healthy as they could have otherwise.
Seed Planting Depth: This is how deep you should plant your seeds in the soil. A general good rule of thumb to remember though is to plant your seeds about 2x as deep as the seed itself.
Frost Date: Your frost date is the date of your average last or first frost of the season. Often your last frost date is what is used as a timing tool for planting your seeds. Your seed packet will tell you how to time your seeds best based on your last/frist frost date.
Growing Zone/Hardiness Zone: Your growing zone or hardiness zone is loosely based around your frost date but also takes into account seasonal weather patterns and your local climate. Most seed packets will tell you what seeds are annuals or perennials based on your growing zone.
Annual: A plant that only grows for one year and needs to be planted year after year.
Perennial: A plant that will continue to come back year after year. Depending on your growing zone some plants may be able to survive as perennials or may only be able to survive as annuals.
The Best Seed Starting Supplies To Grow Your Own Plants
There are many ways to setup your seed starting system from the simplest and cheapest options to larger investments. But no matter how you choose to start your seeds the following are in my opinion the best seed starting supplies you absolutely will need to get started.
Seed Starting Mix
Almost every local nursery will have a high quality organic seed starting soil that you can use to start your seeds. Ideally if possible opt for a soil that is local and organic, especially if you want to grow an organic garden. Seed starting soil is different from regular soil in that it is a bit lighter, doesn’t contain any large pieces of organic matter, and is formulated to make it easiest for your seeds to germinate.
Seed Starting Trays
There are an endless amount of seed starting trays, so choose the one that works best for your space. You can even use old cardboard egg containers if you want a really low budget option that is also compostable.
You of course cant start your seeds without the seeds themselves. Take some time to plan out what you ideally would like to grow in your garden and then begin looking for the seeds that will best meet your needs. Most local nurseries will also have a great selection of seeds to choose from, but just remember that if you want to grow an organic garden you are going to want to look for organic or heirloom seed varieties.
LED Grow Light
While you can technically start seeds by just placing them near a sunny window, most seeds require 16-18 hours of light per day, which means that the light you most likely get from the sun won’t be enough. Seedlings will also begin to get “leggy” or stringy which is caused by them searching for the light and can result in a pretty weak plant.
So my best advice is that if you want to start seeds then make sure to also invest in some LED lights that will help ensure that your seeds are getting all the light they need to grow big and strong.
In order for seeds to germinate well the soil temperature needs to be at least 68 degrees F and ideally closer to 75 degrees. This means that if your home isn’t kept that warm or your seeds are being kept near a cool window then you may need to increase the heat of the soil by using a heat mat.
Simply place the heating mat under your seed tray while the seeds are germinating and once they have germinated the mat can be turned off and removed.
One of the most common issues with seed starting is mold growth that can happen on the soil due to the moist and warm conditions needed for the seeds to germinate. If you notice some mold growing on any of your seed tray gently scrap it off and place a fan near your seeds. This will help improve air flow and keep mold from growing. It can also help to strengthen your seedlings when they get bigger.
Watering Can & Spray Bottle
A watering can or spray bottle is essential to keep on hand when starting seeds as the soil needs to be kept damp but not too wet at all times. Notice how your soil feels by touching it with your finger daily. This will help you determine how often you should be watering.
Seed Starting Supplies: The Best Companies To Buy Garden Seeds
There are so many different amazing seed companies to choose from when it comes to buying your own seeds but a few of my personal favorites are:
Botanical Interests has such a vast array of heirloom and organic herbs and vegetables to choose from that makes it one of my favorites to turn to year after year.
Seed Savers Exchange
One of my favorite seed companies that is dedicated to protecting heritage and heirloom seed varieties. You really can’t go wrong with any Seed Savers Exchange seeds and you can feel good knowing that you are supporting a great cause and company.
I love choosing Renee’s Garden seeds for many of our herbs, flowers, and heirloom plants. They always seem to germinate really well and she has a lovely selection of mixed flower varieties that make for a beautiful addition to any garden.
Baker Creek Seeds
A favorite for rare and unique heirloom seed varieties. This is one of my favorites to choose from for vegetables since they have such a wide and unique range of options.
Floret Flower Farm
If you are interested in growing flowers then Floret Flower Farm is a great choice for really unique and specialty flower varieties that will make for a beautiful cut flower garden.
How To Start Seeds Indoors: Knowing When To Plant
Now that you know everything you need to start growing your own plants from seed, it’s time to think about what you actually want to plant from seed and when/how you should plant it.
To get started every seed packet will tell you how to start seeds indoors or directly outside in the ground. Some types of seeds do not hold up well to transplanting, which is when you move your small seedling from indoors to outside. For this reason, it is always important to pay attention to the instructions on your seed packet.
Next, once you know what seeds you ideally want to start indoors and what seeds you will wait to start outside it’s time to take a look at the recommended timeline for starting your seeds.
Often you will find that your seed packet will tell you exactly how many weeks from your last frost date (you can find that here) you should begin starting your seeds. This will help ensure that when the weather is right your seedlings will be mature enough to be transplanted outside.
Lastly, it is always good to make a note of the germination time frame and the amount of time to maturity. The germination time frame will tell you when you can expect to see your seeds germinate and pop through the soil, and the maturation time line will tell you how many days you can expect for your plant to go from seed to harvest.
Both of these time frames are good to keep in mind as they will help you better understand if your seeds are germinated well, and will help you plan when to start your seeds based on how long it takes for them to mature.
For folks who are growing long maturing plants (like tomatoes) in short growing seasons, you may want to start your seeds even earlier than the recommended time frame on the seed packet because your growing season is so short.