Although it’s still cold and wintery outside, it is time to start prepping for warmer weather and spring gardening.  If your gardening goal is to fill your pantry with an array of homegrown food, then starting plants from seed can help you achieve that goal. Starting seeds indoors under controlled conditions, with no aggravation from weeds or weather, allows you to get a prompt start on the season.

When timed properly, warm-season plants (i.e., tomatoes, squash, peppers, zinnias, and marigolds) are ready to plant outside in the spring garden by the time of last frost.  For most plants, sow seeds 6 to 8 weeks prior to transplant time. For example, if your average last frost date is April 15, sow tomato seeds inside in late-February/early March. 

Start with good quality seed from a reliable dealer. Quality seed is true to cultivar/variety name, and does not contain contaminants, such as weed seed, insect casings, soil particles, or plant pulp. Make the best plant selection for your growing conditions by researching the many varieties available.

Commercial seed packages include a lot of helpful information. Look for the year the seeds were packed, usually printed or stamped on the envelope (will appear as “sell by” or “grown for”). Look for seeds packed for the current season. Additionally, the packet typically indicates how far apart to space seeds within a row, the depth for sowing the seeds, days to germination, and instructions for thinning seedlings. Seed packages can be retained as part of garden records for future reference.

Select a container, making sure that it is sanitized, will drain, and is deep enough for root growth and development. Fill the container with moistened, sterile, seed-starting mix and firm the surface. Check seed package for planting depth. Make shallow indentations in the media and sow the seed evenly. Lightly water the surface, and place the container in a warm area (not in direct sunlight). As seeds germinate, move seedlings to a well-lit area, such as under fluorescent lights. The cotyledons, or seed leaves will emerge first. When two or three true leaves emerge, transplant seedlings into flats or small pots filled with moist potting soil. Keep soil evenly moist. Allow plants to grow several more sets of true leaves. Keep lights 2 to 3 inches above seedlings, adjusting as necessary.

When plants have reached desired size, prepare them for planting in the garden by “hardening off.” One way to prepare plants is to move them outside to a shady location, gradually increasing the amount of sunlight over a period of several days. Repeat daily, extending the length of time that plants remain outside by an hour, until the plants have acclimated to the brighter, drier outdoor conditions. The idea is to slow growth and thicken plant cell walls. Start this process one to two weeks prior to planting seedlings in the garden. Take care to transition plants gradually as extreme changes can slow growth to the point of plant death.

Starting seeds for transplant indoors can be a great way to get a jump on the spring gardening season.  Seeds are often much cheaper than purchasing ready to plant transplants and more varieties are available.  If you are interested in more information, contact me at 706-795-2281 or

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