How to Grow a Garden from Seed

If you’re a gardening enthusiast, you might have started your new plant obsession by purchasing seedlings directly from a nursery or home improvement center.

While that can be a great way to “dip your toes” into gardening to get started, you probably noticed—buying seedlings can be very expensive!

Not only can seedlings be expensive, but it can also limit you on what plants you can grow, as you can only purchase seedlings that your local nursery or home improvement center chose to stock. Flip through any seed catalog, though, and you’ll find an amazing variety of plants you never even knew existed. (For example? Glass Gem Corn. #corngoals)

Starting from seed doesn’t have to be complicated or frightening, and with the right tools, your germination rate (that is, “how many of the seeds you planted actually started to grow”) can actually be decently high.

Here’s a brief guide to starting plants from seed!

Step One: Choose your seeds

First, always choose seeds that are organic, as there is some evidence (though not conclusive yet, to be fair) that neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide sprayed on seeds and plants, are causing colony collapse disorder in bee populations around the world.

Order from seed catalogs from reputable organic seed companies like Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Nichols Garden Nursery, Botanical Interests, or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (to name a few).

Step Two: Figure out your growing medium and setup

There are multiple options for growing mediums and setups, some cheaper than others. In general, you need soil, light and moisture to germinate seeds, although this can vary according to a particular plant’s preferences.

Some gardeners choose elaborate systems with grow lights, fancy growing mediums, and timers to water and cast light on the planted seeds. Others use plain potting soil, reused toilet paper cardboard rolls as starter pots, various takeaway and cake containers as greenhouses, and a sunny window.

Many gardeners use Jiffy Peat Pellet Greenhouses with great success, and it can be a good halfway point for gardeners who have never started plants from seed, but want their first experience to have the greatest chance of success.

(And no, The Urban Interface doesn’t receive a kickback for promoting Jiffy! ;)

Step Three: Prepare your growing medium

Regardless if you’ve decided to go with an über-fancy seed starting setup, or a setup using mostly recycled and cheap materials, now's the time to get it ready for your seeds. Keep in mind that if you choose to use the Jiffy peat pellets, certain seeds—like cucumbers, corn and tomatoes—will need bigger peat pellets than other plants, and some seeds, like beets and carrots, (essentially, anything you grow primarily for its root) will prefer to be planted directly into whatever will be its “permanent home.”

Whatever medium you chose, prepare it for your seeds.

Step Four: Read the instructions, and plant your seeds

Every seed has specific instructions for its planting. Does it prefer to be soaked overnight before being planted? Scarified? What about the depth it prefers to be planted, or the spacing between the seeds? Be sure to read the details about how the seed prefers to be planted, to ensure a greater chance of germination and success.

Stick them near a sunny window or under your fancy-pants grow light, and...

Step Five: Wait, then squeal with glee when you see those first few green heads poking up

Each seed will have a different range of time that it will take to emerge, but in general, it’s usually a few days before you begin to notice any real growth.

If you’ve been patient beyond the normal length of time that the seed packet says you should expect, there’s a good chance the seed never germinated. This is sad, but very common, and exactly the reason you should plant multiples of the same type of seed, to ensure you have enough seedlings to plant for your garden.

Step Six: Time to toughen those seedlings up!

After the seedlings have sprouted two or three leaves, and about a week before you plan to plant them in the containers or garden that will be their permanent home, (make sure you're past the point of a possible spring frost!) take them outside and leave them in a shaded area where they can experience wind and some of the elements. They’ve been inside and coddled for their whole lives thus far, and if they were to be immediately transplanted from the cozy conditions they’ve had indoors to the harsh reality of garden life outside, your poor wimpy seedlings will suffer a terrible shock and likely die.

Leave them outside in a shaded place for several hours for the first day, then a few more the second day, and so on for at least 10 days, always bringing them in at night. This process is called “hardening off,” and it’s a necessary step to ensure a successful transition for your baby plants.

Step Seven: Plant them outside, and show them a little love

You’re here! You’re finally planting your cute (and tougher) little seedlings in their permanent homes. They’ve been through a lot, and this is a big new experience for them, so make sure to give them some TLC with some organic fertilizer, some protection with mulch, and a good soak of water.

Congratulations! You’ve experienced the reward of starting your plants from seed, and saved a ton of money in the process. Enjoy exploring the great wide world of seed varieties and different growing techniques!