How To Start Your Own Garden

Spring fever stirs garden dreams. As you ponder projects you'll tackle this year in your yard, consider trading garden center transplants for homegrown seedlings. Why start your own seeds?

  1. Seeds guarantee the best selection – Garden centers sell a specific product line. If the plant you want isn't on the roster, you can't get it. Sow your own seeds, and you'll pick from a broad selection of herbs, vegetables and flowers. You can sample flavors and colors you might not otherwise find for sale.
  2. It's easy – Germinating seeds is a snap – they're genetically programmed to sprout. The hard part comes next, though, as seedlings must be coddled after germination.
  3. You'll save money – Price per plant drops dramatically when you grow your own seeds.
  4. Seeds satisfy the itch to garden – Tucking seeds into soil can ease spring fever, especially when you're sowing while snow still swirls outside.
  5. You may reap earlier harvests – If you try some season-extending tricks, you'll be able to tuck seedlings in the ground sooner, which means you'll be feasting while other gardeners are still watching the harvest ripen.
  6. Avoid the crowds – When you grow your own seedlings, you can skip the spring shopping frenzy at local garden centers.


    Seed-Starting Savvy

    When you're sowing seeds, pay careful attention to planting depth. Some seeds need light to germinate; others demand complete darkness. Carefully follow instructions on seed packets. Germination requires toasty soil: 65-75°F. Start seeds in a warm spot or use a specialized heating mat.

    Successfully transitioning from tiny seedling to healthy transplant is the most challenging aspect of starting seeds. Seedlings require pampering. They are ultra-finicky about watering – you can't miss a day or they'll die. If you plan to travel, either find a reliable watering partner or don't start seeds.

    Seedlings demand strong light (stronger than most windows provide in the northern two-thirds of the country), and can easily succumb to disease. As seedlings near their debut in the great outdoors, they have to be hardened off ­­– gradually acclimated to outdoor growing conditions. For step-by-step instructions on hardening off seedlings, click here.

    For first-time seed starters, all the details can quickly overwhelm. The surest way to guarantee success is to start small – raise only a few types of seed. As seedlings grow, so will your experience.

    Perfect Timing

    A common seed starting error is planting too soon. Most seedlings are ready to head outside 4-6 weeks after planting. Plant too early, and you'll wind up needing to hold plants indoors, which can lead to lanky seedlings.

    To calculate the correct sowing date, begin by discovering the last average frost date for your area. Consult with your local cooperative extension service, ask experienced gardeners in your neighborhood or inquire at a local garden center.

    Once you know the last frost date, check the seed packet.

    • It may state, "Start seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost date." If that's the case, count backwards 6-8 weeks from the last frost date and sow your seeds.
    • If the seed packet says, "Seeds germinate in 7-9 days," add 5-7 weeks to that figure for a sum of 6-8 weeks. Count backwards 6-8 weeks from the last frost date and start seeds.