Gardening can be expensive when you buy all your plants from a nursery. Fortunately, you can start most vegetables and ornamental plants from seeds meaning you can populate your garden at a lower cost.
Besides saving on the cost of buying transplants, there is a great feeling that comes with raising your plants from seeds, seeing them germinate, and caring for them to maturity.
So, in this guide, we shall see everything about how to plant seeds indoors and outdoors.
For example, we shall look at the best seeds for your garden, the best planting methods, how to water and fertilize your plants, and how to save seeds for the next growing season.
Table of Contents
Types of Seeds
There is a strong relationship between the quality of seeds you sow and the harvest. Therefore, ensure you get your seeds from a reliable vendor or an experienced seed saver.
When buying your seeds from an established company, you can also get important information relating to the seeds, for example, disease & pest resistance and production guidelines.
Also, check the details on the seed packet; these will help you choose the right seeds or help you understand how and when to grow the seeds.
Let’s now see the three types of seeds sold in the market today:
Agricultural experts create hybrid seeds from specific plants. These parent plants have the necessary characteristics which they pass to their seeds.
Additionally, hybrid seeds are value-added. Seed companies invest time and money to research and develop plants that are resistant to pests & diseases, climate adaptive, nutritious, and that produce a great harvest.
When the hybrid plants mature, their seeds are saved and sold to farmers.
But after you plant the hybrid seeds, you can’t save seeds after the harvest. This is because the second-generation hybrid plants will be different from the first-generation plants.
These are seeds created by male and female plants through wind or insect pollination. Heirloom types are good examples of open-pollinated seeds.
Here is how you attract insect pollinators in your garden:
Table 1: How to attract pollinators
Include pollinator-friendly plants in your garden
Such plants include cherry, willow, plum, shrubs, and trees like dogwood.
Include plants with different shapes of flowers, scents, and colors.
Reduce or eliminate pesticide use
Pesticides can discourage pollinators. Instead, you can include plants that will attract pollinators and – these pollinators will also help with pest control
Keep some damaged plants
These will form homes for pollinators
Provide pollinators with clean water
Fill shallow bowls with water, then partially submerge a few stones. These stones will be the stepping places for pollinators and keep small pollinators from drowning.
Unlike hybrid seeds, you can save open-pollinated seeds; this helps save rare types, promote biodiversity, and make your garden produce interesting.
However, you will need to remember that open pollination can result in seeds with mixed genes. For example, planting different bean types in the same location will result in seeds that have combined characteristics of the different bean types.
Another downside you will need to note here is that open-pollinated seeds are not resistant to pests and diseases like hybrid seeds. But, “you can include herbs like marigolds in your garden to keep pests away” – Kadie D, Seasoned Gardener.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
GMOs are products or seeds created by adding or rearranging specific genetic material using technology. However, GMOs are hardly marketed or available for home gardens.
In the US, only two types of these seeds (squash and sweet corn) are available in grocery stores, though still not marketed to home garden owners.
Sweet corn is created to resist a biological insecticide called Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), while some types of squash are created to resist the mosaic virus.
Best Garden Seeds
How often do you gaze at seed catalogs imagining how the plants will look great in your garden? But the truth is that not every type of seed will thrive in your location.
With that in mind, go for seeds tested and approved for growing in your location.
Additionally, check out for vegetables resistant to pests and diseases and those tolerant to adverse weather conditions. Such kinds of vegetables will be easier to grow successfully.
So, check out the seeds recommended for your location. Also, check recommended new seed entrants to make your garden more attractive.
Most seeds sold today are treated with chemicals to protect them from injuries or decay that insects or diseases can cause. You can easily tell if your seeds are treated since they are usually colored with a dye.
One more critical thing to note here is that these chemicals are dangerous. Therefore, you will need to handle your treated seeds with care.
Also, treated seeds should never be eaten, so keep them away from minors.
Most open-pollinated seeds or saved seeds from commercial sources are untreated. So, if you notice some mold on such grains, you can treat them with solutions like bleach, hot water, or vinegar.
A bleach solution contains:
- 1 part of bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite)
- 4 parts of water
- A few drops of dish soap
After creating the bleach solution, immerse your seeds fully in the solution, allow them to rest for one minute, then strain and rinse with cool water for five minutes. You can plant these seeds immediately or dry them to plant later.
For the hot water treatment:
- Heat water to 100°F and soak the seeks for about ten minutes
- Strain the seeds, then transfer them to another water heated to 122°F and allow the seeds to rest there for about 25 minutes
- Strain the seeds and rinse them with cool water
- Plant the seeds immediately or dry them to plant them later
Additionally, hot water treatment is more effective at removing infection than bleach treatment, and you can use it with many types of seeds. However, you will need to check the hot-water treatment needs for each species before using this method.
Also, keep in mind that storing seeds after treatment can lead to new contaminations, and these treatments can cause old or weak seeds not to germinate.
Inoculated seeds are seeds that have been coated with microbial coatings. These coatings help improve soil health, germination, and plant growth.
Often, these coatings are used on legumes, beans, and peas to help increase the nitrogen-fixing activities of these crops.
Additionally, the seeds leave their microbial coatings in the soil, thus benefiting the next crops you will plant.
Besides getting inoculated seeds, you can inoculate the soil too. But how do you inoculate soil? It’s simple; add organic matter to it to improve seed performance.
How to Start Seeds Indoors
Now that we have seen the different types of seeds that you can choose from, the next step will be to plant your selected seeds.
So, hereunder we will look at the steps of starting seeds indoors till the time of transferring them to the outdoor garden.
Get the timing right
Your aim here will be to have the seedlings ready when the weather outside is conducive.
So, start by looking at the seeds’ packet; there should be information directing you on when to start seeds indoors.
Another thing to note is that not all seeds should be started indoors. Seeds like beans, squash, poppies, etc. are better off started outside
Get the right growing medium
You can start your seeds in different tins, e.g., yogurt cups, paper cups, cartons, or even a seedling tray specifically sold for seed starting.
But, whichever vessels you choose, ensure they are 2 to 3 inches deep and have some drainage holes.
Prepare the potting soil
Turn your back on that temptation to use your garden soil to start your seeds. Also, refuse to reuse potting mix from other house plants.
Instead, go for potting soil meant for starting seeds; this soil is fresh and sterile to ensure your seedlings are healthy and disease-free.
Remember to add a little water to the seed starting mix and combine the water with the soil to moisten it. Then add the soil firmly to your potting containers.
Plant the seeds
Check the instructions on the seed packet to see how deep you should sow the seeds.
As a general rule, for the small seeds, you can sprinkle them on the garden floor, while for the larger seeds, you can bury them in the soil.
You can then cover your vessels with plastic wrap and remove the cover when the seeds begin germinating.
Water and feed
As your seedlings grow, water them with a mister or a small watering bottle. Remember, you only need to keep the soil moist and not too wet.
Also, you can set a fan near the plants to ensure good airflow for your seedlings and prevent diseases.
Additionally, apply liquid fertilizer often to your plants, following the instructions on the seed packet.
Positioning for light
Seedlings thrive in light. So, if you are growing the seedlings on a window, move them to a window facing the south. Then rotate the plants often for even exposure.
If growing plants under light, ensure the light is a few inches above the seedlings. You can keep the plants under the light for 15 hours a day and then allow them to rest in darkness – darkness is important for plants too.
Move seedlings outdoors gradually
Introduce your seedlings to outdoor life slowly through a process called hardening off.
So, one week before transplanting the seedlings to your garden, start by placing the tray with the plants outside in a protected location (partly shaded and without wind). And take the plants indoors at night.
Next, you can slowly introduce the plants to more sun and wind for a week.
How to Start Seeds Outdoors
Here are some tips to guide you when starting your seeds outdoors:
Fertilizing the garden
Placing your seeds directly on the fertilizer can burn them.
So, the best practice will be to spread your store-bought fertilizer or seed compost on the soil and then mix it with the soil. Next, you can broadcast your seeds or dig the planting furrows.
How to Sow a Seed
If you plant your seeds too shallow, rodents can feast on them, or even the rainwater can sweep them away. On the other hand, when you sow your seeds too deep, they may never find their way to the soil surface.
Here is the recommended depth for sowing seeds:
- Small seeds, e.g., carrots – burry them to a soil depth of ¼ inches
- Medium seeds, e.g., cucumber – burry them to a soil depth of ¾ inches
- Large seeds, e.g., corn and beans – burry them to a soil depth of 1 to 1.5 inches
Broadcasting and planting in furrows
For the small seeds, you can broadcast them in a particular location in your garden and then cover them with a thin layer of soil.
The multiple seeds spread closely will help quickly break the soil surface. However, you will need to thin the seedlings later to prevent overcrowding.
For the larger seeds, you can create furrows and sow your seeds. These seeds need to be planted further apart since they need no help breaking the soil surface. And, remember to cover them with soil.
Planting in straight rows
You can use different designs in planting your seeds to make your garden more interesting or for different garden needs. These designs include straight rows, staggered rows, triangles, or hexagons.
However, straight rows are easier to cultivate. The following diagrams show how you can use strings to make good rows.
Other row patterns can allow you to plant other plant types along with your main plants. For example, you can grow corn in an outer triangle, beans in an inner triangle, and squash in the middle.
In the above example, the squash vines will cover the soil to prevent erosion and moisture loss, corn plants will support beans, and beans will improve the soil quality.
Watering your seeds
Water the topsoil where you just sowed your seed to keep the soil moist and not soggy.
After the seeds germinate and the roots are a bit firm, water the plants daily or twice a day. Allow the soil to dry a little bit between the watering.
In addition, the time you water your plants speaks volumes too. On that note, the best time to water your plants is early morning.
Watering them at night means the plants will stay wet the whole night, increasing the risk of moist-conducive diseases.
Why Seeds Die
Seeds may die in the soil due to either of the following reasons:
- When the seeds are weak; seed germination largely depends on the strength of the seed
- Absence of right conditions for sprouting, for example, lack of aeration, moisture, the right temperature, light, or proper sowing depth
- Decays, rots, birds, insects, and other animals destroying the seeds
- Planting seeds directly on fertilizer
- Seed deformities like hard seed coat
- Some plants may have hormones that may cause other seeds not to sprout. For example, lettuce can be affected by celery roots.
How to Save Seeds
Most gardeners buy their seeds annually. However, you can save some seeds from some rare species.
So, ensure you carefully select the seeds you want to save, harvest them at the right time and store them in the right environments.
Here are additional tips to help you when saving seeds:
- Store your seeds in a cool, dry place, and where possible, store them indoors
- Also, you can put your seeds in a tightly sealed jar and refrigerate them between 32°F to 50°F. But ensure that the seeds are dry (internal moisture being between 5% to 10%) before storing them in the freezer.
- Seeds can last upto ten years if stored properly
- When harvesting seeds from vegetables or fruits, ensure they ripen properly first before picking them. Then, dry them properly.
- When harvesting wet seeds, e.g., tomato seeds, clean and rinse the seeds, then dry them thoroughly before storing
- Add a little desiccant (powdered milk or silica) to your seed-storing bottles to keep the seeds dry.
- Remember to pick seeds from plants with the most desired characteristics, e.g., seeds from the tastiest fruits, grains from plants that are highly resistant to diseases, etc.
- Label your seeds with their names and date of harvest
- Use your seeds within one year since, at times, older seeds have issues with germination and physical health
Here are the different lifespans of various seeds:
Table 2: Lifespans for most common garden seeds
Source: Google Scholar
Before You Go
With the above steps and tips on how to plant seeds, I know you are now adequately equipped to start your seeds.
But what next after your plants germinate? Fertilizing your plants comes next. Often you don’t need additional fertilizer in your mix when starting your seeds; rather, you apply fertilizer when the plants develop their first true leaves.
Here is an article I have written on the right way of fertilizing your pants or garden and the proper fertilizer to use: Fertilizing the Garden: When and How to Fertilize your Garden Plants