Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Feb 5
5 min read
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Hands holding mountain valley seed packets
Chelsea Hafer Written By Chelsea Hafer

Embarking on the journey of starting your own seeds is an exciting step toward cultivating a flourishing garden. While the prospect may seem daunting for new gardeners, the joy that comes with watching seeds transform into vibrant plants is unparalleled. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the wisdom of seasoned growers, offering valuable insights and advice to ensure your seed-starting experience is both successful and enjoyable.

10 Do's and Don'ts of Seed Starting

1. Do Tamp Down the Soil for Root Growth and Easy Transplantation

Begin your seed-starting journey with a crucial step—compact the soil in your containers or cell packs. The soil shouldn’t be brick-solid but packed down enough that the containers are completely filled. This not only eliminates potential air pockets that hinder root growth but also simplifies the transplanting process, ensuring your baby plants emerge with a solid chunk of soil attached.

2. Don’t Forget to Hydrate the Seed Starting Mix

Moisture is key when it comes to successful seed starting. Before adding your seeds, take the time to thoroughly moisten the seed starting mix. This simple step prevents the risk of seeds floating away when it comes time to water, especially crucial when dealing with tiny seeds like those of Iceland poppies or snapdragons.

3. Don’t Start Your Seeds Too Early

Timing is everything in the world of seed starting. Resist the urge to start all your seeds simultaneously. Pay close attention to the recommended start dates for different flowers, avoiding the pitfall of premature planting that can result in plants outgrowing their pots.

4. Do Use Bottom Heat for Improved Germination

Give your seeds a warm welcome by utilizing bottom heat. Witness the magic of faster and more robust germination and root development by employing propagation mats. A small investment in these mats can make a significant difference in the early stages of your plant's development.

5. Don’t Seed More Than One Type in a Tray

Achieve uniform germination rates by sowing one type of flower per tray. This not only streamlines your gardening process but also ensures consistent growth, avoiding the challenge of adjusting lights for variable plant heights.

6. Do Remove the Humidity Dome After Germination

As your seeds germinate, provide them with the freedom to breathe by removing the plastic humidity dome in a timely manner. Allowing ample air and light post-germination is vital, preventing potential setbacks that extended dome usage can pose to your seedlings.

7. Do Water Your Plants From the Bottom

Opt for a strategic watering approach by utilizing seed starting sets with drainage holes. Through bottom watering, you not only minimize the risk of water touching the leaves but also prevent issues related to fungus and disease. Directing water to the root level ensures optimal hydration and encourages stronger root growth.

8. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Light

Illuminate the growth journey of your tiny plants with adequate light. Adjust your grow lights to be no more than 3-4 inches above the tops of your plants, steering clear of the common mistake that results in leggy, gangly growth.

9. Do Harden Off Your Plants Before Transplanting

Before transplanting your seedlings into the great outdoors, introduce them gradually to the outside environment. This essential hardening-off process helps your plants acclimate to sunlight, wind, and temperature swings, reducing the risk of transplant shock.

10. Do Enhance Seed Visibility When Planting Tiny Seeds

Delving into the finer details of seed starting, consider employing a simple yet effective trick to enhance the visibility of tiny seeds. Opt for a light or white-colored bowl when picking up and planting seeds. The contrasting background provides a clear canvas against which even the tiniest seeds become easily discernible. To further refine this technique, use a toothpick to pick up individual seeds. The fine tip of the toothpick allows for precise handling, ensuring that seeds are positioned exactly where you intend them to be. This visual enhancement not only facilitates accurate seeding but also transforms the process into a more enjoyable and meticulous task.

Incorporate these detailed and thoughtful tips into your seed-starting adventure, and witness the transformation of tiny seeds into a vibrant and thriving garden. Happy planting!


Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer

Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.

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3 comments

gramma jo

Congratulations on graduation…my daughter got her masters there. Great school. Want to know start dates for Western Virginia for cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and peppers. Thank you and lots of success.


Bernard Denning

Hi, Loved your seed starting yips. One tip I think commercial growers use, is to soak their seeds in hydrogen peroxide (0.2-0.5%). Peroxide modifies the seed shell and promotes faster sprouting(If you do not believe, try soaking bean overnight in 0.5% hydrogen peroxide), and then sprout with and without peroxide at 80F in a moist area (I use basket inside my instant pot, with a little water in the bottom).UCAR has a pdf that suggest sterilizing beans while soaking to kill the bacteria under cracked bean shells, and harbors possibly bad bacteria, before sprouting. All soaking of beans should involve 0.5% hydrogen peroxide water !


Don Hepler

I have been gardening for over 60 years. One thing I have found useful for difficult-to-transplant seedlings such as cucumbers, squash, and even corn and beans, is a soil blocker. I didn’t see any on your website, but I would recommend True Leaf carry them for purchase. It takes a bit of getting used to, but eliminates transplant shock and also removes plastic from the planting system. As far as picking seed, I use a contrasting color paper plate to pick seeds, i.e., I use a white plate for dark seeds, and a colored plate (usually orange or black from after Halloween sales) for white or light-colored seeds.


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