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Start Seeds Like an Expert: Ultimate Seed Starting and Germination Guide


Planting seeds directly in the ground is a rewarding way to get a jump start on the garden this year. Don’t be overwhelmed by the process – learn all there is to know about how to germinate seeds before transplanting them outdoors.

5 Easy Steps to Starting Seeds Outdoors

In just five easy steps, seeds can be in the ground and on their way to sprouting into a beautiful, lush garden.

  1. Check Your Seeds
  2. The first step to planting seeds is deciding what to plant. Different plant varieties will have varying needs in terms of when and where they will best grow. It is important to predetermine what types of plants you intend on growing. From there, simply research the first and last frost dates in your specific zone and work from there. The back of seed packets has good guidelines on when to plant and what conditions growing plants will tolerate.

  3. Prepare Your Soil
  4. Prepare your planting bed by removing weeds, rocks, roots and other plant debris from last season. Turn soil over with a shovel or spade to aerate it, breaking apart any dirt clods. Add a 3-inch layer of compost on top and work it into the soil several inches down. Finally, smooth the surface with a rake and saturate the soil with a Flexogen Super Duty Hose and a Thumb Control Watering Nozzle. Let the bed rest for at least a day before planting, then use a trowel to make a shallow trench across the bed. You are ready to plant!

  5. Plant Seeds
  6. Following the suggested spacing on seed packets, place seeds in the trench and lightly cover them with soil. Make more trenches as needed to sow the remaining seeds.

  7. Water Your Planting Area
  8. Water the soil and newly planted seeds with a gentle shower using a water nozzle each day, being careful not to displace the seeds. Keep the surface evenly moist until the seeds germinate.

  9. Patiently Wait
  10. The most difficult part of planting seeds is waiting for them to germinate. Be patient – once seedlings start to sprout their second pair of leaves, they are established. Remember to monitor soil moisture and don’t let seeds dry out between watering.

Common Problems when Growing Seeds

Planting seeds is not very difficult, but there are a few common issues that can thwart the success of seedlings turning into established, thriving plants. Be aware of these problems that can put a damper on a future garden.

Poor Sunlight Conditions

If seedlings do not receive enough adequate light once they sprout, plants may end up growing in a “leggy” manner. Foliage can be yellow-green or pale green due to a lack of sunlight that can affect plants’ abilities to produce chlorophyll. If this is the case, most plants will likely eventually die. While too much light isn’t generally a concern for seedlings, too much heat can be problematic for young plants. Be sure to water as directed on seed packets to maintain optimal soil moisture in extreme heat.

What to do: If growing seedlings are getting too hot from too much sun and it becomes a continuous problem, consider moving them or covering them for protection. If they are not getting enough light, an artificial grow light may be needed.

Watering Issues

Watering too little or too much can result in seedlings not maturing or growing well. Too much water can drown the seeds, leading them to rot instead of germinate. Too little water will limit how much moisture they can absorb, meaning they cannot sprout, or roots will be unable to establish.

What to do: Proper drainage is essential so roots don’t drown. Timers can help ensure new plants are receiving the perfect amount of water in the beginning.

Incorrect pH Levels

pH level refers to how acidic soil is, and it will affect enzyme activity in plants. Some plants will completely stop functioning if the level is off balance. Do a simple soil test before planting to assess soil’s pH level. Optimal pH levels for most plants range from 5.5 – 7.0, although many varieties have adapted to levels outside this range. Since different plants thrive in different levels, knowing pH level of soil before planting is important. If the pH level is too high, plants may not be able to absorb nutrients properly. Too low, and plants may release aluminum, stunting the growth, or they can suffer from iron or manganese toxicity.

What to do: Adjust pH levels that are too high by adding organic materials like peat moss, composted leaves or pine needles to bring levels down a bit. pH levels can be brought up by adding limestone or wood ash.

Easy To Grow Flowers From Seeds

Certain flowers are easier to grow from seed. Others are better off sown directly in the ground, versus starting seeds indoors and then transplanting outside once they’ve sprouted. Knowing which plants likely thrive when sown directly outdoors will save time, money and effort!

Sunflowers – While sunflowers can be started indoors, it is easier to sow them directly in the ground where you want them to grow. Be sure to wait until after the last frost. Late spring is ideal and be sure to choose a sunny spot for these whimsical yellow blooms to take root.

Poppies – Bright and colorful poppies are notoriously difficult to transplant. They do best when planted directly in the ground, and they self-sow, making them one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. Plant seeds in full sun in early spring to late summer or fall.

Marigolds – Marigolds are quick and easy to germinate, so there is little to no advantage to even bothering to starting them indoors. Plant seeds in a bright sunny area in the spring after any danger of frost has passed. They will sprout within days and begin to produce tight golden, yellow-orange blooms within 8 weeks or so.

Wallflowers – Plant wallflower seeds directly in the ground in early spring or autumn. Press seeds into soil or lightly cover them. They will germinate easily in 1 – 2 weeks as long as there is plenty of light. Wallflowers will offer bright, big, fragrant clusters of pretty petals to enjoy.

Seed-Starting FAQ

When should seeds be started outside?

The general rule is to wait until all risk of frost has passed in your area. The ground should be free of ice crystals and soil should be easily workable. For most growing regions, seeds are best started in spring (after the last freeze) and in late summer to early fall (at least 12 weeks before the first hard freeze).

How deep should the seed trench be?

Aim for ¼ inch to 1 inch. Refer to seed packet instructions for planting depths specific to each variety.

What types of seeds are best sown directly in the ground?

Root vegetables (such as beets, turnips and radishes), plants with long taproots (like carrots, dandelions and parsley) and plants that are sensitive to transplanting (including peas, beans and squash) are best seeded in the garden where they will grow.

How much water do seedlings need?

In their first few weeks of life, seedlings need more moisture near the surface where their roots are. The first 1 to 2 inches of soil should be consistently damp every day. As their roots become more established, water less frequently throughout the week (but more deeply so that the first 4 inches of soil stays moist) to encourage roots to reach down and firmly establish.

Growing plants from seed is a fun and different way to experience gardening. There is something to be said for watching plants spring to life from a tiny seed. It is a rewarding way to enjoy your garden.

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