All About Starting Plants From Seeds

If it’s February, then it means I want to start thinking about my garden. Actually, I could already be planting some things if I used a hoop house and was a little more exhuberant about being outside in the cold and rain. *blush*

Anyway, I’ve heard from a number of you that you are ready for the new season to start, too, and since March is just around the corner (and the return of the Tuesday Garden Party on March 6!) I’m thinkin’ about seeds…are you?

I’ve written quite a bit about seed-starting in the past, so I thought I’d bring them together here for you, plus add a couple of things I’ve found to be helpful.

1. Not sold on starting your plants from seeds? I’ve listed my top four reasons it’s a good idea to start your vegetables from seed. Or at least some of them. I don’t pressure myself to start every last thing from seed – especially when I want only one plant (like tomatillos). But I like having my broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower ready to go out when I’m ready to plant- not just when the stores start carrying them. And you can grow some exotic flowers from seed that you won’t find in the nurseries.

2. Wondering where to buy seeds? If you have a reputable store that sells good quality seeds, you can buy there, but I like to buy from catalogs – and I especially like looking at the catalogs. You get TONS of information about different varieties, growing conditions, and harvesting tips. I shared my favorite catalogs and vegetable varieties they carry last year, and I will be ordering from them again within the next week, I’m sure.

3. If you’re sold on growing some of your plants indoors and you’ve got some seeds, here are the simple steps I take to start seeds indoors – using only basic (i.e., not expensive) equipment. I’ve pictured each step to take any mystery out of it, as well as the equipment you need to have. I use a shop light to grow my plants, as I don’t have any big windows. I find using a light source produces stockier plants as well, but a window does work, too.

4. Worried about follow-up care? I have three posts showing you how to treat your baby seedlings at every stage:

5. Need another reason to start your plants from seed? It makes having a fall vegetable garden easy: you have the varieties and number of plants you want-  all ready when you need to plant!

6. If you’ve started seeds in the past (or just thought you would and never actually planted them- not that I’ve ever done that…uhem) and now have old seed you’re wondering about, the Oregon State University extension site has some good information on how to test seed for germination:

  • Place 10 seeds an even distance apart on a damp paper towel. Roll up the towel and place in a plastic bag.
  • Leave the damp, rolled towel in a warm spot in the kitchen for two to five days. The location’s lighting doesn’t matter.
  • After the two-to-five days, check the paper towel to see which seeds have germinated. 

7. Finally, here are some other tips for starting plants from seed:

And remember you can download my FREE Organic Gardening Checklist (pdf) to help you know when to plant things for each month of the year!






    1. Diana says

      I just planted up my salad table outside last week. The little plant babies are all germinating, tucked under their garden quilt. But I’m thinking I may have to put something on top of that tomorrow, as the temps are supposed to go down to 23 degrees — the coldest it’s been here all winter!

    2. Stoney Acres says

      Thanks for the tips. We have some lettuce started already and we will get all our Cole crops going this weekend. It won’t be long now!!!! :)

    3. says

      I ordered some of your Emerite Pole Beans you recommended and can’t wait to plant them! I have not had good luck starting peppers from seeds and tomatoes are about 50/50. I had to go buy plants last year after all my seedlings died. Then I had to rebuy again when all those plants died too. Ugh! It was a rough season.

    4. TamiDN says

      hmm I have only tried to start seeds a couple times and have used those Jiffy pots so maybe that was my problem and I will try again.

      Can I ask you a question that I should know after several years of gardening ( and quite successful at times ) how do you tell when to water your garden? I know an inch-inch and 1/2 of water a week some say……some say I water every day….when the plants droop……I know I tend to over water and probably need a slower system. At this point I hand water my raised beds with a hose and I know I water to much. SO… do you decide WHEN and HOW MUCH to water?? Thanks :-)

      • Jami @ An Oregon Cottage says

        Well, Tami…I use soaker hoses and raised beds and I’ve had good results from watering once every 5-7 days. I make sure the beds are soaked thoroughly (the amt. of time is different for people depending on the water pressure you have- we are on a well), which for me is about 2-3 hours. If our weather is rainy, it’s less, if it’s hot, I might water after 4 days.

        Hope that helps!

    5. Christine says

      I have a question about watering also. I live in the midwest where it gets hot, 90 and over most days. Last summer I was watering every day and my plants were still dying. Was I over-watering?

      • Jami says

        Very good question, Christine. While I don’t live in a place that gets over 90 every day, we have our hot and dry spells too. It’s hard to believe in those conditions that you can over-water, but you’re right, you can. The best ways I know of to get the consistently moist, deep watering that grow roots that withstand temps like that is to combine soaker hoses (or other root-specific water method), a timer for the faucet, and some type of mulch to help keep the water in longer. When the plants are getting a few hours of deep soaking and the ground is covered with plastic or straw to hold it in, even in extreme heat you shouldn’t have to water more than every 3-5 days (depending on your soaking system). Put your finger in the soil and if it’s moist an inch down – don’t water. Hope this is helpful!

    6. Carol Zelazny says

      You mentioned a “hoop house” in your first paragraph and I was wondering if you have more information about them somewhere on your website? Or if you can recommend a link? Thank you!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>