Jumpstart your garden: Grow seeds indoors

  • Article by: RHONDA HAYES , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2014 - 3:19 PM

Starting seeds indoors is Jack-and-the-Beanstalk fun. These tips help you do it right.

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Start some seeds in flats before the outdoor growing season begins.

Photo: TOM WALLACE • Star Tribune file,

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Do you remember your first time?

I do.

The teacher handed out Dixie cups and dirt, and we planted our one shiny bean. We put the cups on the sunny windowsill by the guinea pig cage and waited until the day when our beans suddenly sprouted.

I don’t remember if Mrs. Pearce taught us about seed coats and cotyledons. It doesn’t matter. She had me at Jack and the Beanstalk.

Since that first bean, I’ve grown thousands of plants from seed. I do it because it gives me a jump on Minnesota’s short growing season, helps me save money on plants and allows for a wider selection of varieties. But it’s a little more complicated than sticking a bean in a Dixie cup.

Here are some tips to ensure your seed-starting success.

Sow what?

When it comes to vegetables, start with the ones you like to eat. Then ask yourself a few more questions.

When I consider a veggie or an herb, I ask myself, “Who grows it better, the grocery store or me?” With flowers, I ask which varieties might be hard to find in the garden centers and which are likely to command too high a price when purchased as plants.

It takes a seed

To get the best results, buy seeds packaged for the current year. You can use seeds leftover from last year, but germination rates tend to decrease with time. Since packets usually contain more seeds than you need, try sharing with your gardening buddies.

After the long slog through a winter like this one, it’s tempting to get an early start. Don’t. Follow packet directions for when to sow. The general rule of thumb is that cool-season veggies and flowers (broccoli, cabbage, snapdragons, petunias) can be started indoors in early to mid-March, while warm-season plants (tomatoes, peppers, basil, nasturtiums) can be started in early to mid-April.

Contain it

If you’re growing just a few plants, recycled yogurt cups or clamshell deli containers will work fine. (Be sure to soak any used containers in a diluted bleach solution to kill any residual pathogens, then rinse thoroughly.)

Seed starting kits with cell flats and trays are best if you plan to plant plenty. Most kits include clear humidity domes, which help create the moist, warm environment needed for good germination. And planting a single seed in each cell can make transplanting easier.

The right stuff

Resist the urge to use whatever potting soil you’ve got hanging around. Go out and buy soilless seed-starting mix. These sterile, lightweight mixes encourage root growth while discouraging dreaded “damping off,” a fungal disease that kills tiny seedlings.

Recently, I’ve been using seed-starting kits that include compressed pellets of coconut coir that expand when water is added. For me, it’s made seed starting faster, easier and more eco-friendly than kits using flats of peat, which is less sustainable.

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