by Terese at generousgardeners.com


  1. Prepare a list of plant seeds you would like to grow and order early.
  2. Know your last frost date. If not, call your local agricultural extension office, horticultural society or any good gardening center.
  3. Know your plant hardiness.
  4. Frost tender plants will die if planted outside too early and the temperature goes below 32.
  5. Hardy plants can survive cool outside temperatures in the 30‘s.
  6. Make a list of planting dates on a calendar.

Frost tender plants:

  • Seeds to be started indoors and transferred outdoors after last frost.

Start by counting backward on a calendar the number of weeks needed to grow seed indoors, so they can be planted safely outdoors after the last frost date. For example tomato seeds can get a jump start growing indoors for 8 weeks before being planted outside after the last frost date. If your last frost date is May 15th count back 8 weeks to March 20th and that will be the day you plant your seed indoors.

  • Seeds to be directly sown in the garden

Some seed needs to be planted directly in the ground after the last frost date. Ex. Corn should be planted two weeks after the last frost date.

Hardy plants:

  • Seeds planted directly outside before the last frost date. 

Some seeds can be planted directly outside before the last frost date. For example lettuce seed can be planted in the ground two weeks before the last frost date.

Read all seed packet sowing directions.

  • Scarification

Some seeds may need to be scarified which simply means the seeds need to be scratched or nicked before planting.

  • Stratification

Some seeds need stratification which is basically an artificial replacement for winter.  Simply put seeds in a barely moist sterile medium and in a sealed plastic bag. Place in the crisper section of a refrigerator or a freezer for a specified length of time depending on the seed’s particular needs.

  • Light needs

Some seeds need light while others don’t require any light to germinate.


Gather all the necessary seed starting materials.

  • Cleaned and sterilized seed trays with drainage and a clear bag or cover that doesn’t touch seedlings.
  • Pre-moisten (evenly moist not saturated) sterile soil-less seed starting mix.
  • Provide a warm spot or use a heat mat.
  • Labels and marker to identify seeds.
  • Seed packets with complete directions.
  • Sandpaper or pin if scarification is needed.
  • Your calendar for accurate timing.
  • A garden journal with previous years of notes can be your best resource.


  1. Fill clean seed trays or containers with the pre-moistened soil-less mix and tap the bottom of the tray on a hard surface to get it to settle.
  2. Drag a small line or make little holes where seeds are to be planted. Seeds should not be planted deeper than two times their diameter and need some growing room so don’t overcrowd them.
  3. Cover lightly with soil-less mix, gently press down and mist with water.
  4. Mark each row of seeds with an identifying label.
  5. Cover the tray or container with a clear cover and provide warmth and light. Never let plastic cover touch the seedlings. It should be positioned above the tray.
  6. Use a seed heating mat or a warm refrigerator top. Put in a window with indirect light or use grow or florescent lights 6” above seedlings for up to 16 hours a day. See each seeds specific requirements. Generally keep at 75 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night until germination occurs.
  7. Once the seedlings emerge remove the cover, increase light exposure and reduce temperatures. Move seedlings to a bright sunny south facing window and reduce temperatures to 70 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night.
  8. Keep well ventilated. The gentle breeze from an air fan will help increase air circulation and prevent diseases.
  9. Use room temperature water and keep soil evenly moist at all times. Water from the bottom or gently mist.
  10. When the second set or true leaves appear (third and fourth leaves) transplant to larger individual containers. Gently separate seedlings. Only touch the leaves and not the stem or roots. New transplants need to be kept shaded or in indirect light for a few days until acclimated. No heat source needed. Rotate trays frequently so seedlings don’t reach for the sun
  11. Start feeding a diluted liquid food when the third and fourth leaves appear.


After the last frost date has gone by, take the time (two weeks) to move the seedlings from indoors to a protected location outdoors. Increase the amount of exposure each day until they build up the tolerance to transition outside and stay overnight in their permanent spot.

Plant in an amended and prepared planting bed at the same level they were previously planted.

Keep well watered until established. 


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