Starting seeds 101: tips for seedling success - gardenstead Skip to content
FRENCHIE GARDENER - Starting Seeds 101

Starting seeds 101: tips for seedling success

Patrick Vernuccio, aka The Frenchie Gardener, is back with another incredibly useful urban gardening video. This time, Patrick walks us through his process for starting seeds indoors, in a virtual seed starting tutorial.

Watch the video to get Patrick’s excellent tips for starting seeds, and get guidance for how to create seed trays from recycled packaging and seed tray labels from discarded plastic package lids.

Whether you’re new to vegetable gardening or an experienced grower, Patrick’s step-by-step process for starting seeds indoors is engaging, charming, and most of all, educational. In the video, Patrick sows tomato, eggplant and sweet pepper seeds. What are you planning to grow this year?

7 tips for seedling success

Whether you’re starting seeds for an urban vegetable container garden, a sprawling backyard garden or somewhere in between, Patrick’s tutorial is a great guide for successful sprouting. We’ve broken down his tips below.

Choose or reuse the right seedling containers

Use plastic containers or seed trays for starting seeds rather than clay. Plastic containers will retain moisture more effectively (clay, on the other hand, loves to soak up moisture). Seed trays are widely available, but you can also make your own from material you’ll likely have close to hand. Take a look in your recycling bin to see what plastic you can use: cookie packaging, pudding/mousse containers and single serve yogurt containers are all useful items to re-purpose into seed starters!.

Good drainage is essential for seedling containers. So, if you decide to reuse plastic packaging to make your own, as Patrick does in the video, follow his example and drill a couple of holes in the bottom of each container.

And lastly, perhaps it’s obvious, but whatever container you decide to use, it’s most helpful to use one that has individual cells for each seed you plant. Trust us, once it comes time to transplant your seedlings, popping each plant out of its little container is much easier (and faster) than untangling it from its neighbour in an open seed tray.

Choose the best soil for starting seeds

The best soil for seed starting is not soil at all, technically. Potting soil may contain field soil, but seed starting mixes are typically a combination of peat moss (or coco coir), perlite, vermiculite and a small amount of fertilizer.

Seed starting mixes have three key attributes:

  • they are low in nutrients
  • they provide high water retention
  • they allow good aeration

Commercial mixes designed for seed starting will give seeds a great start, as their components are sterilized — which reduces the risk of damping-off.

To make your own seed starting mix, you can use a 50:50 ratio of peat moss or coco coir to perlite. If you choose to use coco coir, our favourite soil health expert Aaron Deacon recommends bringing its pH down by wetting it with a small amount of vinegar or lemon water. This will get it into the ideal 6.0 – 7.0 pH range.

Grab a chopstick to prep seed holes

Seed trays filled and ready? Time to start planting seeds? Turns out, the best tool to dig a bunch of small holes for a bunch of tiny seeds is probably lurking in your cutlery drawer. Yep. Grab yourself a chopstick, and use it to poke individual seed holes 1 – 2 cm deep. Check out Patrick’s method in the video, it’s so simple and quick! After you pop your seeds (one seed per hole), cover them lightly with a bit of seedling mix.

Aim for moist (not wet) soil

Seedling soil needs to stay moist in order for seeds to germinate. Use a water sprayer rather than a watering can to mist seedling trays. Never allow the soil to completely dry in the germination process.

Keep seedling trays warm

Seeds need warmth to germinate, so place the seedling trays in a warm room (as Patrick recommends) that maintains a temperature of 20-22˚C (68˚-72˚F). Because seeds don’t need light to germinate, some people like to place their seedling trays on top of the fridge, but you can also get a heat mat designed for starting seeds.

Give seeds light or…not

Do seeds need light to germinate? Some do, most don’t. Some won’t sprout in the light. That is, most seeds will germinate in dark conditions, and even may be inhibited by light. But other seeds do indeed need light to germinate. That being said, all seeds need light once they’ve sprouted. Place sprouted seedlings in a window that gets good light or place them under a grow light.

Give the germination process time

Patience is a virtue in all gardening endeavours, but perhaps most of all as we wait and watch for seeds to germinate. Germination time varies from seed to seed. Many growers mention an average of two weeks before you’ll see brave little sprouts busting through the soil, seeking the light they need to grow.

For those looking for (relatively) immediate germination gratification, turnip seeds sprout after 3-7 days, squash seedlings emerge in 6-12 days, and beets show themselves after 4-6 days. But there are many other seeds that germinate quickly — including many herbs, and flowers, too.

Bonus tip: remember to label your seed trays!

Is that a…tomato seedling? Or is it an eggplant? Hmmm. Pro tip: avoid this kind of conundrum by remembering to label which variety of seed you’ve sown in which container by using seed tray labels.

In the video, Patrick takes us though a great way to reuse materials from plastic packaging to create labels. So grab a container lid, a pair scissors and a permanent marker, and follow along with The Frenchie Gardener to make your own DIY labels.

Share your tips

Do you have a seed starting tip to share? We’d love to hear it. Post your tip in the comments for the video on YouTube — your tip may be the secret for success for another grower in the community!

yellow petaled flower by elias sorey unsplash

hey there

sign up for
our weekly

We promise to only share good stuff about plants and people who love plants.