Starting Seeds Indoors

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48 Responses

  1. Jerry Alexander says:

    I would like to see a Garden Plan for Tom`s,Squash,Sweet Peppers,,and Cukes.I have seen a few,but! the Tall plants are blocking the Short Plants.I don`t understand the reasoning behind that sort of set up.
    I will also plant shorter plants,eg,(Spinach,Basil,Chives,and other relitivly short plants.
    Thank You

  2. Jerry Alexander says:

    This starter mix has worked well for me every season.

    4 parts screened compost
    1 part perlite
    1 part vermiculite
    2 parts sphagnum peat moss and/or coir

  3. Emily says:

    Pendant lights won’t work well–you need full spectrum light bulbs just 1″ away from the growing plants.

  4. Amy says:

    Hi, I am a newbie but am going to try starting a few seeds indoors. As far as grow lights, are these special bulbs I need to get? I have 3 regular sized pendant lights that hang down close to the bar in the kitchen, so I was going to place my seeds on the bar under those. They have compact fluorescent light bulbs in them, the same as I use in the other light fixtures in the house. Do the seeds just need to be very near a light source or are these special growing/heat lights they need?

  5. ~toni says:

    Thank you Emily, The pieces are large wood. I did take a second look at the package and it is Miracle grow potting mix – not potting soil. I think there in lies the trouble? Next time while in town I’ll look at other packages of Miracle grow potting ??? and see what they say.

  6. Emily says:

    That surprises me, I’ve always had good luck with Miracle Grow. Does it break up when you wet it and chop it? Or is it large chunks of wood or bark? I don’t buy the cheap stuff, but the sterilized kind. I think it might be $1.50 more, but it’s always been great for me.

  7. ~toni says:

    Emily, the miracle grow potting soil I purchased has large chunks of organic matter in it – to large for potting. Is there different types of their potting soil? I have not seen anything on the packaging that would indicate a difference.

  8. Emily says:

    The way the schedule works is a little complicated. Let’s take broccoli. It needs so many days to grow from seed to harvest. In most areas, if you planted seeds outside there is not enough time between when it gets warm enough, and when it gets too warm. So, by starting seeds inside you grow during the “too cold” times and put it outside once the temps are reasonable for it to grow.

    The trouble is, when transplanting there is a window of time that plants do best. That should not be too big, or too small. If they are too small, they will perpetually be behind schedule and may not produce their harvest before the temperatures get hot. If they are too big, the transplanting shocks them and they don’t produce a harvest at all, or it is stunted.

    If the vegetables have fallen off the “start inside” list, it means you won’t be able to grow them big enough, or hit the transplant window at the right time.

    That said, you can try. If you’re looking at cool-weather veggies like broccoli and cabbage, I would really suggest buying them as plants. On the other hand, if you’re looking at tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc, it’s definitely worth a shot. They might be a little “behind”, but in nice warm temps out in the garden they can catch up pretty quickly. The weather won’t get too hot for them, so it just means your harvest might be a bit delayed.

    My rule of thumb–if I’m off by a week or two, I would try. If it’s more than that, just buy plants.

  9. Traci Adamson says:

    Hi Emily,
    If I am behind on planting my seeds inside, can I still plant them inside or is it too late?


  10. Emily says:

    Patty–It is good for plants to get a little wind, a small fan will do. This makes them grow more sturdy. My concern about putting them over the heating duct is that they will get dried out really quickly. The 68-73 range is perfect, they don’t need to be warmer than that.

  11. Patty D says:


    I bought my self a mini indoor greenhouse shelf that zips up with a plastic cover. My husband installed fluorescent lights on every shelf for me so each row gives light to the plants below. Now once its zipped up it gets nice and warm with all the heat trapped in but my question is, what is the ideal temp that they should have with the light on then once the light goes off it cools of a bit is that still OK. The whole unit is in my kitchen which is usually nice and warm between 68F-73F. Also if it gets too cool is it OK to put the unit right above a heating duct or is that too much? Thanks.

  12. Emily says:

    Barb–you can try, but my experience and reports from others generally indicate that without grow lights the plants will be tall and leggy. Often you’re just fine planting many veggies from seed, and the ones you must transplant can be purchased. For example, I am growing broccoli this year–4 plants–and a packet of seeds costs $1.00 to $1.50. The 4-pack I bought to transplant cost $1.25. So unless you start seeds year after year, if you grow just a few plants like I am it can cost the same to purchase transplants.

  13. Barb says:

    We just bought seeds today so are running a bit late for starting indoors. However, it’s been a cold spring so far here in Michigan so I’m wondering if we’ll be successful starting them indoors now – in our 4-season room – without any special lighting over them, and then moving them outdoors when the time is right. Or, should we just hold them and plant directly outside when we’ve past the frost date. Any insights?


  14. Emily says:

    I almost posted a video about this, but I thought it seemed silly. I’m glad it’s not! If you look at my plants shown in the video, it takes me up to a gallon to water it all. So two pitchers full.

  15. Amanda Taylor says:

    I am so excited to finally plan my first garden this year! I had a question about your starts though (even though I’ll probably buy starts this year as you suggested since I’m a newbie)… When you water your starts from the bottom, do you fill the bottom of the tub with a certain heighth of water so each pot can suck up the water? And if so, about how much water (how high) do you put in when you water them? Then I think I read that you water again when you put your finger in the soil and its dry…that right? Thanks again for this great site!!!

  16. Emily says:

    White mold–do you keep a small fan on your seedlings to make them grow sturdier and prevent mold? That is my suggestion. To get rid of it you might try exposing them to direct sunlight in a window (they’d probably die if you put them outside). Yes, “leggy” means long and stringy. If your seedlings are like that they may not survive once you put them outside. The best transplants (for tomatoes, etc.) are short and stocky.

  17. Ashleigh says:

    Hi Emily!

    This is mine and my husbands first year gardening, and we have found your website so helpful!

    I have a few questions: First, (I know you said not to, but I guess we’re adventurous =D) we started all of our own seeds…some in peat pots and some in starter trays. The ones in the peat pots are getting white mold on them–what should I do?! Second, you say “leggy”…what exactly do you mean? All of our plants are very tall and thin, but seem to be very healthy.

    I would love to hear from you!

  18. Emily says:

    Sonya–It’s not that you need to be an expert to start seeds, I just don’t suggest it for your first year or two (maybe three). I think new gardeners should have early success, and starting seeds indoors can prove to be a huge failure.

    To answer your questions–I would throw all those plants away. If you don’t have a grow light they are “leggy” (tall and thin) and won’t likely give you healthy plants at all. As to whether it’s time to start seeds indoors, if you sign up for my newsletter you will receive updates about what to plant each week. If you want to see it all at once, you can get my e-book. If you can tell me your color group I might have a general idea of what is too late to plant. But I’m not sure what group Portland is in.

  19. sonya says:

    Hi Emily,
    I am very excited to follow your advices and plant seeds indoors. Its the end of March, I live in Portland, OR; is it too late to start? And then, I was reading in the top of your page, you recommend just buying the plants if you are a beginner? I felt so bad! I guess I will never learn then!
    And a last question. My husband planted many seeds, lettuce, broccoli, etc, but they are moldy, they dont have a grow light and the soil is reduce in the pot, do i discard them all? Or just the ones that have mold? they look very tall and so thin. I dont know what to do. Im sorry to be asking so many questions, and appreciate immensely your guidance.
    Hugs, Sonya

  20. Emily says:

    Jenny–You start more than one to ensure you get at least one healthy plant. But you reduce to one because otherwise they are competing for space and resources. So start 2-3, if all 3 sprout then keep the shortest one. If they’re the same, do eenie meenie miney mo. 🙂

  21. Jenny Thompson says:

    OK, I have read, in a few places, to plant 2-3 seeds, then only keep one per in each Jiffy pellet. Why? Why plant 3 for each one that you want? If they all look the same which one do you keep? If they are all similar why not keep them all? Oh, and on a different level, what are “the first true leaves?”

  22. Emily says:

    Did you try looking at Home Depot or Lowe’s for a 4 foot florescent lamp? If the bulb is not florescent, I don’t think it will work because it will be too hot to keep as close to the plants as you need (1-2″ above). If it is florescent, it might work.

  23. micandme says:

    Ok, all I could find at Walmart (and in my budget) was an under counter light that is 75 watts. It’s one bulb only. Can I use this? At this point, I kind of have to go with “something has to be better than nothing”, but being 75 watts, should I keep them farther away from the light or will they be ok?

    Thanks for the help!

  24. Emily says:

    Jenny–You are welcome to try it, but no matter how much sunlight you have, I think your plants will get leggy. This is because the plants need a certain intensity of light, and the angle of winter light does not provide this. If you are growing tomatoes, leggy transplants are not such a problem because you can bury them deeper or sideways–the stem will develop roots wherever it is buried. But my experience with broccoli and cabbage is that there’s no way to fix or compensate for leggy plants. You might try something like this grow light and stand.

  25. Jenny Thompson says:

    I have a very, very small house and can only use the dining room table to start my seeds. I cannot hang lights there. Is there any other alternative for heat lights? If the seedlings are tall and “leggy” is there any way to still save them? The table is in a corner there are huge, floor to ceiling windows on both the south and west walls.

  26. Emily says:

    You can try it, but my experience is that the plants grow tall and “leggy” unless you use grow lights.

  27. Sandra says:

    Are grow lights required? I have a southern facing sun room with glass on all but the North side- where it connects with the house- would that be enough.

  28. Jenny says:

    Excellent video, Emily! You covered everything. I do my seeds just as you do, except I haven’t planted them in larger pots, requiring that they be transplanted which is a big pain and I always start too many plants with the little seed starter kits. I’m going to try the larger pots this year. Thanks for your site!

  29. Shannon says:

    I just LOVE your site! And after reading the above and watching your video…well, NOW I know why I had issues starting seeds last season…that won’t happen this time. :0)
    I am very excited about this upcoming growing season…
    Thank you again so much for such a wonderful site!

  30. Emily says:

    Melissa, I know this is annoying, but however often they need it. 🙂 My rule of thumb–in plastic pots, if I can stick my finger in the soil and it’s dry up to my first knuckle, time to water. With peat pots, when they start getting dry, they change to a lighter color. When putting them outside, be sure to start them in the shade, and only for an hour or two. Be vigilant about watering, because they will dry out a lot quicker when they are outside, especially in peat pots. So for transitioning them outside, better a little wet than too dry. For inside the opposite is true.

  31. Melissa says:

    How often do you water the plants that you have started indoors, and what do you mean by watering them from the bottom? Once you start hardening them off, then how often do you water them. I started putting my broccoli outside and within a day they were droopy and some died, they seemed too dry, but I also don’t want to over water them. (I’m in Lehi) They are in Jiffy pots.

  32. Emily says:

    Emilee–yes, for where you live now is the time to start hardening off those plants. However, watch the weather carefully. It’s still snowing every week, so even though I’m in the green group I’m giving things a couple of weeks extra. I hate to lose all my hard work by putting things out and having them freeze!

  33. Emilee says:

    I used the starter stuff, I forget the name, that is sterill. I did pay at least $1 per packet. My tomatoe seeds are heirloom ones that I saved from my crop last year. I did put a little miricle grow on them today. We’ll see if that helps. I also am putting my lettuce, spinach and broccoli outside to start hardening them off. Is that about right? Also, when would you suggest thinning them out? Right now I have two plants per pot. I know you said taller isn’t better, but what about those that have their second leaves vrs. those that don’t but are shorter. Sorry I am asking so many questions. Thanks for all your help!

  34. Emily says:

    What soil did you use? I would try adding some fertilizer. I water mine when I stick my finger in and it’s dry down to my first knuckle. Did you buy quality seeds? By this I mean, at least Burpee or better? $1 per packet, at least.

  35. Emilee says:

    Thanks! I do have one warm and one cool light and only leave them on durning the day. My light is also about 1″ above just like you suggested. Any ideas why they could look so yellow? I try to keep the soil moist and water only evry couple days. Am I giving them too much water? How long does it take for them to get their second leaves?

  36. Emily says:

    Yes, they are just florescent bulbs. But I did purchase one “warm” bulb and one “cool” bulb so I would have the full spectrum of light. Also, I keep the lights no more than 1″ above the plants, and leave them on 16 hours per day. You do need to turn them off–they need a break.

  37. Emilee says:


    Are your grow lights special or are they just floresent ones? I have started all my little plants and they just have their starter leaves on them and they don’t have a great green color to them. They haven’t seemed to be growing as well lately. I hate to have wasted all the time and money just to have to go by starts, any suggestions?

  38. Emily says:

    Part of the chain came with it, really tiny pieces! I actually used the leftover chain from my chandeliers. I had to open up links with my pliers, but it works. Sort of the ultimate in recycling!

  39. Tara says:

    I love your site Emily!
    I have a question though – what kind of chain did you use to hang your fluorescents? I couldn’t find a chain like that at Home Depot.
    Thanks again!

  40. Emily says:

    I totally need to try this!

  41. Kim says:


    I did the jiffy pots until I found a “paper pot maker”. My kids and I use newspaper to make these pots and label them with a sharpie.
    Just did a quick search of “paper pot makers” -there are many options!

    Happy gardening to you!

  42. Emily says:

    If you choose to use your garage you might use a heating mat. It’s like a heating pad for plants. Put it underneath to keep things a good temp. Don’t we all dream of a greenhouse!

  43. Nicol says:

    Love the video! I really needed this. I do have a question for you, my basement is finished and my husband will not let me grow plants down there. I was thinking I could do it in the garage. It’s a standard attached garage. Would it be too cold for them there or with a heat lamp I should be fine? In the future I really want to build a greenhouse so I could do it outside. Thanks!!

  44. Emily says:

    Have you been growing them under lights? Honestly, I might start over. Or just grow them and see how they do. If they are too weak, buy transplants at the store. If you have them under lights, keep the light as close as possible to them, leave them on 16 hours a day, and use a fan to provide a little wind.

  45. Rachel says:

    Lovely job 🙂 All I need is a space to set up grow-lights!!

  46. LeeAnn says:

    I have a question. I started my broccoli about two weeks ago. Well you know how you said taller is not better, what do you do if you only have tall plants? What does that mean? I have all theses dainty little broccoli growing, some close to three inches tall, but they only have their first two leaves still and they are as thin as toothpicks. Thinner maybe! What should I do?

  47. Whitney says:

    Hi Emily–

    I can’t figure out how to email you directly, so hopefully you’ll read this comment…

    I was hoping I could share my planting plan for this year and get your advice. I also have photos of the wooden garden boxes we made if you’d like to do a post with those just to show another example.

    Shoot me an email if that’s something you’d be up for!


  48. michelle says:

    THANK YOU! I love getting insights into how you get such wonderful plants. I can see somethings I can do better. I also have my plants growing in the basement and I think I need to get a heat lamp for them. The fan is a good idea too. I love how it will mimic a slight breeze, making the young plants stronger and ready for outdoor growth.

    I love!love!love! seeing the whole process, starting at seeds and ending with tasty vegetables.

    Great video, thanks!