Starting Seeds Indoors - U of I Extension

News Release

Starting Seeds Indoors

This article was originally published on March 5, 2012 and expired on April 5, 2012. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Are you "itching" to start your vegetable garden? If so, Rhonda Ferree, University of Illinois Extension educator, horticulture, suggests that you jump-start the growing season by starting seedlings indoors.

There are many advantages to starting your seeds indoors in addition to allowing anxious gardeners to "get their fingers dirty." In theory, plants started indoors will be bigger and produce faster than seeds planted directly into the garden. Many of us wait until the cell packs of tomatoes and peppers are available at the retailer. Starting your own seed allows you to raise the varieties you want and not rely on what the retailers have available.

To start your seeds indoors, all you need is a container and tray, potting mix, and labels. The container should have drainage holes and could be anything including egg cartons, cell packs saved from last spring, or special seed starting kits you purchase. The tray or flat will collect excess water coming through the drainage hole.

Now start filling the container. Seeds usually germinate best in a light mix developed especially for starting seed. Germinating mix is readily available at most stores. Fill the containers full and then water thoroughly with a light mist. Most germinating mixes are hard to get wet, so take your time, and keep checking with your finger to be sure the mixture wets thoroughly.

Next, plant the seed and label them carefully. Don't worry about planting too closely, because you will thin them later. Check the seed packet to see whether you should cover the seeds or not. Some seeds need light to germinate and should not be covered. Others should be covered with a light dusting of additional germinating mix. Use a mister to lightly water the covered tops.

Keep the germinating mix moist, but be careful not to overwater. You might want to enclose the whole container in plastic or use a clear plastic cover to help create a more humid, greenhouse-like environment. Once the seeds start to sprout, remove that cover.

Time seedlings so they will be ready to plant outside after the last frost-free date. Here is a seed-starting timetable to help you.

• 6-8 weeks. Pepper, tomato, eggplant, cauliflower, kohlrabi

• 4-6 weeks. Swiss chard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lettuce

• 3-4 weeks. Watermelon, squash, muskmelon, cucumber, gourd

For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting www.extension.illinois.edu. You can also post questions on Rhonda's facebook page at www.facebook.com/ferree.horticulture.

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Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@illinois.edu

Pull date: April 5, 2012