A great way to experience the joys of gardening all year long is to start your own annuals, perennials or vegetables at home. Starting your own plants from seed can be fun for the lone gardener but is also a great activity to share with your children. It is also very easy, rewarding and in the end can save you money on bedding plants and the grocery bill.

First you need to order seeds or buy them locally. Once you have your seeds you'll have to plan out when they need to planted so the resulting plants are ready to plant out in time. The seed packages will have sowing information on them, but be sure to save any catalogues you may have ordered from so you have all the information on the eventual plant as well. It's easy to find yourself kneeling in the garden at the end of May holding a six pack of plants labeled 'Pink Perfection' something or other and not remembering how tall they get. Where am I supposed to put these? In the back or the front?

Most of the sowing information that you need will be on the seed packs. Such as:

  • If it is an annual or perennial.

  • How deep to sow the seed in the soil.

  • The space you should leave between seedlings (thinning information).

  • Plant light exposure or how much sun the plant will need to prosper.

  • Eventual height of plant.

  • When to sow the seed such as "after danger of frost" or "6-8 weeks before last frost date." Rochesterians usually count back from Memorial Day Weekend to determine when to start their seeds as this is traditionally the first planting weekend safe from late frosts.

  • Where to sow such as "direct sow" which means you want to plant the seeds directly outside, or "6 weeks before last frost" meaning you can start them indoors.

  • Days to maturity which is the amount of time it takes a plant to produce.

Supply List for sowing seeds indoors:

  1. Your seeds.

  2. Light source - All-spectrum or Grow-lights. You cannot use regular tungsten or fluorescent lights. They do not provide plants with the right wave length of light that they need to make energy and grow.

  3. Seed starting mix. This is a soilless mix mostly composed of peat moss or coir.

  4. Spray bottle and watering can.. It helps to spritz the top of the soil before the seeds have started and when they have just germinate. It's a bit more gentle on the seedlings and doesn't wash your seeds around. The watering can is so that you can water the seedling from the bottom. That just means putting water into the tray the seedling are in and letting capillary action do the watering for you. The seed mix just soaks it right up from underneath. Eventually as the seedlings get larger and strong you can water with the watering can from the top.

  5. A small fan. It helps to provide a gentle wind for you seedlings. Air circulation reduces the risk of molding and damping off. Damping off is when new seedlings rot at the base. The fan also helps the seedling grow strong stems.

  6. A heat source. Many seeds don't germinate until the soil is at temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit though many come up at 55 degrees. Heat can be delivered to the bottom of the soil with special heating pads meant for starting seeds.

  7. Plastic cell packs or Peat Moss Press Pots. These are usually all the same size with different number of cells inside. One, four, six, nine and even twelve. Usually you start your seeds in single cell pack then transplant small seedlings into packs with numerous cells. (Alternatives for starting and growing on seedling: Yogurt containers, egg cartons, Dixie cups, foam mushroom containers, plastic cherry tomato containers etc. Just be sure to poke a hole in the bottom for drainage.)

  8. Trays. with matching clear tops, often called greenhouses. The clear tops are used until the seedling out grow its height to maintain moisture.

  9. Shredded sphagnum moss. After you plant your seeds this is lightly dusted over the surface of the soil to prevent dampening off. Sphagnum moss is naturally anti-fungal.

  10. Labels!!! Don't forget these or you won't know what is what.

  11. Water proof maker, such as a thin Sharpie.

  12. Bucket. It's nice to dump your seed starting mix out and add a little water. You want it damp and crumbly, like pie crust dough, not sodden. Save some dry to the side though for sprinkling on top of the seeds after sowing. It's easier that way.

  13. Hand Trowel. Handy tool for filling your containers with soil.

  14. Newspaper. Lay some paper down over your work space for easy clean up.

  15. Fertilizer. Eventually when the seeds have become seedling you will need to give them a little love. Organic liquid fertilizers are great for this. Daniels Plant Food is great but so is anything from Neptune's Harvest, such as Neptune's Fish and Seaweed fertilizer. Start fertilizing seedlings when have gotten their second set of true leaves, visually these will be the third. The first set that come up aren't actually leaves. They act like the yolk of an egg and provide stored energy to the seedling until it can photosynthesize. These first 'leaves' are called cotyledons and eventually fall off. Go with half strength fertilizer applications for seedlings.

There are two more things that will be helpful to know about the seeds you are plant which is often not on the seed packs. At what soil temperature they germinate and whether they need light to germinate. Yup, some seeds actually have to be sown on the surface of the soil to germinate because they require light. A great source for a lot this information found in the book From Seed to Bloom by Eileen Powell. This book is a fantastic source of information on germinating annual and perennial seeds. For online information Cornell has a great Home Gardeners site with information on growing a lot of vegetables and annuals.

Now you are ready for the actual sowing. Set your cell packs into your trays. Fill with the moistened seed starting mix and gently pack the mix down. The seed mix should reach to just 1/4 inch shy up of the top of the cell pack. Set your seeds onto the mix, cover with unmoistened seeds mix (IF the seeds don't need light to germinate), sprinkle on a little sphagnum moss, spray down until moist on top with your spray bottle, stick in your labels and cover with the tray top. Put your trays in your heated area or on heat mats under your lights. You can turn on your lights when the seeds have germinated. A bright, bright window will work as well.

Now comes the tending and anticipation part. Check your planting daily to make sure they do not dry out on the surface. Once the seeds germinate there isn't much to do but keep watering and raising the light source as the seedlings get taller. Eventually you can transplant them to larger cell packs or individual pots. It depends on how fast your plants grow and how big they get. As the time approaches to plant them outside you can start to harden off your plants. This just means getting them use to cooler temperature slowly. Set them out on the porch during the day and bring them in if it still gets to cold at night. Then finally your little plants get to go out into the garden! So now when the guests at your 4th of July BBQ compliment you on your beautiful flowers and those juicy tomatoes on your burgers and in the salads you can proudly proclaim "Grew them myself. Thank you." Then bask in the glow of admiration!!!