Are you eagerly awaiting the spring season so you can return to the garden and tend to your promising plants? Instead of pining for the warm growing season, embrace winter by starting flowers and vegetable plants from seeds indoors. Not only will this give you something to do during the chilly winter season, but it will also help stimulate growth in your spring garden. By planting seeds indoors during winter, you are giving flower and vegetable seeds a head start to develop durable roots that will adapt much quicker when transplanted into your garden. Get a jumpstart on your outside garden by growing seeds indoors with these helpful tips.


Choosing Seeds
In order to properly start seeds indoors, you will need seeds that will mature before the last frost. Zinnias, Marigolds, Geraniums, Poppies, Daisies and Snapdragons are good varieties to start in late January in areas where the last frost takes place in March or April. Once you've chosen which plants you wish to grow, examine the back of each seed packet to determine how long each plant takes to mature. If there is no information given about a plant's germination, you should start sowing your seeds indoors about four to six weeks before you plan to transplant them outdoors. Choose carefully when you want to start your seeds since plants need a substantial acclimation period before being placed in a permanent outdoor growing site.


Storing Seeds
When purchasing seeds, make sure that you don't buy more seed than you'll need. Since each seed contains a plant embryo that must stay alive until it germinates, fresh seeds have a greater chance to develop into healthy plants. However, if you do buy a large pouch of seeds and don't plan on using them all, you can save them for next year by sealing them. As soon as you're finished planting your indoor seeds, place the spare seeds in an air-tight container. Before you close the container, add a packet of silica gel or a teaspoon of powdered milk wrapped in a dry piece of paper towel (648-6075) to the container to stave off moisture. Then, seal the container and store it in a cool area, like your basement or refrigerator. If your seeds are successfully stored, you can extend your spare seeds' shelf life by an extra two to four years.


Choosing Containers
To begin sowing your seeds indoors, you'll need to choose which type of container you want to house your seeds in. When choosing containers for indoor gardening, make sure that your prospective containers can support fully grown plant life and provide adequate drainage so your seedlings can get off to a great growing start.


Greenhouse Trays
One of the most popular containers used for indoor seed starting is the greenhouse tray. Unlike most gardening containers, greenhouse trays (266-5747,5746) can accommodate several rows of seeds. Consider investing in a shallow greenhouse tray if you're planning on growing some spring vegetables. Since greenhouse trays don't have any partitions, bigger growing seeds like tomatoes and onions have more room to grow before they're transplanted in the garden. A greenhouse tray is also the ideal container if you want to grow and transplant a group of seeds into your garden together. If you situate your chosen seeds nearby one another, their roots will entangle, allowing you to easily transplant those seedlings into your garden.

Cell Flats
If you're planning on growing a large quantity of flowers or small vegetables, cell flats (266-5718, 5719, 5735, 5737) are the best containers for you to use because they keep your seeds organized. Unlike greenhouse trays, cell flats are trays that are divided into several rows of individual compartments so your seeds can germinate independently from one another. Not only does a cell tray eliminate the problem of entangling roots, but it also provides seeds with better growth potential through separation. Since each seed's root system develops within its own cell, you can also transplant individual seedlings into your garden with more ease and less mess. To remove seedlings from a cell tray, simply push the bottom of the cell up and the seedlings, their root balls and the soil will pop out of the tray in one piece.

Fiber-Grow Pots and Pellets
For a more all-natural approach to indoor seed germination, consider starting your seeds indoors with Fiber-Grow pots or pellets. Made from coir, Fiber-Grow pots and pellets allow you to transplant your seedlings into the garden without removing them from their containers and disturbing the roots. Fiber-Grow pots (266-5759, 5756, 5758, 5764) are ideal for seedlings that don't transplant well, like cucumbers and squash. As the pots naturally break down in the soil, they keep the roots intact while nourishing them with extra minerals. Alike Fiber-Grow pots, Fiber-Grow pellets (266-5749, 5750, 5751) also can be directly set in the garden but they are also porous enough to provide seeds with excellent drainage and exceptional air circulation. Fiber-Grow pots and pellets are great seed starting options that will not only maintain your seeds' health but also quicken the germination process.

Picking the Perfect Potting Mix
Even though selecting your seeds and containers are very important steps, the success of your seed starting primarily relies on what type of soil you use. Since seeds grow best in fine-textured mixtures that are free of fertilizer and weed seed, you should use a soilless mix. Besides being free of disease and toxic contaminates, soilless mixes are sterile, lightweight and porous enough to provide your seeds with superb drainage, water retention and air space. Traditional garden potting soil should not be used for germinating seeds in containers because the soil tends to compact too much and dry out too fast, destroying any development within fragile seedlings. To germinate healthy and strong seedlings, use one of our pre-mixed seed-starting mixes (266-7603, 5763, 7631) or create your own soilless mix by combining one part vermiculite (266-7670), one part sphagnum peat moss (266-7678) and one part well-screened compost.


Caring for Your Seeds
Once you're ready to sow your seeds, CLICK HERE to learn how to successfully plant them. Although the seed-starting stage may seem like a complicated process, the long and tedious germination stage is a much more complex one. As the embryos of your plants emerge from their seeds, you will need to provide your fragile seedlings with the best possible indoor growing conditions through careful distribution of water, light and temperature.


Watering
Careful watering of indoor seedlings is essential in the first weeks after sowing. When you water your emerging seedlings, remember to keep each container moist without saturating the potting mix and washing away the seeds. By misting your seeds with a spray bottle (644-2485), you can lightly moisturize the soil, seeds and roots without any added pressure. Another way to water your seeds is with "self-watering" tray systems which use a "wicking" system to draw water from the reservoir to the seed planting medium, providing just the right amount of moisture without disturbing the growing seedlings. Since small, tender seedlings dry out fast, you will need to water the seedlings daily to prevent the top soil from drying out. Make it a habit to water your seedlings every morning so they have a chance to dry before the next scheduled watering, minimizing the possibility of disease and death.

Lots of Light
As seedlings thrive with water, they also require a constant stream of light so they'll be able to adapt to the sun's strong rays once they're transplanted outdoors. Since seeds need warm soil and bright light to germinate and produce strong roots, you must supply your budding plants with 12 to 16 hours of light daily. To ensure your seeds are receiving enough light, consider placing them under florescent grow lights (353-1382, 1406). Unlike traditional incandescent lights, grow lights contain both warm and cool fluorescents which are designed specifically to increase overall plant growth. Simply install fluorescent grow lights in overhead lamps and situate them 4 to 6 inches above your seedlings to prevent leaf burn.

Maintaining a Steady Soil Temperature
The only way to quicken the rate of your seeds' germination is by maintaining the growing plants' soil temperature between 65° F and 75°F. After you've sown your seeds, place your containers in a warm place that is safe from drafts and excessive heat. If you are unable to maintain the soil temperature in your selected area, place your seeds on a heating mat (266-5742) or purchase a Heated Greenhouse Kit (266-5739), which includes a greenhouse tray, a humidity dome and a heating mat to maintain a steady soil temperature. By heating the bottoms of each container, your seeds will germinate sooner, produce healthier roots and eliminate any hazardous pathogens or fungus development in your soil.