Seed Starting: The Ultimate Guide

Spring is on its way, winter is heading out, and we’re already feeling the itch to get growing. If you’ve ever thought about trying to start your own garden plants from seed, why not give it a shot this year? Seed starting is fun, easy, and rewarding! Plus, once you have the necessary equipment, you’re set up to start your seeds for several years to come. 

 

To give your seeds the best chance at germination and healthy growth, you’ll need a few different supplies. We have all of the supplies you’ll need at our garden center in Bettendorf

 

Here’s our complete guide to starting your garden from seeds in Iowa.

 

seed-tray-with-tools

 

Seed Starting Supplies

 

  • Good quality seeds are the key. We carry seeds from seven of the most trusted suppliers across the country and one right here in Iowa. We’ve listed a few great options to start with a little further down.
  • Starter soil has a lighter and finer texture than regular potting soil. It’s also sterile, so it won’t grow mold or moss in the moist germination environment. We recommend Organic Seed Starter from Espoma.
  • Starter cells are flexible plastic trays designed specifically for starting baby plants. They fit perfectly into the seedling trays.
  • Seedling trays with dome lids make starting seeds so easy. The dome lids are essential to maintain the humidity in the tray that seeds need in order to germinate and to protect new seedlings from temperature fluctuations and drafts.
  • Seedling heat mats maintain the soil temperature in your trays at the optimal temperature for germination. Having a consistent soil temperature will significantly increase your germination rates, so it’s worth investing in a couple of these.
  • Grow lights may be the most crucial piece of successful seed starting. Baby plants need 12-14 hours of light every day to ensure they grow well. A bright south window is not enough; they’ll get tall, weak, and leggy with only a window. Try growing in one of our Sunblaster Nanodomes that have the tray, humidity dome and grow light all in one easy kit. 
  • Labels are essential. Whether you use popsicle sticks or pick up some labels from our garden center, believe us; you’ll need them! It’s surprisingly tricky to remember what you planted in each starter cell once you’ve planted several seeds at the same time, so labeling removes the guesswork.

 

What Seeds to Start With

 

If you’ve never started plants from seed, it’s a good idea to start with very forgiving, easy-to-grow plants. Some of the easiest plants to start are:

 

  • Marigolds
  • Coleus
  • Zinnia
  • Castor beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Lettuces
  • Peppers

 

small-seedling-in-paper-pot

When to Start Seeds

 

The process of starting seeds is quite simple in itself, but figuring out when to start them is a little more complicated. Most seed packets will mention a certain number of weeks on them, which is how many weeks before the last frost date you should start the seeds indoors. 

 

Here in Bettendorf, our last frost is usually no later than May 15th, so count back from there to figure out when you should be starting seeds for each plant. 

 

In mid-February, you can start bell peppers, celery, eggplant, and leeks.

In late February you can start cabbage and tomatoes.

In early to mid-March, you can start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, Swiss chard, and leafy greens. You can also start most annual flowers in March.

In late March, you can start cantaloupe, cucumbers, sweet potato, watermelons pumpkins, zucchini, and other squash.

 

tray-of-seedlings-in-light

 

How to Start Seeds

 

It’s pretty simple to start seeds; just make sure you follow the directions on the package. Some seeds like to be covered with a fine layer of soil, and some like to sit on top, so check the packet before you start planting.

 

Make sure you check the preferred soil temperatures for each type of seed so that you can group different cells with the same desired temperature range into the same tray. 

 

Watering needs to be done very carefully with newly planted seeds. It’s best to start your planting with pre-dampened soil so that the seeds won’t get washed through the drainage holes in the cells. If you have a watering can with tiny holes in a sprayer head, you might be able to get away with watering overhead, but seeds can still move around from the force of the spray nozzle. The best way to moisten the soil in each cell is to add a layer of water to the bottom layer of your seedling tray before you set the seed cell layer in. This method will allow the cells to wick the water up into the soil without the seeds washing away. 

 

So, are you all excited to get some seedlings growing this year? There’s nothing tastier than fresh produce you’ve grown from scratch on your own! Stop by our garden center today and get yourself ready so you can start growing yourself a garden full of good eats this year.

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