• Staci Hemesath, RDN, LD

Seed Starting for Beginners

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

If you've been shopping recently, you may have noticed that seeds and other gardening materials have officially made their appearance on store shelves. It's a great sign! It means spring weather will be upon us before we know it. It also means it is almost time to start the first stage of gardening--starting seeds indoors for outdoor transplantation later. This is a perfect activity to do with small children, since it something their small hands are capable of. It also makes for an excellent science lesson and ignites their curiosity for what's to come later. For those of you new to the world of gardening or just the process of starting seeds indoors, here is a handy guide for you to follow!

Supplies Needed

  • Seeds

  • Starter pots; 3” is best, but you can also use: peat pots, 6-pack trays, red solo cups, paper cups (anything decomposable is best for the environment)

  • Good dirt mix--equal parts of black dirt, vermiculite, peat moss (for aeration)

  • Gloves

  • Watering can and/or spray bottle with water

  • Hand trowel, if needed

  • Sheet of thin plastic for covering pots (greenhouse effect)

  • Growth chart/journal if you want progress report

What to Do

  1. First, you will want to prep your soil. Get a large bucket, dump in equal parts of mix, and get your soil slightly wet. You want it to be just barely damp.

  2. Organize what seeds you will be sowing in your starter pots. Label all tags so they are ready to be stuck in the cups during planting.

  3. Set out all cups to fill with your medium/soil. Fill each cup ¾ full of dirt, slightly pressing down but not compacting. Push one finger down in the middle of the soil and follow instructions for each seedling's planting depth.

  4. Plant seed in hole and cover with soil. Depending how delicate, you may want to mist with water so you don’t flood your seed out.

  5. Place tag with proper cup, you may want to label pot/cup in case tag is removed.

  6. You will want to create a “greenhouse effect” especially when seeds are first started. This will help retain moisture and not dry out the dirt or seedlings. Make sure you are not overwatering though or you may get moss growing in the medium. *See ideas for greenhouse effect below.

  7. Place in a warm and sunny location for growing. Check daily for watering and for growth production. Keep a photo journal or daily log with measurements and other fun activities for children to see the process from start to finish.

Greenhouse Effect

You can buy your greenhouse or make one from plastic totes or an old comforter bag.

Best Time to Start Seeds Indoors (for planting in zones 4 or 5)

You will want to start your seed around late February-April. As a general rule, most annual vegetables should be sown indoors about six weeks before the last frost in your area. See local frost dates. Don't start your seeds too early, especially tomatoes.

Vegetable Seeds to Start Indoors

The following seeds typically transplant well and can be started indoors, according to Clemson Cooperative Extension:

  • Broccoli

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Cabbage

  • Cauliflower

  • Eggplant

  • Kale

  • Lettuce

  • Onion

  • Pepper

  • Sweet potato

  • Tomato

  • Okra

The following vegetables can be started indoors, but must be carefully transplanted:

  • Celery

  • Chard

  • Cucumber

  • Melon

  • Peas

  • Pumpkin

  • Spinach

  • Squash

Zone 5 Planting Schedule


A note about the author: Emma Eldeen is the owner of North Side Kids Daycare in Iowa City, IA and has associates' degrees in Landscape and Greenhouse Management, Landscape Maintenance, and Golf Course and Turf Grass Management.

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