Growing Plants from Seeds

How Does My Garden Grow? - Part 4
Growing Plants from Seeds

This is the first time that I grew plants from seeds.  I searched online and found so much information that it seemed sort of mind-boggling, but it really comes down to just a few basics.  I learned that for seeds to germinate and develop into plants, they need:

1) Containers
2) Clean soil
3) Warmth
4) Light
5) Water

I read a lot of neat ideas on how to save money by using empty yogurt cups or toilet paper rolls for containers and mixing and sterilizing your own soil. Being my first time, I decided to take the easiest route and bought the following at either Walmart or Amazon:

1) Peat pots                                  
2) Seed starting mix                          
3) One seedling heat mat                    
4) Two grow lights                            
5) Two water trays with domes          

1. Planting the Seeds

I bought some Jiffy peat pot containers that came in four strips with 10 sections in each strip.  I also bought some Jiffy Seed Starting Mix. I poured a bag of the seed mix into a clean five-gallon bucket and mixed it with a little water to dampen it.  Then I filled the peat pots with the dampened soil.  I placed three seeds in each section, pushing the seeds down into the dirt about twice the depth of the size of the seed, and then lightly covered them with the soil mix.  I cut some six-inch plant marker sticks in half and wrote the name of the plants on them with permanent marker.  I used one marker for each section so there is no confusion as to what is planted in it.

2. Adding Warmth and Humidity

Some seeds don't need warmth to germinate, but most do.  The information on the seed packets will give you specific instructions for each type of plant.  The seeds really don't need light until the plant begins to peek through the soil.  I set a tray of the peat pots with planted seeds on an electric seedling heat mat.  These special mats raise the heat about 10 degrees above the room's temperature. The seed packets will also tell you how warm the seeds need to be kept to germinate. Keep the heat pad turned on for 24 hours a day until the seeds germinated. (Don't use a regular heating pad; they get too hot.) If you don't want to buy a seed heating mat, you could set your seed pots on top of a refrigerator or hot water tank to keep them warm.

Everyone's situation and setting is going to be different. Just to give you an example of how it worked for me, I set up our seed trays on a card table in a corner of our family room where it would be convenient for me to keep a watchful eye on them. We keep our room thermostat set at 67 F., but we have a fireplace in that room that we use often, and the room has a lot of windows, so it gets some solar heat too.

Besides warmth, humidity also helps the seeds to germinate, so initially I placed a plastic dome over the seed tray. These domes have vents on the top and sides so I could adjust the ventilation if too much humidity was building up inside.

I was surprised at how fast the seeds germinated.  I planted tomato, pepper and herb seeds in these trays. The herbs and tomatoes germinated in less than five days.  The peppers took a little longer. The reason you plant three seeds in each pot is in case any of the seeds don't germinate.  I had one pot of tomato seeds that didn't germinate until a week after the others.  I really thought that pot wasn't going to germinate, but it surprised me and did! Once the plants started to sprout, I removed the dome so the plants would not get mildewed or develop a fungus (called "dampening off").

3. Adding Light

Once the seedlings come up through the soil, they need light to continue growing. "Grow lights" are more expensive than ordinary florescent light fixtures you find in any home supply store, but the less expensive fixtures work just as well. I had a hard time finding 24" fixtures, which are the perfect length for my seed trays, so I ordered the light fixtures online through Amazon.  They are classified as "grow lights" and cost $27 each. They take either T8 or T12 bulbs, which were not included. You don't have to pay the high price for "grow light" bulbs, but you do want the bulbs to have all the colors of the light spectrum. You can use one "cool" light bulb and one "warm" light bulb, or do as I did . . .  I bought "daylight" florescent bulbs which combine the cool and warm colors in one.  They only cost $10 for a package of two.

I also saved a good bit of money by making a grow light stand instead of buying one. I used pvc pipes and corner joints and put rubber tips on the "legs."  I hung the lights from the stand with chains and "S" hooks.  I can raise and lower the lights to the height needed. I plugged the lights into an electric timer set to come on each morning and turn off at night, giving the plants 14 hours a day of light.  The lights are off at night when it is dark so that the plants can rest.  

When the plants came up through the soil, they each had two leaves on the stem, called the "seed leaves."  I hung the light so that it was only a couple of inches about the tops of the seedlings.  If the light is too high, the seedlings will grow too tall and leggy as they stretch to reach the light.source.

4. Adding Water

The seeds are planted in dampened soil and need to be watered regularly.  You want to water the pots from below, pouring water into the seed trays, instead of pouring water directly onto the soil, which might cause the seeds to float out. The peat pots soak up the water and keep the soil damp. I felt uncertain at first about how often to water them, but it did not take me long to recognize when they needed watered.  I could tell when the surface of the soil and the pots would start to dry out.  They would turn a lighter color and feel dry to the touch.  Each setting will be different; in my situation, I found that I was adding 16 oz. of water to the seed trays every other day.

The pots and soil will soak up the water in about 20 minutes and will feel damp and look dark again.  If there is any water left in the bottom of the tray at that point, I would remove it with a meat baster.

In two to three weeks, the seedlings began to grow their "true leaves."  These begin to grow after those first two seed leaves that push the seedling up through the soil and begin to nourish it. Once they have their first set of true leaves, you can transfer them to 3-4" pots and begin to add fertilizer to the water.  If you want to grow your plants organically, you can use fish or sea kelp emulsion for fertilizer. These seedlings are three weeks old and are about ready to transplant.

Living in a Zone 4 growing area, I still have about six weeks until the last frost date, when I will be able to start growing plants outdoors.  From now until then, I will be starting some more seeds indoors that don't need as long a grow time as these tomatoes and peppers and some herbs.  I'll also begin preparing these indoor seedlings for the transfer outdoors with a "hardening off" process.


  1. Oh my goodness! I learned so much here - and now I know what I did wrong with my seeds! Thank you so much! Love, love, love the grow light stand made from PVC! I will have to try that next year!

    1. Vickie,I'm so glad this was helpful to you. The grow light stand has worked out really great and was so cheap to make! Thanks for coming by and commenting. ~Katie

  2. A really professional set up there. I don't have heat pads or lamps, but I have a type of incubator cloche that hubby made on my bench in the poly tunnel.Plenty of light and extra plastic seems to be doing the job.

    1. That's great! I think having the dome over the trays to raise the humidity really helped to germinate them fast. I read to remove the dome once the seedlings appear, though, or they can get a fungus. Mine germinated quickly and are doing great since! Thanks for your comment! ~Katie

  3. We have planted carrots,onions,lettuce and peas We will be starting our beans in he window sill soon. I love your starter boxes. xo

    1. Thank you Katherine. I can't wait to plant outdoors. It won't be long! ~Katie

  4. Thank you for sharing your lovely blog at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop xo

    1. My pleasure Katherine, really! Thank you for hosting such a lovely hop! ~Katie