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Handy Homeowner: Starting Seeds

Our growing season is short, so we have to be creative.

Last week I wrote about , so now let’s talk about the fun part - planting it! Seeds are the most economical way to start your garden, but they take some patience. Planting seeds with children is particularly fun because they’re so aware of the magic. My kids literally jump for joy when their seedlings pop up.

You can buy seeds from places like Lowe’s, discount stores like , gardening supply stores like , or order them through the mail from catalog companies like Burpee, especially if you're looking for something unusual.

Since our growing season is so short, here are some ideas for three different ways to start your seeds.

  1. Start your seeds indoors. You can use yogurt cartons or plastic salad containers, or buy trays. Both and carry them. 
  2. Create your own mini greenhouses with large plastic jars. I was in my neighbor’s back yard the other day and was enchanted by the gigantic jars she was using as mini-greenhouses, right in her garden. Simply cut the bottom off of large, plastic jars and set them over your plants. 
  3. Sow seeds directly into the garden. It is the least complicated method but not always the most successful, thanks to Mother Nature. I grew my first flowers this way, when I was a kid and was utterly amazed when they actually bloomed. Direct sowing works best for fast-growing annuals like basil, cosmos, marigold and zinnia.

Whatever method you use for starting seeds, here are some important things to keep in mind from the website for Fine Gardening magazine:

  • If you use containers to start seeds, make sure they’re large enough to accommodate the roots and poke holes in the bottom for proper drainage.
  • Use seed-starting medium and tamp the seeds down so that they have contact with the soil.
  • Keep seeds and seedlings warm to encourage germination and growth.
  • Keep seedlings evenly moist and don’t let them dry out.
  • Once the second set of leaves appear, feed your seedlings with half-strength plant food.

You can also buy plants that are already established. has a variety of vegetables, annuals, herbs and perennials. The advantage here is that you don’t have to wait as long for the show to begin. Also, many perennials don’t bloom for their first year or two, so this is sometimes a way to skip right to the good part.

Although our growing season is short, I highly recommend growing some of your plants from seeds. It's economical, teaches patience, encourages creative thinking and it's just plain magical.

Karen Dedich May 06, 2011 at 11:22 PM
The plastic containers are great for keeping the deer away ... for seed starters as well as established plants. The bottoms don't have to be removed if the container has a large enough opening. Be careful to remove them when the weather gets warm or the plants will bake/wilt. Also...The containers can be reused each year. If the bottoms have been removed, they can be stacked on a tall poll, remain outdoors and take up very little room.
Alex May 09, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Thank you so much for the step-by-step instructions! I am a novice and I'm now excited to go through the process with my kids! We can all learn and enjoy it together. Thanks!
Heather McGahee May 09, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Yes! I am new to this too and appreciate the details. Karen, thanks for the tips, especially the pole - I always have trouble getting things organized.

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