Growing Wisdom

How to start seeds and transplant them into larger containers

Starting your own plants from seed is a very rewarding experience. The idea you can put a seed in some soil, get it to germinate, grow and then put it in the ground is still amazing to me after decades of doing this.

Some seeds are harder to start than others. There are seeds of certain plants which must be exposed to cold, then warmth before they will germinate. Some seed coats are very hard and the seeds will require scarification in order to germinate. There are seeds which depend on being partially broken down by the digestive systems of animals such as birds in order to germinate.


The good news for home gardeners, many seeds require nothing more than soil, water and light to grow. Some seeds don’t want to be moved after they germinate. Carrots, radish, beets and turnip would like to start growing in the spot they will stay until you harvest them. However, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and many other flowers and vegetables can be started in an environmentally controlled environment, allowed to grow a few weeks and then moved to their permanent home.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting seeds is keeping them too wet. You want enough moisture to soften the seed coat and force the seeds to form a root, but give them too much moisture and they rot. If your soil is so moist you can squeeze water, they are too wet. I use a spray bottle to moisten the soil and then cover the trays with a plastic cover. This keeps the soil from drying out and encourages germination.


As the plants grow they will put out more and more roots and I’ll be able to water more and more regularly. Eventually, the small plants will outgrow the seed starting trays. This is when you must move them into the ground or into larger containers. This is called “potting up”. When you “pot up” a seedling you want to carefully remove it from the container and place it into its new home. Be sure to have the soil firmly around the plant so it makes good contact with the roots, but don’t press so hard you break it.

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I usually give the plants a bit of water after I pot them up and I keep them in a shady location for a day to minimize shock. The best time to do this work is later in the afternoon or evening to allow the plant to acclimate during the evening and overnight. Never pot up plants in full-sunshine as the tender seedlings will quickly dry out.


Depending on the size cells/trays you use to start your plants will ultimately determine how many times you will move them to larger containers before putting them in the ground. Carefully watch the plants, once the root start coming through the containers, it likely time to move them.

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