Seed Guide: Start Indoors or Direct Sow

Plant seeds are miraculous things from which great things grow. Soil, sun, and moisture transform the little dry pods into colorful flowers, tasty vegetables and even trees!

Unfortunately it’s because of this magical metamorphosis that many gardeners
shy away from growing plants from seeds. It’s just hard to believe that a
vibrant, living thing can be easily coaxed out of a seemingly lifeless seed.
But this doubt can be cast aside when armed with a little bit of information.

Essentials for Successful Indoor Seed Planting


Newly sown flower and vegetable seeds don’t need much light until they germinate. Once the stems start to emerge, move seeds trays to an area that receives bright light.

Sterile Potting Medium

To prevent seedling diseases always use new soil. Any loose soil mix will do.


Thoroughly water your newly planted seeds. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. A spray bottle is a good tool to have on hand to water seedlings.


Soil temperature is important. Cool soil slows seed germination. I use an
electric grow mat under my seed trays to make sure the soil is around 75°
or so until seedlings emerge. Provide an air temperature of 70 to
75° during the day and night temperature of at least 60 to 65°.


Hollyhock Seedlings

You can start seeds in almost any container; it doesn’t have to be fancy.
I’ve used plastic flats, trays, clay pots, compressed peat pellets, and
even a make-yoru-own-paper cup from recycled newspaper with a little
gadget called an N. Viropotter. Cut-off milk cartons or plastic jugs,
and egg cartons can also be used to start seeds. Last season’s flats,
trays, and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the
containers in soapy water, and then disinfect them in a solution of one
part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to add holes in the
bottom of the containers to allow for drainage.

Which Plants Grow Best from Seeds

The question of whether to start plants from seeds or purchase potted
plants from a garden center can be confusing. Starting seeds indoors
is inexpensive, allows you to grow unique varieties and gives you a
jump start on spring. This last point is especially important if
you live in an area with a short growing season. However, if the
plant is difficult to grow from seeds it is more advantageous to
purchase a potted plant from the nursery.

Here is a list of common vegetables and herbs along with an explanation of how easy (or difficult) the plant is to grow from seeds.

Type Seed Indoors Seed Outdoors Potted Plant
Tomatoes Yes for unusual varieties, to get an early start. Difficult Yes
Peppers Yes for unusual varieties, to get an early start. No Yes
Corn Not necessary Yes Yes
Broccoli Yes No Yes
Cabbage Yes Yes Yes
Cauliflower Yes No Yes
Cucumber Not Necessary Yes Yes
Radishes Not Necessary Radishes grow rapidly from seeds sown directly in the garden. Not Necessary
Lettuce Yes Yes Yes
Arugula Not Necessary Yes Yes
Squash Yes for unusual varieties, to get an early start. Yes Yes
Rhubarb No No Yes
Turnips Not Necessary Yes No
Carrots Not Necessary Yes No
Spinach Yes Yes Yes
Winter Squash No Yes Yes
Pumpkins No Yes No
Okra No Yes Yes
Eggplant Yes No Yes
Chard Yes Yes Yes
Melons Yes Yes Yes
Basil Yes Yes Yes
Rosemary No No Yes
Thyme No No Yes
Oregano No No Yes
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