Spring Gardening Seed Starting

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
NOTE: Please join the Payne County Master Gardeners Tuesday, January the 13th at the Botanic Garden at OSU for their Gardening Series. The program begins at 6PM and is free and open to all.

As this is being written, we are looking at our coldest forecast yet for what is proving to be a rather dreary winter. Not to fear, this will soon pass and hints of spring will be here before we know it. If you are a fan of cool season crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions, some important dates are right around the corner. February 15th is generally considered the opening of the “early planting” window for these crops. Since these are usually the most successful when planted into the garden as established seedlings, the time to germinate and begin to grow them out is here.

While there are many different kinds of seed starting tools and resources available for purchase, successful indoor seed starting does not have to be complicated or expensive to be successful.

Keep the following tips in mind and you will be off to a great start:
  • Use a seed starting mix for a growing medium. Garden soil will tend to hold too much moisture and is more likely to contain soil borne fungi that could be detrimental to the seedlings. Use a shallow dish with some means of drainage. 1” of growing medium is plenty deep enough as the seeds won’t be here long.
  • Seed more than you think you will need. Very rarely will you get 100% germination nor will all make it to maturity.
  • Plant according to package directions, water lightly, and then cover the container with clear kitchen wrap to help maintain moisture. Remove the plastic as soon as the new seedlings emerge.
  • Light is not especially critical until the seeds germinate. Once they do, look for the best indoor lighting you can find. Natural sunlight is great as long as you don’t cook the plants in a hot window. Even if you do have ideal natural lighting, with the short days, you will need to supplement mornings or evenings with the goal of giving the seedlings 16-18 hours of light a day. Florescent lighting is generally preferably to incandescent lighting but expensive “grow bulbs” are unnecessary.
  • Ideal growing temperatures are going to be crop dependent. Check your seed packet for this information. Don’t assume that warmer is necessarily better.
  • Water as needed. Creating a tiny “watering can” by punching or drilling very small holes into a water bottle lid works very well. This can help to provide water in small doses without washing away the seedling.
Once the seedlings produce their first true leaves (the first to open are normally the cotyledons), the seeds are ready to be transplanted into a larger container. We’ll talk about this process next week.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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