How to Grow Plants From Seed — Inside and Out

Whether or not you enjoy winter, it’s hard to see the growing season come to an end. Fortunately, though, you can bring your efforts indoors, yielding plants — from seed — that can either be transplanted outside when the weather allows or grown inside for a bounty year-round. All they need is a bit of extra TLC.

When it comes to seed selection, your options are all-but-unlimited. Whether you favor heirlooms, trusty hybrids or proven winners, they can be nurtured and brought to fruition more easily than you’d expect. Prefer flowers? They can be started — or ultimately grown — inside, too.

Choosing Your Seeds

While you can grow — or at least start — most any plant inside, some work better than others.

Most fresh herbs thrive indoors and replenish continually with a bit of pruning. The majority of cool weather veggies can be grown indoors as well. Romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, turnip greens, broccoli and celery are solid choices. Carrots, radishes and beets are another great place to start.

Instead of planting root vegetables from seed, why not propagate them from your veggies “waste?” Just take the stem and stump of a spent root vegetable and suspend it in a glass of water using toothpicks. Once it takes root, transfer it to a deep pot filled with loose, nutrient-rich soil.

As for flowers, you can successfully grow many in your home. Edibles — such as Nasturtiums — do well inside. So does the hibiscus, a tropical, showy choice that makes great tea. Not to be overlooked, fragrant violets can be candied or used to enhance cocktails and salads. Of course, you’re not limited to these. Everything from zinnias to vibrant petunias, aromatic stocks, stately snapdragons and deep-pink Dianthus can enliven indoor environs.

Planting 101

Before planting, you need to consider timing. If you plan to transition your plants outside, your seedlings must be ready to transplant when the weather allows. Read the instructions on your seed packet for advice on when to start sowing the seeds inside.

Since certain vegetables — like beans and squash — germinate and grow quickly, meaning they’re better started and cultivated outdoors.The same is true of some flowers, which are usually marked "direct sow.”

Planting-widsom, look for containers with drainage holes. They should be at least 2”- to-3" deep. Feeling thrifty? Milk cartons and paper cups can be used as vessels. Next, select potting soil that’s fresh, sterile and meant for growing seedlings. (Pro tip: don’t use soil from your garden or re-use potting soil from houseplants.) 

When you’re ready to plant, moisten the soil so it’s crumbly, but not soggy. Next, pack the containers firmly, leaving no gaps. Check the seed packet for how deeping the seedlings should be planted, be it sprinkled on the surface or buried. If the seed should be buried, create a divitt to accommodate it. It’s a good idea plant two seeds per pot; if both sprout, simply snip one of them.

Place the plants in a sunny, south-facing windowsill, if possible. Then, rotate the pots often so they’re evenly lit. This prevents them from turning into leggy, non-starters. Don’t have enough natural sunlight? No worries. Place them under grow lights, set a few inches above the plants. Set the timer for 15- to-16 hours daily to allow the plants to rest in darkness. As the plants grow taller, raise the lights to accommodate them.

Once your seeds are planted and situated, be sure to water them. To speed up germination, cover the plants with plastic domes — or plastic wrap — to keep the soil moist. When the seedlings first sprout, don’t forget to remove the cover. 

From this point on, continue to keep the soil moist, but do take care not to overwater your plants. You’ll also need to fertilize them regularly. Consider fortifying them with earthworm casting tea every six weeks. Doing so will accelerate their growth and significantly increase your yield.

When your plants begin to mature, you have two choices — you can either transition them outside or continue growing them inside. Here’s what you need to know.

Transitioning Seedlings Outdoors

If you want to move your established seedlings to the ground, don’t transfer them directly from their safe indoor confines to the ground. It’s just too jarring. Instead, “harden them off” by first placing them in a partly shaded, protected spot outdoors — one that’s free of wind. Do it for short, but increasingly long, periods of time at first. Over the course of seven- to-10 days, expose them to longer bursts of sunshine — and wind — while bringing them in at night. At that point, they should be ready to plant in your outdoor garden.

Growing Seedlings Indoors

These days, grow lights are pretty energy efficient. They’re not eyesores either.

If you want to continue cultivating your garden inside, grow lights are a necessary investment. With a small upfront cost, you can harvest year-round, provided you remain mindful of your plants’ lighting, watering and fertilizing needs. Have kids? Indoor gardening is a great and educational way to share the joy of cultivating.

Whichever way you grow plants and whatever you choose, herbs, veggies and flowers breathe new life into your home. They’re also uplifting and stress-reducing, especially when snow blankets the ground and summer is a distant memory. 

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