Get a jump on your spring planting by starting to sprout your seeds indoors. It's an easy, fun activity that takes just a little time, a grow light or two, and a few other inexpensive supplies. The rewards, however, will be worth their weight in flowers and vegetables come blossom and harvest time. Here are tips for sprouting seeds indoors.
When to Start
You should start your seeds eight weeks before the last expected spring frost for your USDA Hardiness Zone. Don't plant your seedlings outdoors until after that last frost date.
The potting soil you use will be one of the biggest factors in your success. Buy a high-quality potting soil from your local nursery or garden center. Don't use soil from your garden. It will have weeds in it but not the required nutrients.
First, try pre sprouting. Moisten a regular paper towel. Spread the seeds out evenly. Don't let them bunch up or overlap. Then place a second moist paper towel and lay it on top. Gently roll the towel up and place it in a plastic bag (to retain moisture). Keep the seeds slightly warm. The top of your hot water heater, refrigerator, computer monitor, or any other appliance that generates a little bit of heat will do. While you're waiting for the seeds to sprout, prepare your soil mixture in peat pots. When the seeds sprout, place the moistened seeds in the soil according to the package instructions. If you don't want to buy peat pots, plastic yogurt cups make a great substitute. Just be sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom. Don't fertilize until you see a few sets of leaves sprout, but do keep the soil moist all the time.
Since you'll likely be starting seeds in the middle of winter, sunshine and proper going conditions won't exist outside. You'll need to bring both indoors. Fluorescent lights work great, though special grow light bulbs work well too. Grow lights shine a wider light spectrum. Keep the lights about 3 inches above the top of the plant as it grows. Keep moving the light further away as the plant gets taller. Most fluorescent light fixtures come with chains to make this easier. There are higher intensity lamps available (High Intensity Discharge lamps and High Pressure Sodium and Metal Halide), but they are more expensive. Millions of gardeners have had lots of success with either fluorescent bulbs or regular grow light bulbs.
You can also create mini-greenhouses with clean, empty 2 liter bottles. Simply cut the bottle about 4 inches above the base, which is usually defined by a crease, edge or black plastic. Make drainage holes in the bottom (four to six, depending on size). Slice three small vertical slits into the top portion, about an inch or two long. Fill the bottom with soil and transplant your seedlings into the soil. Or you can start seeds in these mini greenhouses. Place the top of the bottle over the bottom (this is where the slits come in). Remove the top to release condensation as needed.