How to Start Seeds Indoors for Beginners

How to Start Seeds Indoors for Beginners

Why buy plants every year when you can easily learn “How to Start Seeds Indoors for Beginners”?!  Purchasing plants just isn’t sustainable long-term, so it makes good sense to get a seed-starting system together that you can use from year to year!

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to shop for starter plants?

You know the scene…

It’s Springtime and we’re just being released from the cold winter weather.  Excitement and over-enthusiasm for the new growing season causes you to load up your wagon (and arms) with everything from tomato to eggplant to pepper plants!

And THEN you go to pay at the register…

Sticker shock sets in and then you begin to wonder WHY you don’t start your own plants at home???

Starting seeds at home isn’t difficult….at ALL!

As a matter of fact, once you get a few key pieces of equipment, you’ll be good to go this and every year, with the exception of your seeds and possibly replacing plastic seed trays every few years.

So, what exactly will you need to start your seeds indoors???

You will need:

* A tall sturdy shelf, preferably metal.

* Seed trays (I re-use my trays year after year, until they fall apart) with covers

*Potting soil (I prefer organic)

*Good quality seeds (I buy some but save seeds as well)

start seeds indoors

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*Photo organizer to keep your seeds in (above)

*Plastic garden markers or Popsicle sticks

*Permanent marker

woman spreading potting soil in seed trays

I like to take my seed starting trays outside and pour the potting soil over the trays, smoothing the soil with my hands. 

Make sure if you’re using last years trays, that you wash them well with soap and hot water to kill any lingering bacteria. 

Then take the seed starting trays to your work area. 

The most fun part of this process is choosing which seeds to start this year and plotting out the garden on paper.

This might be a good time to take a peek at your pantry and do an inventory.

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Don’t grow more than you can eat and/or preserve in a year.  So, if in the Spring you still have 50 quarts of green beans left, you probably don’t need to plant many of those this year.

But we won’t be starting green beans seeds inside, that’s not necessary. 

We’ll be starting seeds that have a long growing cycle or that are just too delicate to start outside, plants like tomatoes and peppers.  There are herbs that are too delicate to start outside, chamomile is one that I’m starting inside this year.

Deciding exactly when to start your seeds indoors is determined by your last frost date, and that can be found here

last frost date

My last frost date is April 22, but to be honest, I’ve seen snow many times in late April.  So, I won’t put much of anything out before the week before Mother’s Day.

Whatever date you feel as though it’s safe to plant outside in your area (yes, it’s ok to decide for yourself based on your experiences) then determine the date you want to begin your seedlings indoors by counting backwards. 

Mother’s Day is the locally accepted day here in Ohio, zone 5, despite the April 22 last frost date.

In other words, when you read the instructions on the back of your tomato seeds, it might say “start indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost date”.  If your last frost date is April 22 like mine is, then you would want to begin your seeds indoors by March 11.

There is no harm in beginning seeds indoors earlier than that, but just understand that your plants may get really big! 

I’m totally ok with that.

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I love to use this little seed dispenser!  It really helps with those tiny seeds!

Put several seeds in each seed pod and then do as the directions instruct. 

That might be to press then down 1/4 inch or to leave them on top.  Just be sure to read the pack of your seed packets to have the best chance of germination.

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seedlings in a seed tray clean empty seed tray

Start as many seeds as you want, keeping within the rows of your seed starting trays

Then you’ll want to label the rows so you can remember what you planted.  I’ve used everything over the years, but I kind of like just using cheap popsicle sticks.  I write the seed name and the date.  Seed starting doesn’t have to cost much!

I also keep a log of each tray and row, just in case the information the marker gets lost, get that free “Seed Starting Tracker” here!


seed starting tracker


seed tray with potting soil in sunny window

When seed starting, it’s important to keep your seeds moist, but not wet. 

Having a nice glass spray bottle makes this so much easier!  You’ll want to keep your bottle of water full, so that you can spray your seeds daily.

Your seedlings need a greenhouse effect, which will be accomplished with the plastic lids that come with the trays.  Don’t forget or neglect this step!  They need the cover!


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Set your seed trays in a sunny window or under lights and watch them grow! 

Spray your seedlings every morning and don’t let the soil dry out. 

Spraying water is much better than pouring water, you don’t want to drown the seeds.

seed tray in sunny window

If you have a sunny, south-facing window, that may be all the light you need to germinate and grow your seedlings.

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Starting Seeds Indoors with Grow Lights

However, if natural sunlight isn’t an option for you, then let’s talk grow lights!


seedlings under grow lights

Grow lights have come a long way, baby!


Many grow lights come with timers, full-spectrum LED lights with different brightness settings!


The optimal way to use lighting for seedlings is to dangle the light just above the plastic cover of the seed tray. 

As the seedlings grow, continue to raise the lights to just 2″ or so above the seedling.  This will keep them from getting leggy.


Finally, if you really want to get your seeds started faster, you can invest in these seedling heat mats.  

I have them and I love them! 

The heat tricks the seeds into thinking it’s warm outside by heating the soil slightly. 

You will truly see a difference in results with the heat mats and the lights, and I completely recommend them even if you have a south-facing window!

The heat mats will help to germinate the seeds more quickly by keeping the soil warm.


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Why not begin seed starting with some sweet potatoes or garlic inside?  It’s easy, you can do it today!


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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Leilani

    I appreciate the detailed pictures of your set up! That is very helpful. Thanks for the information.

    1. Kelly

      You are very welcome! Good luck!

  2. angie

    so ready to start gardening. The weather seems to not be able to make up its mind. I have personally never started my seeds like you but this is something worth looking into
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  3. Allison Hebler

    I have these pesty little knats on my seedlings and have tried fruit fly traps and that does not work any ideas on how to get rid of them?

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