In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2013
Regional Report

Share |

Deciding when to plant your seedlings outdoors can be tricky. You can check daily high-low outdoor temperatures beginning in mid-March, or you can take your cue from Mother Nature -- I set my seedlings outdoors when the cherry trees blossom.

Debunking the Mysteries of Indoor Seed Starting

I think the more you read about starting seeds indoors, the more complex the advice becomes. That just doesn't seem right to me. Seed starting is really pretty simple. To germinate, seeds require water and a container full of potting soil. After the seeds sprout, they need light -- either natural or artificial, or a combination of both.

Keys to Successful Seed Starting

  • Cold spring weather and cool, wet summers are typical in our gardening region. For best performance, choose short-season vegetables and cool-season annuals when selecting seeds for starting indoors.

  • Start most seeds 6-8 weeks prior to your average last spring frost date. (To find the last frost date for your area, check out or contact your local Extension Service office.) Then, calendar in hand, count backwards from this date to your seed sowing dates. Timing is important; you can set small seedlings outdoors if the weather warms earlier than expected, but it's difficult to keep seedlings healthy indoors for a couple of extra weeks if the weather stays cool longer than expected.

  • Use trays or pots filled with moistened potting soil or seed starting mix. Plastic six-packs and flats are good choices and can be reused year after year.

  • Scatter the seeds over the surface of the potting soil and lightly press them in. Or plant seeds individually, about an inch apart. Scattering seeds is the easy way to plant, but you'll need to thin the seedlings after they sprout.

  • To thrive, seedling roots require both water and air. This means keeping the soil moist but not soggy wet; properly hydrated growing media should feel like a damp sponge.

  • Once seeds have germinated, your new little plants will need a source of light. Although a sunny window lets in a lot of light, it is still much less intense than outdoor sunlight. Supplementing natural light with artificial light will keep the seedlings from becoming leggy.

  • When the seedlings have two sets of leaves, it's time to thin. You'll want one or two seedlings per pot or one inch of room around each seedling if you're growing them in trays. Choose the healthiest, strongest-looking seedlings and snip off the rest at the soil line.

  • A week to ten days prior to setting your new little plants into the garden, harden them off by taking them outdoors during the day and back indoors overnight, gradually extending the time they remain outdoors. When they've spent a couple of days outdoors overnight, plant them in your garden.

Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!

Our Mission in Action

Shop Our Holiday Catalog