The concept of planting garden seeds seems so simple. I mean, you just plant a seed in the dirt and it grows, right? How hard can that be? Well, as many new gardeners learn the hard way, it can be a bit more complicated. There are a lot of factors involved in growing seeds, and every type of seed can have it’s own special planting needs.
The first thing to understand is that all seeds are not the same, and they shouldn’t be treated that way. A common misconception of new gardeners is that the process for growing seeds is the same for everything… you have to start all of your seeds indoors under grow lights, plant all of them at the same time, and then transplant all of the seedlings into the garden at the same time. This is definitely the biggest mistake that new gardeners make, and it can lead to years of frustrating trial and error.
But don’t worry, I’m going to break it all down and make this super easy for you! First let’s talk about why seeds are not all created equal, and what the different types of seeds are.
Different types of seeds for a garden
There are tons of different types of seeds out there, and the thought of learning the correct way to plant every single one of them can be overwhelming. Let’s think about it in simple terms instead. When we simplify it, seeds can be separated into two broad categories. I call these categories “warm weather seeds” and “cold hardy seeds”.
- Warm weather seeds – These types of seeds need a warm environment and warm soil in order to grow and thrive. The seeds likely won’t sprout if it’s too cold, and the seedlings won’t tolerate frost. Popular examples of warm weather seeds include cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, beans, tomatillos, eggplant, peppers, basil, coleus, marigolds, zinnias, and nasturtiums.
- Cold hardy seeds – These types of seeds prefer the cooler temperatures, and many of them won’t germinate if it’s too hot. Common cold hardy seeds include lettuce, kale, broccoli, beets, radishes, peas, carrots, spinach, kohlrabi, parsley, cilantro, and cabbage.
Ok, now that we understand the two broad categories of seeds, next let’s talk about different ways (or methods) of planting garden seeds.
Methods for planting garden seeds
There are a few different methods for starting seeds, but I want to make this super easy for you so I am only going to talk about the two most popular methods: planting seeds indoors, and starting seeds outdoors directly in the garden (aka: direct sowing seeds).
- Planting seeds method 1: Starting indoors – With this method, you plant seeds indoors in seed flats. The main benefit of starting seeds indoors is that you can start them much sooner than you could outside, so you get a jumpstart on your garden. But starting seeds indoors can be difficult, time consuming, and it takes up space inside the house.
- Planting seeds method 2: Direct Sowing – With direct sowing, you plant the seeds directly into your garden. The main benefits of this method are that you plant the seeds and you’re done. There’s no fussing with potting up and transplanting seedlings, and no risk of transplant shock. The main cons are that you have to wait until the soil in your garden is ready before you can plant seeds, and the seeds are exposed to the elements so they could wash away or otherwise be lost.
Related Post: 3 seed starting methods every gardener should try
Right now you might be wondering which method is the best. No method of planting garden seeds is perfect, and there are pros and cons to all of them. Instead of choosing just one method for planting all of your seeds, it’s best to mix the different methods to make things easier on yourself, and to be more successful. Next, let’s figure out how to choose which method is best for each type of garden seed.
Choosing the right method for planting your seeds
Wouldn’t it make things super easy if I told you that you could match the two types of seeds I talked about above perfectly with the two seed starting methods? Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that… there are a few more factors to consider. Some seeds will grow better indoors than if you try planting them directly into the garden. Other types of seeds don’t like to be planted indoors and then transplanted into the garden, so they will grow much better if you direct sow them. Here’s a quick way to figure out which planting method to choose for each type of seed.
- Seeds to start indoors: In general, most warm weather seeds will grow better when planted indoors (not all of them though). Slow growing seeds, seeds that need warm soil, and cold hardy vegetables that need a long growing season (like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage) are all good candidates for starting indoors.
- Seeds to direct sow: As a general rule of thumb, direct sowing can be used for many types of cold hardy seeds. You’ll definitely want to use this method for seeds of plants that don’t transplant well, like most root crops (kohlrabi, carrots, beets, radishes…etc). But you can also use it for fast growing warm weather seeds like beans, corn, squash, nasturtiums, and sunflowers.
How to grow plants from seeds
The very first thing you should do before you start planting seeds is to sort through all of your seed packets and organize them into two piles. One pile will have all of the seeds you will be planting indoors, and the other pile will be the seeds for direct sowing. To help you out, take a moment to read the planting instructions on each seed packet. Once you’re done with that, you’re ready to plant some seeds! But, how do we know when to start planting?
Related Post: Choosing vegetable seeds for garden success
When to plant garden seeds
Timing is very important when it comes to growing seeds. If you plant your seeds too early you could end up with weak, leggy seedlings, or they could be killed off by frost when sown too early outside. But if you start them too late, then your plants won’t have enough time to mature in the garden. So how to you know when to plant garden seeds? The seed packets for most seeds should tell you, but if they don’t here are some general guidelines…
- Indoors, seeds can usually be planted 6-8 weeks before your last frost date in the spring.
- Outdoors, seeds can be direct sown 3-4 weeks before your last frost date, or as soon as the ground is workable in early spring.
How to plant seeds
No matter which method you choose to use, the steps for planting seeds are basically the same.
- Start with loose, slightly moist soil (if starting indoors, use a good seed starting mix)
- Plant the seed twice as deep as it is wide (tiny seeds can be sprinkled over the soil)
- Make a hole first, or simply press the seed into the soil
- Cover the seed with dirt, and gently pack it down
- Water your seeds (if the soil isn’t already damp)
- Watch them grow
Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines for planting garden seeds. If you’re new to seed starting, make sure you take a bit of time to read the seed packets before you start planting your seeds, or look up planting details online. Planting garden seeds is fun, and there’s nothing better than the satisfaction that comes with growing your garden from seed!
More posts about seed starting
- Help with seedlings, and how to fix common seed starting problems
- Seeds vs transplants: Should you start from seed or buy transplants?
- Why planting onion seeds is better than planting sets (and how to do it right)
- 3 pitfalls of planting seeds too early!
- How to plant cucumber seeds: A step-by-step guide
Share you best tips for planting garden seeds in the comments section below.