ISSUE 2  |  Cook's Garden

Gardening 101: How to Sprout a Seed

January 13, 2015 5:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Launch a stealth attack on winter by sprouting seeds indoors (to get a start on your spring edible garden). It’s simpler than you may think. 

Photographs by John Merkl for Gardenista.

Keep It Simple: Fluffy soil, plenty of sunlight and water, and room to grow. That’s all a seed needs to persuade it to germinate. Plant seeds in small individual pots, seed flats, or newspaper pots.

Step 1: Find a sunny windowsill indoors; seeds will sprout faster in a warm (70 degrees) spot.

Need to Know: Some seeds take longer to sprout than others, so don’t despair if you see no action for a couple of weeks. (My cilantro seeds sprouted in ten days, but my foxglove seeds didn’t germinate for three weeks.)

Step 2: Fill small seed pots with a 1-inch layer of charcoal (to aid drainage) and then a layer of potting soil (from 2 to 3 inches deep). Don’t pack it down too tightly because baby roots will have a harder time in heavy soil.

Step 3: Plant from three to five seeds in each pot, making sure they don’t touch. Push the seeds into the soil gently and barely cover them with dirt.

Step 4: Water the seed pots daily, to keep them moist. But don’t flood them. The  soil should look dark and moist, but you should never let water pool on the surface.

Step 5: The first two leaves to sprout will look undifferentiated. A few days later, a third leaf–a true leaf–will appear, displaying characteristics of the plant. At this point, you can thin seedlings, removing all but one from each pot.

Step 6: You can transplant seedlings to larger pots after their true leaves appear. Or you can transplant them into the garden next spring after the last frost date; if you started your seeds in biodegradable newspaper pots, you can plant the pots directly in the garden.

Are you a novice gardener? See more of our Gardening 101 posts, including How to Water an Air Plant and How to Plant a Bulb.