Starting Plants from Seed

Andrea Burns
Ford County Extension Agent

Happy New Year!

Have the winter blahs set in at your house?

The warm weather before Christmas and now the post-holiday blahs have me wanting to starts some seeds indoors. I will just have to find a way to get rid of my winter blahs by perusing the seed catalogs and starting some plants from seeds.

The first step is to determine what you want to grow and then purchase some recommended, quality seeds. If you aren’t sure what to purchase, you can check out K-State Research and Extension’s list of recommended varieties on our website at and click on the Horticulture tab on the left hand side of the page.

These plants have proven themselves across the state of Kansas and are a good place to start when deciding what to plant.

However, also talk to your neighbors, friends and garden center about what has worked well for them.

Obtain your seeds from a reputable source including garden centers and seed catalogs. Always check the packaging to be sure the seeds were packaged for the current year. Though most seed remains viable for about 3 years, germination decreases as seed ages.

The next step is determining what date you want to plant the seeds in order to have them big enough to transplant outdoors.

The target date for transplanting the cool-season crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onions is the end of March to the beginning of April. Warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers and most annual flowers are usually planted about May 10.

Be sure to read on the seed package how long it takes for the seeds to germinate.

Next, you need to prepare your materials necessary to start your seeds. You will need a bright, sunny window or grow lights, peat pots, potting soil, seeds and water. Use a potting soil made especially for seed germination.

Do not use garden soil to germinate seed as it is too heavy and may contain disease organisms. After planting the seeds according to the package depth directions, keep them moist.

Seed must be kept moist in order to germinate. Water often enough that the media never dries. Using a clear plastic wrap can over the top of the container until the new plants emerge can reduce the amount of watering needed.

Most plants will germinate in either darkness or light but some require darkness (Centurea, Larkspur, Pansy, Portulaca, Phlox and Verbena) and others require light (Ageratum, Browallia, Begonia, Coleus, Geranium, Impatiens, lettuce, Nicotiana, Petunia and Snapdragon).

All plants require adequate amounts of light once emergence occurs. South facing windows may not provide adequate amounts and so fluorescent fixtures are often used. Suspend the lights two to four inches above the top of the plants and leave them on for 16 hours each day.

The temperature best for germination is often higher than what we may find in our homes especially since evaporating moisture can cool the germination media.

By the time that spring approaches and it is time to actually start thinking about working outside, the next step will be to harden the transplants.

Plants grown inside will often undergo transplant shock if not hardened off. Plants are hardened off by moving them outside and exposing them to sun and wind before transplanting occurs. Start about two weeks before transplanting and gradually expose the plants to outside conditions.

So as we wait for spring, spend your time getting your hands dirty and sleep with visions of vegetables in your head.

For more information on planting seeds and vegetables, contact the Ford County Extension Office.