Top Tips for Seeding Indoors

As unbelievable as it may seem right now, with layer upon layer of snow on the ground and temperatures that make you question if we’ve entered a new ice age, the time is near to begin indoor seeding. Spring is almost upon us, and with that comes joy and excitement for a new gardening season, one filled with warm summer days, bright beautiful flowers, and delicious homegrown goodies!

As we near growing season, you can start warming up your green thumb by giving your favourite annuals and edibles a head-start for spring planting. Gardening indoors during the winter can have a magical effect on your mood. The joy of seeing fresh spring shoots before the real thing appears outside gives hope for what is to come. However, beyond the mental health benefits, seeding indoors has tangible benefits for our gardens too! By seeding in the warmth of your home you provide a longer window to enjoy your plants after their spring transplant. But to make sure you reap the rewards of seeding indoors, we have some top tips to make your garden flourish this year!

Before You Plant Your Seeds

Our growing season in Manitoba is unfortunately short but can still be oh so sweet with proper preparation. While there are plenty of early-maturing flower and edible varieties out there, indoor seeding allows us to enjoy other varieties that wouldn’t have a chance to reach maturity if we waited to plant until after the last frost. Before you get started though, you’ll want to be prepared:

Read your instructions carefully (seriously)

The back of each seed packet has important information specific to that particular variety. Ensure you give it a read before purchasing so you’re prepared to meet your seedlings’ special requirements – and the end result is what you’re looking for.

Know your zone for perennials

The southern half of Manitoba is predominantly zone 2a, 2b, and 3a. If you’re planting perennials, review a plant hardiness zone map prior to purchasing seeds. While some that are from zones close to ours can be convinced to grow here, some seeds that are adapted to much warmer climates may start indoors just fine but not survive after transplanting outside without protection.

Start small to grow big

If it’s your first year of seed starting and you hope to plant an entire edible garden, pause before you start seeding all your vegetables indoors. It’s better to start with one or two varieties and learn how to care for them well, rather than biting off more than you can chew with five to ten plants in the first year. It’s much more satisfying have one or two strong, healthy, high-yielding plants than several struggling ones. Besides, you can still always purchase starter seedlings in the spring if you still want to expand your edible garden.

Don’t start too early

While it may be tempting to start seeing something fresh and green as soon as possible, you will find yourself a little underwhelmed if you start your seeds too early. Most plants only need about six weeks before they’re ready for transplant. Start too early and the conditions the plant needs to grow won’t be there for it yet, leaving you with a weak, lanky, or stunted seedling. Reviewing a seeding calendar first can help you plan your indoor seeding schedule.

Planting & Germinating

Once you’ve prepared properly, you’re ready to get growing! Here’s how to get your seeds started indoors:

It’s all in the dirt

It may seem like dirt is just dirt, but when it comes to seed starting, choosing the right soil plays an important role in how well your seeds develop. Our top choice would be to go right to a seed starting blend. This type of soil is typically finer in texture than other soils and allows for optimum seed to soil contact. If you prefer though, you can also use a blend that has peat moss, perlite or vermiculite, which is really just to say, a mixture that is well-draining to ensure sufficient drainage and oxygen flow for your developing plant.

Whatever your blend, make sure it’s with new materials purchased at the garden centre and not pulled from your garden as your vulnerable little seeds will need sterile conditions to get started. Then, follow the seed packet instructions for the correct planting depth.

Let there be light

Before germinating, seeds haven’t developed a system for synthesizing light. It’s important to keep them covered to conserve moisture until the first leaf develops. Once you see the leaf emerge, place them by a sunny window. In our climate, your seedling likely won’t receive the necessary 12 hours of light it needs per day this early in the year, so supplement light during those dark hours with a grow light.

Wet your plants

Seeds are already rich in the nutrients they need to grow so they need no fertilizer, but they will need a consistently moist environment to germinate. Too much water can cause mould and too little can dry out the baby plant. Keep soil damp by misting as needed with a spray bottle.

Transplant thoughtfully

While those first few days of above-zero weather may make us feel like breaking out the shorts and t-shirts, it’s still a little early for your seedling to survive outside – especially with our chilly spring nights! After the risk of frost has passed, harden them off by giving them a few hours outdoors at a time. Repeat this daily for longer and longer stretches of time. Overcast days without wind or rain are particularly good starting points as your plant is not accustomed to direct sunlight or rain. After a week or two, your seedling should be toughened up enough for transplanting.

Plants, like babies and puppies, are a lot more work than you’d expect from something so small – but at least they have the manners to stay in one spot while they grow! And we promise as they mature, all the dedication you put into them will be worth it. Before long, you’ll be able to look on proudly as they sway in the summer breeze – and this winter will be a distant memory.

If you need help choosing the perfect seeds to start this year, or advice on how best to make them grow get in touch or stop in to the garden centre, we’d love to help you get your garden started!