Purchase high-quality seeds packed for the current year. Before using them, test old seeds, and always store seeds correctly for later use.
Choose containers based on your needs and preferences. Thoroughly clean terra-cotta or plastic pots before reusing them for seed starting. Use large clay or plastic pots with drainage holes, also known as community pots, for starting a group of seedlings. Peat pots, cell packs, and pellets are naturally sterile, and because they can be directly planted outdoors, they are ideal for plants with delicate roots. For large sowings, use plastic cell packs for convenience.
Using a dibble or pencil, make holes in mix, about twice as deep as the seed is wide, and sow seeds at the depth and distance recommended on the seed packet. Cover with more mix unless otherwise specified. Seeds that require light to germinate can be sprinkled on the soil surface.
Once you've sown seeds indoors, check containers daily for new shoots. Keep the seed-starting mix moist until germination is complete and the emergence of new seedlings slows markedly or stops. Remove covers, and if you haven't already, place seedlings under grow lights, leaving lights on about 14 to 16 hours per day. Continue to bottom-water.
As soon as seedlings produce their first true leaves, begin watering with a balanced fertilizer or fish emulsion diluted to one-quarter strength. Prick out seedlings planted in community pots, and transplant them to individual pots or cell packs filled with moist soilless mix. Lift seedlings by their leaves rather than by their delicate stems.
If necessary, transplant seedling to a larger pot as it grows. Before planting outdoors, gradually harden off seedlings: Two weeks before transplanting, place seedlings outdoors for a few hours at a time, gradually increasing their time outside until they are acclimated.
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