Most Common Seed-Starting Mistakes
Seeds are magic to gardens. Tuck them in soil, add a little water and you’re on the way to a beautiful bloom or tasty harvest. Start seeds indoors to jump-start your garden. Whether or not you have experience starting seeds, you’ll improve your success by avoiding these common errors.
Seed-Starting Mistake #1: Catalog Hypnosis
It’s tough to resist the beautiful pictures and glowing words in seed catalogs. Even experienced gardeners struggle to resist the allure. That’s the first mistake most seed starters make: ordering too many seeds. A simple secret to success with seed-starting is exercising self-restraint. If you’re new to the practice, don’t start too many different types of seeds. Stick with simple ones, such as Tomato, Basil, Zinnia or Cosmos.
Seed-Starting Mistake #2: Starting Too Soon
In many regions, sowing seeds gives you a chance to get your hands dirty when it’s too cold to garden outdoors. Don’t start your seeds too soon. Most plants are ready to shift into the great outdoors in 4-6 weeks. Learn more about perfect timing for seeds.
Seed-Starting Mistake #3: Planting Too Deep
Read seed packets carefully, for detailed information about how deep to plant seeds. The rule of thumb is to plant seeds at a depth equal to two or three times their width. It’s better to plant seeds too shallow than too deep. Some seeds, such as certain Lettuces or Snapdragon, need light to germinate and shouldn’t be covered at all.
Seed-Starting Mistake #4: Not Labeling Trays
Once you start sowing seeds and get dirt on your fingers, you won’t want to stop and make labels. Before planting, prepare labels and add them to containers as soon as the seeds go into soil. Otherwise, it can be tough to tell seedlings apart. Be sure to include sowing date on your labels.
Seed-Starting Mistake #5: Soil Isn’t Warm
Seed packets specify the temperature seeds need to germinate – soil temperature, not air temperature. Most seed germinate at 78ºF. You’ll have sure success if you use a waterproof root-zone heating mat. Once seeds germinate, aim to keep soil temperature in the 65-70ºF range.
Seed-Starting Mistake #6: Too Little Light
In the warmest regions of the country, there’s enough ambient light in a south-facing window to grow stocky seedlings. In northern areas where winter brings persistent cloud cover, you’ll need supplemental lights. Purchase or build an illuminated plant stand to start seedlings. For stocky, healthy seedlings, provide 14-16 hours of light daily. Suspend lights 2-3 inches above seedlings.
Seed-Starting Mistake #7: Water Woes
For seeds to germinate, you need to keep the growing soil damp but not too wet. Many seed starters cover the container to keep soil moist until seeds germinate. Once seeds sprout, don’t miss a watering. Unlike established plants, seedlings don’t have an extensive root system they can rely on for vital moisture. At the same time, it’s important not to overwater and let seedlings sit in water.
Seed-Starting Mistake #8: Not Enough Pampering
Seedlings are delicate creatures. They need daily attention and lots of tender loving care, especially when they’re young. If you can’t monitor seedlings daily, checking on germination, soil moisture, temperature, and lights, you’ll definitely reduce your chances of success. Seedlings don’t survive neglect.
Learn More About Starting Seeds
Not sure you want to start seedlings? Learn why you should consider starting your own seeds.
Seedlings must be prepared for the transition to life in the garden. Learn how to strengthen seedlings before planting.
Improve your success when planting seeds by avoiding these common seed-starting mistakes and errors such as planting too deep, starting too soon or watering too much.
How To Germinate Seeds 3X Faster ( & What NOT to Do)
January 24, 2020
- 72.4K shares
This is our FAVORITE method to germinate seeds quickly. As passionate gardeners, we have been using it to start seeds for over 10 years! It works great for all herbs, flowers, and vegetables seeds.
For most types of seeds, this is our go-to gardening secret! 🙂 Germinating seeds in 1/3 time with 3X more success, yes, you have to try this!
In this article, we will look at when and how to use this seed germination method. Comparison of two methods: germinating seeds on paper towel vs. germinating seeds in soil, plus some helpful tips we have learned along the way, and readers questions at the end!
Definitely check out the tips, because there is one thing that you should NOT copy what the nurseries do!
And feel free to download this pretty (and free ) printable planting calendar when you start the seeds! =)
Or make this seed storage box from cardboard boxes! ( Some of the helpful resources are affiliate links. Full disclosure here. )
Our favorite method to germinate seeds super fast with much more success.
We discovered this method to start seeds from an older book- Planning The Organic Vegetable Garden. It made such a huge difference , we just LOVE it and have been using it every year for the last 10+ years! This method is called pre sprouting, or pre germinate in the book.
Step one: germinate seeds on paper towel
All you need is a plastic or glass container with a tight lid. Clear ones will make it easier to see through, but not required as the seeds don’t need light to send out roots.
Put a piece of paper towel or white paper on the bottom of the container, add water till the paper towel is thoroughly moist, but no puddles of water.
Sprinkle seeds in groups on the damp paper towel, close the lid, and make a note to yourself what type of seeds are where, especially when you have seeds that look identical, for example- broccoli, kale and cauliflower.
Place the container with seeds out of direct sun.
This is very important, because a closed container can get super hot, and all the germinating seeds would die from the heat.
Start checking on them the next day. If the seeds are really fresh, some will germinate in as little as 1 day! The fastest germinating seeds include everything in the cabbage family – bok choi, broccoli, kale, cauliflower etc, and lettuce.
The slowest seeds to germinate are pepper, eggplant, fennel, celery, which may take 5+ days. The rest such as tomato, beets, chard, squash, onions, will take about 3 days.
Step 2: Plant germinated seeds in pots
It is important to have pots and soil ready to go.
As soon as you see roots coming out, plant them right away. If the roots get too long, it will be hard to separate the roots from the paper towel. If that happens, just plant the paper towel!
It may seem hard to pick up a tiny seed, but it really is quite easy. you can use a tooth pick, or just your fingers, which is what I do.
Plant them at a depth of 1-2 seeds size ( shallow depth for small seeds, deeper for bigger seeds) , and gently mist them daily for the first week.
We also like to put the pots in saucers and fill the bottom with water till the soil in each pot is saturated, then empty the saucer. It will take a couple of days for the little green leaves to pop out. Now they will need full sun to grow strong and healthy! Below is an extreme example of how much we love this method! =)
If you try these DIY / decor / garden / craft projects, tag us on Instagram at @apieceofrainbow, we would love to see what you create!
Comparison of germinating seed on paper towel method with germinating seeds in soil.
Here’s how to plant seeds in soil, which is what most people do:
In a pot filled with soil, sprinkle some seed, add a thin layer of soil, water thoroughly. And wait.
Sounds familiar? Once you try the paper towel method to start seeds, you will rarely go back to the soil method. Here’s why.
Pros of germinating seed on paper towel:
- Great success rate: Have you ever scatter a whole packet of 300 seeds, just to have 3 plants survive? The reason is soil tend to dry out, while the paper towel maintains consistent moisture level. When we germinate seeds on paper towel, we sow 12 seeds if we want 10 broccoli plants, because almost all of them will germinate and grow. When we get fresh seeds from a good seed company, the germination rate is almost 100%!
- Test old or new seeds: If you have seeds that are a few years old, germinating seeds on paper towel is a great way to quickly test if they are still alive. We have been able to grow healthy plants from cabbage or tomato seeds that are over 5 years old! If you store seeds in a cool and dry place, some can have quite a long life. We also use this technique to find out if the new seeds we got are good quality.
- Faster germination: For example, cabbage seeds take 1-2 days to germinate on paper towel and another 2 days to leaf out, while it can take 2-3 times longer if sown directly in the soil.
Cons of germinating seed on paper towel:
There is one extra step of planting the germinated seed in soil. So if you want to plant a whole field of flowers or vegetables, this method will not be practical.
Now you see the pros and cons, it is very easy to see which method is better for the home gardener!
FAQ and helpful tips we have learned:
90% of the time we use this method to germinate seeds, but we sometimes direct sow seeds that grow super easily and super fast, or less attractive to pests, such as arugula, radishes, or carrots.
Although you see seedlings grown in six-packs at nurseries, I think it’s a fantasy because those plants were grown in perfect greenhouse conditions with daily fertilizers.
It’s very hard to grow seedlings to that big in a six-pack for home gardeners. We prefer to grow them in 4 inch pots like these, or a long deep planter like in the above image. This allows the seedling to grow quicker and bigger before being transplanted, so they don’t disappear with one bug bite!
Have pots and soil ready! Because the seeds could germinate in as little as one day! If your seeds grow into the paper towel, yes, you can plant the paper towel.
For the first 1-2 weeks after planting them in pots, mist the seedlings or gently water them, and keep the soil moist. They are fragile and can fall over easily!
Our favorite seed companies are Baker Creek Seeds, and Everwilde Farms both are started and ran by some great passionate people! Just look at that gorgeous green corn from Baker Creek, irresistible!
If you try these DIY / decor / garden / craft projects, tag us on Instagram at @apieceofrainbow, we would love to see what you create!
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Wish you a beautiful and bountiful garden this spring!
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Wow! This is a really in depth blog post! I had no previous knowledge of seeds, so this is very helpful!
if you use a weak tea solution, (dilluted unsweetened tea) it provides a boost to starting seeds as well combined with this method.
Please can’t understand chart that says just to show how much we love ABC stands for what and 123 stands for what.. Thanks for you in advance for your reply
The chart you referred to is the one with seeds? I think that’s just a way of remembering which seeds are where. You can make your own grid then keep track of what you put in each part of the grid. EXAMPLE: A5 is where you put the tomato seed, c7 is where the cucumbers are.
Ananda – this is AWESOME information!! Wish I’d known this years ago since I grow all my veggies from seed. THANK YOU!!
with your GREEN thumb yours will start in 1 hour i bet! =)
This is really cool! I will have to add some planters to my balcony this season!
I wish I had a green thumb and was able to do this!
Kyla Currier, you don’t need a green thumb to have a garden. I don’t have one, my husband did, but we divorced 25 years ago. I learned some essential things from him, that are necessary to having a nice garden. Through trial and error of leaving out the essentials, I have wasted quite a few growing seasons!
If you follow these few simple absolute musts, you will be suprised at how simple growing a garden is:
1.The Seeds: Germinate just like this article explains. Super simple and reliable. Follow package directions for sunliight. (Full sun, or partial,for less- 2. The Soil: And this is crucial. It must be turned over, either by digging, or tilling. First year is there hardest, subsequent years are a matter if turning over with shovel, but 1 St time garden, the rocks need to be picked out , and the clumps of dirt broken up. 3. Also crucial: FERTILIZER… Depends on your soul, but basically, if you can just put some manure on/in (usually your local cow/horse farm will gladly let you take some out of his stalls, take your shovel! free of charge. Dump it on, shovel it under, evenly. Ideally, this should be done in the fall, after your last hardest, so it can break down over the winter, and not risk burning, or over fertilizing. Although I have had to put in in in Spring, just before planting, and I just made sure to use about 1/4 the amount, and get the OLDEST Pooh in the field/barnyard. And my plants loved it. Just make sure to evenly distribute. 4. Water: Make sure to check your soil daily, to make sure it is moist, (if not, water with hose — never during mid day heat), continue to check daily, in the evening or late afternoon until you get accustomed to how your particular soil drains/maintains moisture., due to your climate and rainfall. Be creative, you don’t always have to stand there and hold the house. If soil gets dry, plants WILL wilt and quickly die, also, continued dry soil will effect produce production. Mist plants in the eve, or morn, they will love you! 5. Lastly, everyone’s favorite part of gardening…WEEDING. Pull weeds between rows after watering (roots pull out easily). Stay on top of it, avoid plant killers, it’s poison you will end up consuming. Weeding is necessary to allow sunlight to get to the entire plant. AND, the VEGGIES will get all the watering, instead of the weeds. Same with nutition from your soil. AND THATS IT!! I’m confident if you follow these few simple rules, you will have tastier, healthier food, for a healthier you. Keep in mind kids LOVE learning, and being helpful. Andy if you want to start extra small, you can try some tomato plants in 5 gallon buckets, on your porch. Like I said,cI DO NOT have a green thumb. I don’t even have any house plants, because they tend to die every winter. But girl, I can grow tomatoes, cukes, and squash and zukes as good as anyone, and miles better than the grocery store has to offer. It’s prob not too late if you get in in THIS week!! HURRY. You’ll be so glad you did, And it is so rewarding, and good for the soul to get DOWN TO EARTH. ☀️🌱😊
thank you so much Ronni for sharing so many great gardening tips! 🙂
thank you for providing this in depth description and response of what to look for when begginning techniques outlined in the article. you rock!!
What an awesome idea! I had a tiny garden last year that I adored, but we’ve since moved to a place where I can have a garden about eight times the size of my former one. I’m SO excited to get started, and I’ll definitely use this method!
wow that’s awesome!! wish you a great garden natalie!!
Wonderful post! I have not tried planting from seeds yet but I will this come Spring. In the past I have grown roots from stems and that proved to be gratifying. Your advice will surely come in handy when I have a try at planting seeds 🙂
i am sure your garden will be so lovely cara!!
I have ALWAYS wanted to have a small garden, but have not yet taken the plunge! Maybe this year will be the year!
This takes me back to school when we used to grow seeds on kitchen roll! This is such a helpful and insightful post 🙂
i love the name “kitchen roll”!! xx
Great advice. In my case, it seems like it takes ages for them to grow.
I absolutely love this method – it looks like a great way to be more successful than I have with seeds in the past. Not only that, but I do have some old seeds that I’d love to try this on!
i can just imagine how yummy your garden to table dishes are!! xo
What a brilliant tip! I love how easy it is to get through your seeds this way- I definitely have a few packs where I’m not sure they’ll ever grow. 🙂
Oh I love this I’m such a green thumb and absolutely love these tips Thankyou
No way. I’ve never thought to do this but I definitely am going to now. I love gardening but really dont like the sowing gamble. lol. Planting 300 and only getting 3. Thanks for sharing!
thank you erin! wish you a bountiful garden!! xx
What a good idea! I don’t have a green thumb at all, but I really like these tips, it makes me want to retry this whole plant growing thing! (:
hope you will! it’s really rewarding! =)
This is GENIUS! I can’t wait to try it out!
I taught 4th grade for many years and this was the method I used to pre-sprout. Great post!
kids always know the best ways to do things! =)
Oh my gosh, this is genius! Pinning this so I don’t forget this amazing trick! Thanks for sharing!
wish you a great garden kelly!!
oh wow this is so cool, I am not much of a gardener so this looks interesting to me
Such an awesome trick! I used to plant a garden every summer growing up!
This looks like so much fun! Definitely want to start my own garden now!
have fun selbe! xx
I like various flowers, sensitive plant, elephant ears, oxylis. I love houseplants, but some can be bought in seed form, which I do not have good success with, help! Will your method grow my seeds to plants?
This is terrific. I pinned it too so I will have it to use as a reference! I don’t know why but seeds always intimidate me LOL
thank you stacy! seeds are great because you can grow so many varieties!
Ooh, I love your idea to jump-start germination! I do have to ask though, have you ever run into trouble with seeds molding instead of sprouting? I’ve had my share of failures, and I’m not really sure what the problem was… :/
hi lauriel, yes that’s happened before. when seeds mold, it means they are no longer alive!
I used to help my dad prepare all the seedlings ready for planting when I was younger! This takes me back a bit! Gorgeous images!
I was just researching this to prepare for our first garden at our new home, this post is perfect. Thank you so much for sharing the great information!
This is awesome! I just moved from New York City so gardening is definitely not my strong point. Hopefully now I can get to know more about planting!
I’m not much of a gardening type but I have always dreamed of having an herb garden, I have a lot to learn!
Wow, great idea! We just bought our house last April and had a small garden with plants I bought already started at the farmers market. They did great but we want to use seeds this year! I’ll definitely be doing this! This may be a silly question but do you just place one seed in the starter pots before transplanting? I’ve tried to grow herbs before by just sprinkling a handful of seeds in the pot and it usually doesn’t flourish as I hoped. Thanks!
thank you lauren! for 4″ pots, i put 1 seed if it’s tomato, broccoli, or other plants that take a while to grow or does not like transplanting, such as squash. if it’s onions, lettuce, cilantro, i put 3 or more seeds per pot. =)
This idea is making me excited for spring to arrive. I love it. Gotta go … off to get my seeds and plastic containers…Thanks!
Germinate seeds 3X faster with more success in 1 day! Best secret to plant herbs, flowers, & vegetables from seeds. Our favorite fail-proof gardening tips!