Yard and Garden: Starting Seeds Indoors

AMES, Iowa – Gardeners can get a jump on their gardens by starting seeds indoors. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach discuss the types of equipment and conditions needed. To have additional questions answered contact the Iowa State University Hortline at hortline@iastate.edu or 515-294-3108.

What type of germination medium should I use to start seedlings indoors?

The germination medium should be lightweight, porous and free of pathogens. Excellent seed-starting media are commercially prepared soilless mixes, such as Jiffy Mix. Use a high quality, well-drained potting mix when transplanting seedlings into individual pots or cell packs.

Which types of containers can be used to start seedlings indoors?

Various containers can be used to germinate and grow transplants. Gardeners can purchase flats, trays, cell packs, pots, compressed peat pellets and other commercial products. Cut-off milk cartons or plastic jugs, paper cups and egg cartons also can be used to start seeds. Previously used flats, trays and pots should be cleaned and disinfected before use. Wash the containers in soapy water, then disinfect them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and nine parts water. Holes should be punched in the bottoms of milk cartons, jugs, paper cups and similar containers to allow for drainage.

What are some good sources of flower and vegetable seeds?

Flower and vegetable seeds can be purchased at local garden centers and other retailers. They’re also available from mail-order/Internet companies. Mail-order/Internet sources include:

Do I need to purchase a heat mat to successfully germinate seeds indoors?

Most seeds germinate best when the medium temperature is consistently 70 to 75 F. Placing containers in a warm location in the house, such as on top of a radiator or near a heat register, usually works fine. In cool environments, electric heating cables or mats can be used to ensure warm medium temperatures.

Will a fluorescent light fixture provide sufficient light for seedlings?

A standard fluorescent shop fixture containing two 40-watt tubes provides sufficient light to grow seedlings indoors. For best results, place one cool white and one warm white tube in each fixture. Place the fluorescent lights no more than 4 to 6 inches above the seedlings. The lights should be on for 12 to 14 hours each day.

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