Most seeds in pots should be started about six weeks prior to being placed outdoors. You can go the most expensive and usually foolproof route with commercial flats and a humidity dome, which will serve to keep the soil moist or make your own. Your pots can be egg cartons; clean milk containers or plastic bottles cut down; or pots made from rolled newspaper. To these you can add your own humidity dome by inserting straws or something that will hold the plastic up off the soil. The plastic can be a cleaner’s plastic bag cut open and draped over the seed tray.

Soil choices vary. The easiest method is to purchase a bag of potting soil. It is sterile and will hold moisture. You can make your own but it would be wise to sterilize the soil by baking in the oven for a short period of time. When potting, make sure that the soil is damp but NOT WET. Too much water can cause the seeds to rot or when they emerge to “damp off,” which will kill them. As soon as the seeds have sprouted, remove the humidity dome.

Small seeds will only need a 2 inch “cell” or pot. Put in 3 seeds per pot making sure that there is enough room in between them and the sides of the pot. Your catalogue and seed packet will have all the directions you will need to successfully sow you seeds.

After your seeds germinate, wait until they produce their second set of leaves. That set will be their first true leaves. At that point, you will select the best two seedlings and remove the other.

Your seedlings have been growing in a controlled environment. Gradually they will have to be introduced to their new location. This is called “hardening off.” Begin with a few hours of filtered sun in the shade of a bush or a covered porch to toughen the plants. Protect them from the wind. Within a week move them so that they receive more light. After the second week they should be ready to plant. Hopefully by now the weather and overnight temperatures have warmed and you can plant them in your garden site. The soil will be ready when it has warmed to no less than 50 degrees.

Be patient. Soon you will be picking your vegetables. It will be exciting to experiment with and eat purple beans and carrots, yellow beets, long red Asian beans and melons that have tiger stripes.

Growing your own plants from seed will not only save you money; it will encourage you to become stewards of the land.

Janet Cacho, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Growing plants from seeds allows us to economically grow the quantity and variety we like. The seed packet will usually give you a time to start but average is about 6 weeks prior to the last frost.

The container is the first thing to consider. Trays with covers or peat pots can be purchased at the store. Other containers could be the milk cartons, newspaper pots, polystyrene egg cartons or even the egg shell. If using milk cartons, egg cartons or egg shells or previously used containers be sure to wash thoroughly in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Punch holes in the bottom for water drainage. The milk carton should be cut to about 2-3 inches in height. Cut the lid off the egg cartons and use as water tray. If using newspaper pots, tear approx. 3 inches high strips. Get a small juice can and roll the newspaper strip tightly around the can. About an inch of the newspaper should below the can as this will be folded in to form the bottom. Once done, carefully remove the can and place pot in planting tray.

The potting mix can be purchased from the store. It will be sterile and weed free, lightweight and water absorbent. If making your own mix from sand, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite or soil, it needs to be sterilized before use. Place a small amount in a shallow pan in a 350 degree oven for 1 ½ hours. I must warn that it might have an odor for a short time. Another method would be to place it in a pan and pour in boiling water, cover and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly in sieve and let cool.

The potting mix should be moist like a sponge and free of clumps. Cut a plastic grocery bag into strips ¾ inch wide and 8-10 inches long. Place in the container and leave sticking out on each side. This will serve to make removing the plant from the container easier at transplanting time. Fill the containers to ¼ inch from the top. Then tap tray to help settle the mix. Do not pack down.

Soaking the seeds overnight before planting allows them to absorb the moisture for easier germination. Drain and pat dry. Plant immediately, do not allow them to dry out. Place several seeds in each container as all may not germinate and they can be thinned later. Place the recommended depth of mix on top. Small seeds may not need to be covered. Water/mist ever so gently. This will provide the surface moisture for soil and give seeds good contact with mix. Do not water too much or seed could rot.

Label, label, label. A good label is to use old, cut up mini-blinds and a permanent marker.

Cover the tray with plastic. A dry cleaner plastic cut open works well. Some air circulation is needed but not enough to let the plants dry out. Once covered, you should not have to water again unless the surface feels dry then mist to dampen. Moisture is crucial to seedlings at this point. Place in a warm, draft free area. If you have a plant mat, it will keep the roots warm.

When the seedlings have sprouted remove the plastic and move to more, indirect light. A fluorescent light on a timer for 12-16 hours and hung no more than 6 inches above the plants is excellent. If the light has a reflector, clip aluminum-foil to the reflector and extend out over the edge of the tray. This will provide greater light and warmth. When the second set of leaves appear begin fertilizing with a diluted solution. After the plants have several sets of leaves, select the strongest plant and thin the rest in the container by cutting them off. Pulling them out could damage the remaining plant’s roots.

Before transplanting, harden the plants off by putting them outside for a week in a shaded area. If it is going to be too windy or cold, cover them.

Growing your own plants will give you satisfaction and save you money.

Linda Sargent, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


Sometimes the difficulty in planting small seeds can take the joy out of gardening. Here is a way to make it easy.

If the seed package says to plant one-half inch deep, how can you plant at the proper depth? I find it very difficult to dig a trench with a hoe that is one half inch deep. My solution is to use a 1×1 piece of lumber that is about four feet long. After you prepare your seed bed, instead of digging a trench with a hoe, gently press the 1×1 piece of lumber horizontally into the bed with one corner facing down to a depth of one half inch. This will leave an indention of the correct depth that is four feet long.

If you want to plant a longer row, repeat the procedure until you have the entire row with the one half inch indention. Plant your seeds in the indention and then cover with fine soil. It is a lot easier to judge one half inch using the 1×1 than it is to use a hoe to dig the trench. You can also mark the 1×1 to indicate the distance between seeds to get the proper spacing between plants.

Using this method should make planting small seeds quick and easy.

Betty Atchley, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Propagation