Small Space Seed Starting Part Two: Potting Up Your Plants

*This post is Part 2 of a series that will take you from the very beginnings of starting seeds in a small space, such as a home, apartment, or backyard greenhouse, all the way through to getting your young plants ready to plant outside. See the other posts in this series for a complete guide on how to start and grow seeds in the small space of a home or apartment (useful for small-scale greenhouse growing, too!)

Now that your seedlings are up, it’s time to start potting up.

What Does It Mean to ‘Pot Up’ Your Plant?

Potting up means pretty much what it sounds like. When you “pot up” a plant, you transplant it into a larger pot. In the case of starting seeds and small-space seed starting, you are going to gently separate those small seedlings and plant the into individual pots so that they can grow to transplant size, ready to be planted outside into your garden, raised bed, or patio containers—whatever your case may be.

Why Pot Up Seedlings?

Seedlings that have been potted up.

Starting seeds in bulk containers helps us get the best, most viable seedlings started to transplant into individual pots and thus, eventually, plants. This method is all at once a quick-start and small-space saver, but more importantly, it is a way to get only viable seeds started, thereby selecting out poor seeds and their future inferior plants in the process. The seedlings were never intended to spend their entire potted lives in these bulk pots. The plan all along was to pot them up for vigorous, individual growth.

The next step, therefore, must be to pot up the plants to give the best of them, our best possible crop, space, soil, water, air, and nutrients to grow.

What Type and Size of Pots to Use to Pot up Plants?

When it comes to pots and options to plant garden transplants in, there are a number of options, many of them good. There’s a good chance you’ve seen lots of ideas, even up-cycled vessels, online that can be utilized. The short version is that most any individual pot or cell that is two to three inches deep by one to two inches wide that has good drainage is adequate.

Whether you choose peat pots that go into the ground, paper cups, “pill” type expanding plant pellets, small single pots, or multi-plant plastic cell packs is up to you, as long as the pot fits the bill for potting up.That said, my recommendation is to use those plastic, multi-cell plant cell packs. If you truly want to avoid plastic, there are biodegradable peat-pot versions of them as well, but I do tend to find more ripping and tearing and degrading before transplant time with these (still not a horrible option).

My preference for plastic cell packs is based on:

  • Ease of use.
  • Reasonable pricing.
  • Compact yet adequate spacing for small-space plant growing.
  • Recyclability—both in that the material is recyclable when it is no longer in good enough condition for planting, but also in that with proper care, cleaning, and storage you can generally use the same set of cell packs for many seasons.
  • Compatibility with standard plant trays.
  • Ease of watering and maintenance with other standard components.

What size plant cell packs are recommended?

804 tray inserts 4-cell pack, daisy tray

One 10×20 plant tray can hold enough cell packs to plant up to 48 individual plants if using a standard 6-cell pack. The same tray will hold 32 plants if using a 4-cell pack.

Either is perfectly adequate and the cost difference is negligible, if at all, so at this point it really comes down to preference and plant quantity.

804 tray inserts for planting

For small-space seed starting, 6-cell packs are probably the most sensible. If you have the extra space, four-cell packs give a little more room for plants to grow without tangling later on.

In the gardening world, 6-cell packs are called 806 tray inserts/cell packs and 4-cell packs are called 804 tray inserts/cell packs.

If you search accordingly, you will come up with them quickly. A full set of inserts usually costs around $5 per tray (32 to 48 cells).

Potting-Up Supply List:

You may have many of the supplies you need already, because many of them will be reused from the seed germinating stage. Now is the time to take a count of how many of each type of plant you are planning for your garden and buy your pots or packs accordingly. You will need:

What type of potting soil to use?

Whereas for germinating seeds we used a specific seed-starting soil, now is the time to move to a labelled potting soil. Potting soil does contain more organics and some fertilizer that the growing plants will need, which seedling soil does not. All you are looking for is a good-quality potting soil that is not too sandy or too filled with large mulch and pieces.

Most good-quality commercial potting soils will fit this bill as long as you don’t go for total bargain-basement substandard soils. It should be a soil that does not compact too much and that contains enough peat or good organics to uptake water and hold moisture. Potting soil is not overly expensive—under $15 for an eight-quart bag, which is enough for most home gardeners, depending on plant quantity.

When to Pot Up Germinated Seedlings

Once your seeds have germinated you should move them to a warm and light place (under your grow lights or near or on a bright windowsill is find, just be sure they are not close so as to be burned by heat-generating grow lights). Generally speaking, you should let these young seedlings grow for one to two weeks before potting them up. This gives them time to grow some reliable roots for the transplant.

Two signs will tell you that your seedlings are developed enough for transplanting.

cotyledon leaves and true leaves

One very reliable sign is when you see the first “true” leaves starting to develop. These are NOT the FIRST leaves you’ll see.

The very first leaves you will see are the cotyledon leaves, which are actually part of the plant embryo and are an early food source for the new seedling. In time you will start to see very small leaflets develop in the center or above these leaves. Seeing these tiny leaves is a sure sign that your seedlings are ready for potting up.

In the above image, note that the round bottom-most leaves are the cotyledon leaves, and the very small, pointed leaves emerging in the middle are the first true leaves.

Some seedlings take quite a while before you see these “true” leaves, and/or the seedlings and leaves are very small, making it hard to discover them. And so, I do not always wait for these leaves before moving ahead and potting up the seedlings of all varieties. As long as the seedlings have more than one single root, where you can begin to see branching in the root, your seedlings should be developed enough to withstand the potting up process.

developed roots in seedlings

To determine root development, you will have to pry up gently on an edge seedling ad take a look at the root structure, then use our own judgement.

(I should say here my personal experience has been that even very young and under-developed seedlings have, for me, successfully transplanted as long as they have lived about two weeks since germination and have some notable roots).

You will have flexibility, even of a couple of weeks, giving you enough time to pot up your plants even if some life something interferes on the ideal week or weekend. Just note that at some point the crowding of the germination pot will stunt seedling growth and waiting too many extra weeks will mean that you are inhibiting the plant’s growth by not separating it and giving it room to individually grow and thrive. So while a little delay is okay, a long delay will delay the development and growth to outside transplant size that you need for future planting and result in delayed harvesting.

How to Handle Seedlings When Potting Up

Always handle seedlings and transplant by the leaves and not the stems when working them. The stems are the weakest part of the plant. You might not expect it, but the leaves and leaf attachment are actually very strong on a plant.

By holding and handling your seedlings by the leaves and never by the stems, you will minimize breakage of seedlings when potting them. You’ll soon come to find that these little powerhouses are much stronger than we give them credit for when properly handled by the leaves and not the stems!

How to Pot Up Garden Seedlings

Step 1. Prep your potting soil.

Prep your potting soil for potting just like you did for germinating seeds. Moisten the soil and loosen it (if compacted) or mix it through. You want the oil to be slightly moist, but not soaked and not clumping.

cell packs in daisy tray

Step 2. Set up inserts and trays.

Assuming you are using cell packs and a daisy tray, insert one set/tray of cell-packs into one daisy tray.

fill with potting soil

Step 3. Fill with soil.

Fill the entire tray of cell packs (or containers if using something else) with soil. Fill even with the top of the pack (soil will compact when watered).

use a popsicle stick or craft stick to pry up seedling bunch

Step 4. Separate seedlings.

Use a pencil, popsicle stick, skewer, or similar tool to gently pry under an entire row or clump of seedlings, then pull them apart as follows:

pry seedlings out of pot gently and then separate

Remove an entire clump or cell of seedlings at one time and then work them apart. You’ll be surprised how easily they come apart without harm if you follow these instructions.

handle seedling by leaves

Handling seedlings individually by their leaves, gently but firmly pull the clumped seedlings apart to separate the roots.

While this sounds harsh and unrealistic, be assured that the seedlings will easily handle this and the roots will separate very easily. Yes, it sounds like they shouldn’t, but they certainly do!

Step 5. Plant into individual pots or cells.

If using cell packs, plant one type of plant per 4- or 6-cell pack, or one plant per single pot. Plant as many different packs and as many different types of plant per tray.
Make a hole in each soil-filled pot or cell (pencil, marker, or just your finger will work just fine for this!). Make the hole fairly deep. The length of the stem and roots will dictate this, but you want to plant the seedlings almost up to the lowest leaves, with just a short section of stem exposed below the leaves, above the soil line.

Seedlings planted inside tend to get long and leggy in the stem, longer than you want them to be for strong stem and plant growth. You will do no harm to the seedlings by planting these young stems deeply. In fact, you’ll do them a favor! This is your chance to correct that legginess!!

plant almost up to leaves

Plant the seedling to a little lower than leaf-level. It helps to think of it this way—the growth of the plant will basically occur above the existing leaves. So, you want that base to be low and sturdy relative to your pot.

This is how I have potted up my seedlings for many years, and it is a method that has always treated me well!

peaking squash seed, newly germinated

Step 6. Label the pack or pot.

Be sure to immediately label each cell pack or pot. Don’t rely on your memory or seedling recognition—things change quickly and many plants and seedlings look similar as they develop!

Step 7. Bottom water with optional diluted fertilizer.

Once you have an entire cell or tray ready, place the pack in a tray of water and bottom water as you did when you started the seeds to germinate. Leave the pack in the water and let it absorb the water from the bottom up. Leave it in the water only until the top of the soil turns evenly dark with moisture, and then remove.

Soak seed pots for better seed starting.

The potting soil you use should have an adequate amount of fertilizer in it to maintain the seedlings for the first couple of weeks, however, it is often recommended, and results in stronger plants, to add a diluted strength of liquid fertilizer to the water when you transplant your seedlings.
This will give them a stronger start, faster growth, and more quickly developed root system.

A good, all-purpose liquid fertilizer will work nicely. Read the instructions to determine the normal dilution strength, and then cut that by 50%. Your plants will need regularly-scheduled fertilization in the weeks ahead.

Step 8. Provide good light.

Plants that have been potted up immediately require good, full-spectrum light that is not too far away, provided for most of the day. If you have a bright, sunny, natural light source you may be able to forego providing artificial light. If you start to see your seedlings becoming very “leggy” and long, or if your plants look yellow or yellow-green, you may need to consider providing an artificial light source, as your natural light source may not be bright enough or strong enough to develop the strong, stocky, free-standing plants that you need for transplanting outside.

Pot Up Until the Potting Is Done!

Different types of seeds germinate at different speeds, and so it may be that you will need to have a few “potting up” sessions until all the seeds are individually planted for your garden.

Once this is done, your young plants will need observation, light, fertilization, and maintenance until the time comes for hardening off and transplanting your young starts out into your garden space.

Enjoy this time as you watch your seedlings grow, and continue to follow along here for more information on maintaining, fertilizing, lighting, and then getting your plants ready for the rigors of outside living!

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Small-Space Seed Starting Part 1.5: What Do I Do Once Seeds Have Sprouted?

*This post is Part 1.5 of a series that will take you from the very beginnings of starting seeds in a small space, such as a home, apartment, or backyard greenhouse, all the way through to getting your young plants ready to plant outside. See the other posts in this series for a complete guide on how to start and grow seeds in the small space of a home or apartment (useful for small-scale greenhouse growing, too!)

There is a bit of an interim step between the germination stage and the potting up step of this small-space seed-starting method. The timing of this step will be different for different types of vegetables and flowers, because they all have their own internal clocks; their individual timelines to germination.

Germination Begins

About a week after planting you will see the earliest-germinating seeds start to pop above the surface. It starts with one or two and then over the next couple of days quickly becomes a pretty virulent pot of popping seedlings. Sometimes, given the high density of seed in the pot with this method, you will even see the mass of seedlings lifting up an entire layer of dirt, looking like they are wearing something of a seedling cap.

young tomato seedlings

When you only have one or two seeds popping, you can continue on as you are, monitoring moisture and keeping them in the dark. They’ll look a little anemic and yellow at this point, but that’s okay. These just-germinating seedlings don’t need to photosynthesize yet, and you’ll get a better overall yield by keeping them under germination conditions for another day or three.

*The one exception to this rule is things like cucumbers and squash—those larger seeds which we discussed starting preferably in individual peat or paper pots, that will not be potted up. For those seedlings, remove them from the dark and put them in a bright space as soon as you see them break the surface of the soil.

peaking squash seed, newly germinated

These seeds grow very quickly and if left in a dark space for even a day longer than necessary, will grow a long, leggy, weak stem.

Since you are not potting these seedlings into new pots, you will not be able to correct this in the transplanting. By putting them to the light as early as possible, you will prevent this legginess and weakness.

Show Them the Light

When you have several seedlings that have emerged—something that looks to you like most of the seed has begun to germinate and break through—you can now move the seeds out of their makeshift germination “chamber.”

germinated eggplant seedlings

Take only the germination pots with plenty of emerged and emerging seedlings and bring them out of the dark. Place them in a space with plenty of light and warmth. If you have your grow lights already in place, you can set your germinated pots under them—just don’t place the light too close to the pots, as these young seedlings can still easily dry out and can easily burn if the light is too hot. If your lights are not set up yet, place them in a bright space or on a sunny windowsill. Just take care that the light is not too bright or too hot, which again, could cause the tiny plants to dry out and burn.

small seedlings germinating

Though soon enough the right light will be important for strong stems and good growth, at the early in-between stage a bright place that is maybe a little less than optimal in the light department is okay.

The subsequent “potting up” step will correct a lot of early issues anyway, and your plant is not really making its own food yet, so its needs are less.

Simply moving them into a well-lit room will be enough for the time being.

Within a week you will want the seeds under grow lights, but this gives you a bit of a breather while the seedlings are slow-growing to get the lights set up and let the just-germinated seedlings mature for the next step, potting up into individual plant cells or pots.

Keep Germinated Seeds Warm, Wet, and Draft-Free

Really, the heading says it all. To maintain your young seedlings at this stage, all they really need is for you to maintain them in a bright, warm, space protected from drafts, and to keep their soil wet—but not too wet!

As before, soil should be kept moist and should not be allowed to dry out. Seedlings will die off quickly if their soil is allowed to become dry. Bottom-watering is still best, and you should still only water until the top of the soil just darkens with moisture. The seedlings will tolerate over-watering better than under-watering, but they still will not tolerate over-watering that well. Over-watering is a prime factor in rotting and disease. Do not let the soil get so wet that the pot is sopping or dripping.

In terms of “warm,” comfortable room temperature, perhaps a little on the warmer side of things, will be enough to maintain your seedlings until it is time to pot them up. Something above 65F and in the range of 65-75F is a good, comfortable temperature for a seedling—about the same temperatures that you kept them at for germinating and sprouting. You do not necessarily need to increase the temperature of your home to achieve this. Selecting a spot closer to a heat source (but away from direct-blowing hot heat) will be enough to increase the seedlings’ climate those few degrees.

Just A Little Longer Until Potting Up

seedlings potted up and ready to grow

This interim stage will only last for about a week or two, and then it will be time to move on to the next stage, when it will be time to split these little seedlings into individual pots or cells of a cell pack to live on their own.

This is where it starts to get exciting—where you’ll start to really see these sprouts as plants with promise, well on their way to gaining size and stature, ready for planting out in your garden in another month or so.

Be sure to subscribe and follow along so that you don’t miss a post of this series. Together, we’ll move through this process of small-space seed starting. You’ll be amazed at just how much you can grow in even the most limited of space!

Missed a post?

Find Part 1 of Small Space Seed Starting Here

Find Seed-Starting Questions and Answers Here

Basic Seed-Starting Questions Answered:

When to Start Seeds Indoors, What to do If It’s A Little Late for Seed-starting, When To Plant Outside, and More

Part One of this series gave you the how of how to start seeds at home in a small space. Along the way, you’re sure to have questions. Questions like…

…When to start garden seeds? Can you start seeds if it’s later than the recommended start-by date? When should you plan to plant your vegetable plants outside? And, Where can you find dates and information specific to your location?

You have questions; we have answers, and tips for finding location-specific resources, too.  In this post we’ve tried to fill in the blanks and anticipate the questions you might have, and also share some tips and tidbits worth knowing. Should you find yourself with more questions in the end, please use the comments section to let us hear about them!

Seed-Starting Questions and Answers

When Should I Start My Garden Seeds?

Knowing when to start your vegetable or flower seeds is important. You don’t want to start them too early or you’ll have root-bound plants that become too large for their pots; too late and you won’t have enough time left in your growing season to enjoy your harvest. So, when is the right time for seed starting?

The garden growing season in the US and North America does vary, obviously, by geographical location. In other words, gardening starts earlier in the more southern regions and is successively later as you move northward.

Small space seed starting

Start Seeds 6 to 8 Weeks Ahead of Planting

Generally speaking, you should start most garden seeds six to eight weeks before the date that you plan to plant them outside in your garden (or patio containers in the case of more urban gardening situations).

There are some exceptions to this “rule,” a few of which are discussed in subsequent questions (and some ways to overcome them), but in general your most common garden vegetables, and even most flowers, will yield for you if started inside within this time frame.

How Do I Know When to Plant my Plants Outside?

Every location or gardening zone has an accepted date that is considered “the” planting date to start planting plants outside, based on frosts and temperatures. To make life easy, beginning gardeners should focus on this date as their planting date.

This general planting date is what is called your “last frost date.” This is the date that it is generally considered “safe” to plant annual plants and vegetables outside. After that date, your area is not expected to have a frost again until the fall and the change of seasons, so those plants you transplant out into your garden space should be fine with the temperatures for the remainder of the growing season. For example, in Massachusetts, the long-standing rule of thumb is to use Memorial Day as the start of the outside planting season.

To find your last frost date, you can search for the last frost date for your location. Resources such as the Farmer’s Almanac Last Frost Date Interactive Map are very helpful. You can find that here:

Each state’s state university system also has an “extension service,” and these services are excellent resources for both commercial and home growers, specifically tailored to your region.

What If It’s Past the Six-Week before Frost Date?

Many people who will be planting gardens and who are starting seeds this year didn’t actually plan to do so until life was rather flipped on its head. So, there are lots of us out there scrambling now to start seeds for a previously unanticipated garden. And so, maybe it’s already inside your six- to eight-week seed-starting window. Does that mean you cannot start your seeds?

It actually does not mean that at all. The advice to plant out just after the last frost date is advice given to maximize garden production time and, moreover, to protect tender vegetables and flowers from the dangers of frost and freezing temperatures. The timeline of six to eight weeks is what is needed to get the plants large enough and strong enough to tolerate transplant shock and outdoor conditions. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still start seeds and grow your own food if you are a week or two past that date, potentially even as much as a four week difference (and longer in warmer regions).

start seeds in small space

While six to eight weeks ahead may be ideal, you can still start your seeds. You may just need to plant them outside a couple of weeks later than your area’s first planting date. As long as you have plenty of growing season left after you plant those plants outside, you will still get a very productive, viable crop. All your mainstream garden vegetables will have more than enough time to grow and produce in abundance even if planted a little late.

If you have questions about a specific variety, plant, or crop, again, refer to your seed packet. All the important growing information can be found there, including time to harvest. Look at the number of days you need before your crop is ready to harvest. If you’ll have at least that much time left in your growing season when your plants will be ready, you have enough time left to start your own garden seeds.

Your harvest might begin a couple of weeks later, but there is certainly nothing “wrong” with that. For our own personal reasons of time and availability, there will be lots of us planting later than the start date, anyway. Don’t let a week or two dissuade you from growing your own, fresher, cheaper, better, vegetables and flowers!!

Are There Plants That Get Planted Before the Last Frost Date?

The short answer is “yes.” But you also don’t have to. Whatever does that mean?

There are a number of cold-hardy vegetables and plants that have their own personal planting date. Peas, for example, prefer growing in colder weather. And so ideally, peas would be started even earlier than when you would plant out a warm-weather-only crop like tomatoes or peppers. Depending on your winter or spring, this might be as early as six weeks earlier.

In general, this early planting doesn’t apply to flowers and herbs almost at all, with so few exceptions it’s probably not worth the focus in this conversation. However, cole crops —broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, spinach, Brussels sprouts—are all plants that can, if well-started, well-established, and properly hardened off, be planted outside before the last frost date.

You do, however, want to consult your seed packet for tolerable temperatures. These plants can take some cold, but do have a lower limit to their ability. Turnips and radishes are also considered cole crops that can be planted before your last frost date, but these seeds should be sown directly in the ground and not started inside in pots.

Now, just because these crops can be planted outside earlier than the last frost date, that doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re not ready to start gardening early, or if you just prefer to start everything at one time, you can certainly choose to do that, too.  

Are There Plants that Need More Than 6 to 8 Weeks to Grow Before Planting?

Yes. There most definitely are some plants and seeds that require a very long indoor start and growing season and which, even with a later planting date, really can’t be done with a late start.  

These are plants that require starting from seed more like 12- to 16-weeks ahead or you will simply not have enough time to grow them to harvest regardless. Some typical vegetables and seeds in this category include onions from seed, celery, some flowers, and a number of herbs.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t grow them as part of your garden for this year—you just need an alternative that can grow within your growing season. Here are a few examples of common garden vegetables that you might not be able to grow from seed, but that you can still start in your garden in the spring at planting time, along with the alternative options for starting them:

  • Onion starts or sets (grow from small baby onion bulbs, called “sets”)
  • Seed potatoes—seed potatoes are not literally seeds, they are potatoes with sprouting eyes from which new plants will grow
  • Sweet potato slips—typically you will have to purchase these slips from a garden center or order them online
  • Purchased, started plants—In the later stages of the seed-starting season, things like celery, celeriac, and many herb plants are better if purchased from a garden center or from a greenhouse that started them in the winter months. (which is perhaps not as cheap or as gratifying as growing from the seed up, but which is still an economical option as compared to grocery store produce that helps you fill in the blanks for this year—and maybe next year, with this year and experience under your belt, you can plan ahead and expand your seedling repertoire!)

All of these starts are available at most commercial greenhouses, garden stores and/or through online ordering from seed and garden companies.

What Are Garden Zones and What Do Growing Zones Mean to Me?

Gardening zones, or more accurately plant hardiness zones,refers to a geographical climate-based zoning system developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a climate and planting guide for locations throughout the country. Many countries have since used this system to develop their own location-specific guides for planting and plant hardiness. The zones are numbered 1 through 13.

It is very easy to find your hardiness zone, and once you have it you can use it to reference seed and planting information for your specific location. An interactive map is available online at the USDA website. Just click on your location to find your zone. Knowing your garden zone will help you plan planting dates, learn about season length, and also choose plants that are capable of growing to harvest in your location.

What Types of Seeds Can I Start in a Six to Eight-Week Window?

With few exceptions, most of your more common and more commonly-used vegetables, and many flowers, can be started and grown to transplant age within 6 to 8 weeks. Broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, certainly any greens like lettuce or spinach, all make the list, as well as many others.

Flowers will do better if started earlier than 8 weeks and may be a bit on the small side if started in 6 to 8 weeks, but in this timeframe you can get most flowers at least large enough to plant outside, where they will catch up and have time to come into flower, if a bit delayed. Some flowers will even do well if direct-seeded outside when the weather warms above freezing (cosmos and zinnias are nice cut flowers that do well as direct-seeded plants or when pre-started inside). And still others prefer NOT to be started inside at all (see below for more on that topic).

Some herbs can also be fit into this 6 to 8-week window, though they’ll do better on the longer end of the spectrum. Basil can pretty reliably be grown to transplant stage within 8 weeks, as can sage, chives, parsley, cilantro, and dill (though dill is a good candidate for direct-sowing, too).

Are There Plants That Should Wait and Start Closer to a 4 to 6 Week Pre-frost Period?

Some types of plants don’t actually do all that well in pots and/or with transplanting and for that reason, they actually will do better if they are started later and live less time in pots. These are primarily plants that do not do well with potting up, and so for these plants it is best to start them in degradable organic pots (like peat pots) that can be planted directly in the ground.

Start squash and cucumbers in individual peat pots

Do not plan to “pot up” these seedlings at any stage and try not to disturb their lives more than necessary. Also, try to limit the time they do spend in the potted stage, and so plan to plant them about 4 weeks before you want to plant them outside. This gives them enough time to grow to transplant size and develop enough roots without outgrowing their pots and therefore not requiring potting up. You’ll still get the jumpstart on the season needed for earlier vegetables, but the plants do not deteriorate from too much time being potted.

That said, these are also often the seeds that will do well if directly sown in the ground, so that, too, is an option and you may choose to forego starting them inside altogether. They tend to be larger seeds and plants so it’s less of a worry that you will accidentally weed them out when they are young and they can compete well with whatever weed seeds they do encounter as young seedlings.

The plants to hold off on and start around the one-month-before-last-frost date are:

  • Cucumbers
  • Squash of any variety
  • Melons
  • Pumpkins

Are There Plants I Should Not Start Inside?

Definitely. For various reasons, and chief among them the fact that they just do not do that well germinating in pots and then being disturbed and potted up, it is recommended to “direct sow” some kinds of seeds. These include:

  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Sunflowers (sunflowers truly do not do very well when started and then transplanted; the time lost due to transplant issues ends up being little to no advantage over direct-sowing seed)
  • Beets
  • Other root vegetables like parsnips, turnips

Some seeds and plants can either be direct-sown or started inside, as discussed above. Examples include lettuces, spinach, cucumbers, squash, and melons.

How Much Space Do I need to Start My Own Seeds?

Not much. With a good seed-starting method, you really only need a couple of square feet of space to get your seeds started. When you split these germinated seeds into individual pots or cell packs, you’ll need a little more room, but even then you can achieve a great garden’s worth of transplants in the footprint of just a couple square feet if you “go up”—in other words, use plant shelves rather than trying to space everything out over a single surface.

Start up to 96 garden plants in just 2 square feet of space!
Two 10×20 inch plant trays will fit 96 plants in 6-cell packs, in just 2 sq ft of space! 4-cell packs, as shown here, will grow 64 plants in 2 sq ft!

For example, in two-square feet of space you can fit two 10 x 20-inch seed trays. Each tray will fit 8 cell packs, and you can use either 4 packs or 6 packs when it comes time to pot up individual plants. That means that each tray can fit either 32 or 48 individual plants. So in just one two-foot space you can grow as many as 96 plants for your garden!  In this way and with the method laid out in this series of posts, it truly does not take much space at all to start plants from seed for either an urban or a country garden—no greenhouse required!

The other posts in this series will help you find the space you need for small-space seed starting. Start with Post One of the series and subscribe or continue on through the different stages as you go from seed to transplant time.