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Seed starting is such a joyful and empowering experience for any plant parent. The reward of successfully taking a dormant seed, germinating it and nurturing it into the full plant that it’s destined to become encourages more mindfulness and joy in the garden. However, it can also be intimidating and stressful for many. In this episode, Joe Lamp’l of Joe Gardener discusses some common seed-starting challenges and how to overcome them, as well as some tips for starting your own seeds.

In this episode, we learn:

  • [02:02] Jessica's Zweig’s Be. book and branding agency
  • [03:03] Why seed starting is a lifelong skill
  • [05:43] About Joe Lamp’l
  • [09:42] Why starting your own seeds and doing it organically is very important
  • [17:45] Maria’s definition of “Gardener's Itch”
  • [20:53] How to keep track of your seeds over multiple seasons
  • [28:16] The key date to understand when starting seeds
  • [34:14] For a home gardener, these plants are too hard to start indoors
  • [39:52] How to read a seed packet
  • [40:50] How deep should you plant seeds?
  • [53:25] Things you need to know before buying a germination mat
  • [56:08] How long do seeds last?
  • [01:02:38] The importance of dampening your seed starting mix before you plant your seeds
  • [01:03:52] Which light is best suited for your seeds?
  • [01:07:13] How do you water your seedlings?
  • [01:12:19] How to avoid overwatering and underwatering your seeds
  • [01:15:24] Joe Lamp’l greenhouse updates

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Common Seed Starting Challenges

Seed starting is a great way to take control of your gardening and get a head start on the growing season. Joe shares different tips on overcoming the common challenges that any gardener can face when seed starting:

  • Keeping track of all your seeds: It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of seeds you have and not know which ones are which. To avoid this, find a system that works for you. For example, you can label your seeds with the name of the plant and the date you planted them.
  • Different tools and supplies needed: Starting seeds requires different tools and supplies than you might use for your houseplants. These can include seed trays, seedling mixes, and grow lights. Don't let this discourage you; these items can be found at most garden centers or online.


Why Seed Starting Shouldn't be Intimidating

  • Growing hard-to-find varieties of plants: If you have a particular type of food you're looking for that is hard to find in stores, you can grow it yourself. If you love a juicy tomato, check out the territorial seed catalog, they have an extensive list of varieties to choose from.
  • Taking control over what goes into your body: Starting your own seeds means you can grow your plants organically and avoid chemicals and pesticides that are often used on store-bought produce.


Tips for Starting Seeds

  • Start with a plan: Before you start, think about the plants you want to grow and when they need to be started. This will help you stay organized and on track.
  • Seeds are genetically programmed to grow: Don't be afraid to start. Seeds will do what they're supposed to do if you provide the bare minimum, soil, water, warmth, and sunlight! 


Getting Started with a Seed Starting Calendar

  • Think about the plants that grow during each season. For example, as spring approaches, think about which plants will grow best during this season.
  • The most important date to consider is the last risk of frost date. Many seeds that are sown for warm weather crops are sensitive to frost and can be killed off if sprouted too early and exposed to a frosty night.
  • To determine the best time to start planting, work backward from the last risk of frost date. It takes approximately 6-8 weeks for most seeds to sprout and grow enough to handle the outdoor environment. By starting your seeds inside this time frame before the last frost date, they will be ready to be planted outside safely.

Creating a solid plan before you start your seeds is the fastest way to a low stress and successful gardening season! For even more in-depth seed starting tips, you can enroll in Joe's Seed Starting Course.


Basic Requirements for Seed Starting

When it comes to seed starting, there are a few things that are considered negotiable and a few that are non-negotiable. Here are a few things to prepare for with seed starting:

  • Negotiables:
    • Germination mat: A germination mat, is a tool used in gardening and horticulture to warm the soil for seed germination. The warmth provided by the mat simulates the ideal temperature for seed germination, promoting faster and more successful growth. While a germination mat can be helpful for providing extra warmth to your seeds, it is not a necessity. Many seeds will germinate fine without the added heat, just try to have them in a warm sunny location.
    • Seed dispenser: While a seed dispenser can be a useful tool for dispersing seeds, it is not necessary. It can be especially helpful when planting a large number of seeds or when planting small seeds that can be difficult to handle and distribute evenly. If you don't have a seed dispenser, you can always plant your seeds the old-fashioned way!


  • Non-negotiables:
    • Good sterile seed-starting mix: Joe considers this crucial for the success of your seed-starting efforts. You need a light, well-draining, but moisture-retentive seed starting mix that doesn't have the risk of pathogens in it. Diseases such as damp, a fungal disease, can spread to your seeds and cause death as they germinate. Joe has an in-depth lesson that takes the confusion and frustration out of starting your favorite plants from seed. 
    • Light: Seedlings need a certain amount of light to grow and develop properly. Without light, they will become tall and spindly.
    • Time: Seed germination is time-sensitive, and different seeds have different germination times. Make sure to check the seed packet for specific germination times.


How to Read a Seed Packet

Reading a seed packet can seem overwhelming at first, however, with a little knowledge and understanding, it can be easy to navigate and choose the right seeds for your garden.

Seed Depth: This refers to how deep you should plant the seed in the soil. Different seeds have different depth requirements. For example, tomatoes should be planted at a depth of 1/4 inch, while peas should be planted at a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches.

  • Joe’s tip: A general rule of thumb to remember is that larger seeds should be planted deeper than smaller seeds. This is because the embryo of the seed has a specific amount of energy that it needs to send out the primary root and shoot. If the seed is planted too deep, it will use up all its energy before it reaches the surface and can access the sun. On the other hand, if the seed is planted too shallow, it may not have enough time to send up the shoot while still underground. 

Temperature: This refers to the temperature range that is most favorable for the seed to germinate. It is usually between 45-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that different seeds have different preferred temperature ranges, so it's important to check the seed packet for specific information.

Seed starting with the right mindset and tools can be a fun and rewarding experience. By understanding the challenges, you can be a better, smarter, and more confident gardener. 

If you're direct-sowing or starting seeds indoors, a little knowledge now will really pay off later.


Mentioned in our conversation:


Thank you to our episode sponsors:

Territorial Seed Company

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Get 10% off by visiting – discount applied at checkout.

Espoma Organic

Espoma Organic is dedicated to making safe indoor and outdoor gardening products for people, pets, and the planet. They have an amazing variety of high-quality, organic potting mixes, garden soil, fertilizers, and pest control products that are organic and eco-friendly.

Visit to find your local Espoma dealer or check my Amazon storefront.

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