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I’m Maria, the "Plant Killer Turned Plant Lady" with a mission to help you care for plants successfully, grow your indoor jungles, and cultivate more joy in your life. I've got tons of content for you here on the blog, on the Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, and Bloom and Grow Youtube Show to help you keep blooming and keep growing.
It’s almost that glorious time of year again…seed starting season! I don’t know about you, but this is hands-down one of my favorite times in the garden. There’s just something touching about growing those tiny pieces of potential life into healthy plants and vegetables. However, I’d be lying if I said I’ve had perfect success right off the bat. Seed starting has a bit of a learning curve, but making mistakes is all part of the fun and learning in the garden! As long as you don’t lose an entire flat of precious tomato seeds (guilty!), then it’s fair game.
To help you avoid disappointment and heartache in your seed starting endeavors, I brought back renowned gardener Joe Lamp’l to share the top mistakes he sees people make. With years of seed starting expertise, including creating his online Master Seed Starting Course that I absolutely love, he’s seen it all.
Growing Joy: The Plant Lover's Guide to Cultivating Happiness (and Plants) by Maria Failla, Illustrated by Samantha Leung
This is so disheartening, especially when you’ve babied those seeds for weeks and obsessively checked their progress multiple times a day. But why might this happen? A few key reasons according to Joe:
It all comes down to creating the best conditions for the seed to receive the moisture, warmth, nutrients, and light it needs to begin the germination process. Follow those seed packet instructions and you’ll be on the right track!
Continuing the point above, consistency is important when it comes to soil moisture. Fluctuating between totally dry and saturated soil changes the playing field and stresses those vulnerable roots.
Joe recommends lifting your seed trays every so often to measure their weight and aim for a “happy medium.” At the very least, you want evenly damp soil throughout, similar to a squeezed-out sponge.
Note: The top layer will dry out faster under grow lights, so don’t use that as your sole measure.
Modern seed starting lighting options can definitely trigger some overthinking. As Joe reminded me, you truly don’t need to overinvest here (or anywhere for that matter!), especially as a beginner. Start with an affordable LED grow light from a reputable company and build up from there if you enjoy the process.
You also want to position any grow light setup appropriately to prevent the soil from drying out too quickly. Pay attention to manufacturer guidelines on the best distances and durations. Oh, and resist increasing the intensity because you think more is better—you may end up frying those delicate seedlings!
I plead so guilty to this in my excitement to get going on the season! Thankfully, Joe understands the temptation and stresses sticking to timing recommendations. For many vegetable seeds, you’ll see phrasing like: “Start seeds indoors X days before last frost date.”
Do your homework on average frost dates for your area, count backward from there based on the seed packet wisdom, and you’ll save yourself the headache of a very tall tomato plant with no place to go.
You nurtured your seeds into lovely transplants over months, but the danger isn’t over yet! Before planting outside, it’s important to gradually transition seedlings from low to intense sunlight.
This “hardening off” period spans 7-10 days. You’ll start with 30-minute sessions at first, building up to nearly full days outside by the end. Skip this and you can say goodbye to your vegetable garden thanks to shriveled and burned baby plants!
As you can see, success with seed starting boils down to caution and paying attention. I will be the first to encourage you to try, try again if you’re new to this. It’s very rewarding to nurture life from seed to harvest.
Mistakes show you care—they create space to stretch your wings as a gardener! And as Joe reiterated, that DNA drive to grow is so strong that you almost have to sabotage seeds to stop them.
You can try resources like Joe’s Master Seed Starting course which I adore. Invest in small purchases over time versus overwhelming yourself initially. Most importantly, have fun and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!
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