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Gardening Basics: A Few Seed-Starting Hints

Simply Put – A Few Seed-Starting Hints

For vegetable gardeners, one way to make vegetable gardening cheaper is to start your own plants from seed, rather than buying pre-started plants. Depending on the plant, some seeds may be planted directly in the garden, while others are best started ahead of time in pots.

The seed packet will tell you if you are not sure. (It will say something like “sow directly in the garden when all chance of frost has passed.” Or, “start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date.”) It’s been a long time since I have grown vegetables, being blessed with both a non-vegetable-friendly shady yard, and a workplace full of pre-started plants.

Examples of vegetables that are usually sown directly in the ground:

  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Beans
  • Corn

Frequently, these are large seeds that germinate reliably and quickly (radishes, beans), or seeds that are difficult to transplant (carrots). And usually relatively cheap seed, at that.

Examples of vegetables that are started ahead of planting in the ground:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers

These are plants that have a long time from seed to harvest, so you can get an earlier harvest by starting the plants ahead of when they should be planted out. Some large seeds—pumpkin, squash, cucumbers– may be directly planted or pre-started to avoid certain animal pests (e.g., crows, squirrels) from eating the seeds.

If you are only going to plant a few tomatoes, and you want a selection of sizes and colors of tomatoes, then it may be better to just buy the plants, as the seed is relatively expensive. Look at the prices and think about what you want to do. Make a garden plan (map) in advance, look at your space, and decide how many plants you need/have room for.

Information on planting dates, and numerous videos on starting transplants and other topics may be accessed from the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) website.

The key to starting seed indoors is being able to provide enough light. Vegetables are full-sun plants. A fluorescent light fixture several inches above the plants, run for about 16 hours a day provides enough light, or an unobstructed south-facing window in a cool room. On mild days they can be set outside for more light, but initially in a protected area so they don’t sunburn.

Okay, so maybe starting plants indoors is actually a fair amount of work and you want to buy the transplants anyway. A lot depends on how dedicated you are to the hobby. If you just want a couple of pots of cherry tomatoes on the deck, or a pot of mixed herbs, then by all means, buy the transplants. If you are planning a large vegetable garden, then you will save a lot of money by starting some of your own plants.

* Behnkes has ALL the seed starting supplies you need to succeed…light fixtures, heating mats, bio-degradable pots, Jiffy seed starting greenhouse kits, watering cans, and much more.

Stephanie Fleming

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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  1. Hi,

    I really enjoyed the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes I got from Behnkes last year. They lasted all the way through September. I would recommend that variety, it was a very productive plant. I’ll look for seeds this week. Thanks for the tips. Dixie

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