How to Start a Garden

There are lots of reasons to start your plants early from seed — it’s a quick, easy, low-cost, sustainable way to ensure that your refrigerator is always filled with your favorite vegetables and herbs. You can also start lots of flowering plants from seed, including the blooms that look lovely in a bouquet on your dinner table. Read on to learn how to start a garden of your very own!

It’s Easy to Start from Seeds

Because it’s so inexpensive and easy to start plants from seed, it’s a great opportunity to try new varieties—if a crop doesn’t work out, there is less pressure from wasted time or money. A seed packet costs about $2.00, and often includes over a hundred seeds (each a potential plant!), while a single pre-grown plant often costs at least $4 each. 

There’s a huge variety of seeds available in the United States and abroad. Companies such as Hudson Valley Seed Company, FEDCO Seeds, American Meadows, Seed Savers Exchange, and more offer healthy, non-genetically modified seeds that are just not available as transplants. Additionally, by buying heirloom seeds, you’re supporting history— many of these varieties have been recorded in the United States and abroad since the 18th century or earlier. Have you ever wanted to try a Singara Rat’s Tail Radish? Or a Scarlet Runner Bean? Turmeric? Now is your chance!  

One word of caution: When trying a new plant from seed, be sure to check with your state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that it’s not an invasive species in your area before planting—for example, while it’s illegal to buy a Phyllostachys aurea (aka golden bamboo) plant in New York, it is still possible to get seeds. Most companies ship around the world, and not every type of seed is appropriate for your location. If you’ve ever battled with Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort), you’ll appreciate the importance of preventing the spread of invasive species in your garden.


Not All Growing Methods are Created Equal

Most growers utilize both transplanting and direct seeding when starting their plants from seed. It’s recommended to use both methods, depending on the plant. Check out the lists below to see the plants that typically work best with each method.

Transplanting: When you plant a pre-grown plant into the soil after last frost, it’s considered a transplant. The plants you buy from the nursery and the ones you start in trays are considered transplants. It’s best to transplant plants that have a longer growing season, to get a good head start on their development. If you plant correctly, transplants can be stronger and more resistant to weeds or pests than direct-seeded plants. You can also create a succession planting schedule with transplants, ensuring you’ll have a good crop all season long.

Direct Seeding: Some plants are best started directly from seed, in the soil. Usually, growers choose this method either because these plants, once established, have delicate root systems and dislike transplanting, or because they’re quick to germinate and have a shorter growing season, thereby eliminating the need to jump-start the season ahead of time.



Peppers (sweet, Bell, or spicy)










Direct Seeding












Get Ready to Seed

Plan Your Timing Well

In order to ensure that your crop is timed for its best harvest, be sure to research the average last frost date for your area. In the Hudson Valley and New England, it’s around April 26th. Some plants, such as watermelons, do best in warmer soil and need to be transplanted out well after last frost, while others, such as sweet peas, prefer to be direct seeded in cooler temperatures. Check the back of the seed package for each plant’s requirements.

You’ll also need the grow times—usually also listed on the back of the package—for each plant before seeding. This number reflects the days it will take for the plant to reach full maturity, bearing vegetables or flowers. You’ll notice that grow times can vary widely based upon each plant, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Mesclun mixes, for example, are usually 40-60 days to maturity, while watermelons are 70-90 days. If you want to harvest watermelons in July, for example, plan to seed them by April 5th at the latest. 

Succession Planting

You can also create a succession planting schedule for the crops you use regularly all season long. With succession planting, you seed the plant every two weeks throughout the season to ensure a steady crop. Here are some foods that are commonly succession-planted:

  • Herbs (cilantro, basil, dill)
  • Lettuces 
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Pole beans
  • Scallions
  • Kale

So… What Else Do You Need?

Once you’ve calculated your seeding dates and know when you need to begin, it’s time to gather your equipment:

  1. Choose Your Container:For this tutorial, we reused cell packs from last year; however, we recommend trying soil blockers to start your seedlings; they are a new seeding method that is gaining popularity for its lack of waste, zero added cost, & ease of transplanting. 
  2. Use a Good Seed-Starting Soil Mix: A good OMRI-listed seed-starting mix (not potting!) ensures that your plants will get off to a good start with a healthy root system & minimal fungal or chemical exposure, which could slow or impede growth.
  3. Water, Water, Water: Water your soil before you seed; water your plants when you seed; and water both lots afterward!
  4. Invest in Heat Mats: Heat mats will seriously speed up seed germination for your plants, while increasing overall germination rates. They really do work!
  5. Try Grow Lights: Grow lights will give your plants a boost when they need it most—as seedlings. Properly using grow lights will ensure stocky, healthy plants that will grow strong & produce great fruit for the season.
  6. Label Your Plants: After all your work preparing for your seeds, you need to keep track of which plant is which, so you can tend each one as it requires. Plant ID tags make it super easy, & most are reusable.

It’s Finally Time to Get Started!

Is it the correct time of year to start seeding your plants? Do you have all your equipment together? If the answer is yes, you can finally start seeding! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more information on how to start your garden… In the meantime, you should check out our Composting Blog or learn about Five Easy Climate Actions you can take at home!

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