5 Common Seed Starting Mistakes & Their Easy Solutions

Starting your own seeds can be intimidating, but here’s the thing: Seeds are in the world to transform the world, starting with themselves. A seed germinating is absolute magic.
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Story and photos by Petra Page-Mann, Fruition Seeds

Starting your own seeds can be intimidating, but here’s the thing: Seeds are in the world to transform the world, starting with themselves. A seed germinating is absolute magic.

Both an art and a science, it took me years to become a confident seed starter, from yogurt cups on my father’s windowsill overlooking Canandaigua Lake to decades later, starting thousands of seeds on our organic seed farm each season.

If I can do it, we all can! With the right timing, tools & techniques, seed starting is remarkably fun and easy. After teaching seed starting thousands of people, here are the 5 common seed starting mistakes I see people make, along with easy solutions to surround you with abundance for years (and generations!) to come:

Mistake #1: Starting Everything at Once & Too Soon

On the first gloriously warm days of spring, it’s so tempting, to sow all our seeds to celebrate: We are the harbingers! Alas, just like making a cake, timing is everything with ingredients just so and starting seeds at the right time makes all the difference. Especially in the age of social media, it’s easy to feel endlessly behind the curve…and still start seeds too soon.

Easy Solution: Dig Into Fruition’s Planting Calendar

Leaning into your regional gardening community is one of the best ways to have confidence, whether you’ve gardened for years or dreamed for years. Here in the Finger Lakes, Zone 5, we’ve made planting calendars as well as direct sow and transplant charts to set you up for success! For our full collection of calendars, growing guides and garden planners, join Fruition’s free Growing Library on our website. We also crow when we’re sowing on social media, so you don’t have to wonder! You’ll find us on Instagram as @fruition_seeds as well as on Facebook.

Mistake #2: Egg Cartons are for Eggs (Not for Starting Seeds!)

Despite quaint Pinterest images, egg cartons are too small and curvaceous to grow healthy seedlings. Jiffy pots would be convenient, but their potting mix is too poor quality to grow healthy seedlings, either.

Easy Solution: Options Abound!

The great news is this: You have an abundance of seed starting options, Friends! Soil blocks (see photo), by far, grow the healthiest seedlings, naturally air-pruning never becoming root-bound. Plastic cell trays as well as 6-packs are convenient, though much more prone to becoming root-bound. Peat or ‘cow’ pots are biodegradable and grow great seedlings. As long as you poke holes so they drain, yogurt cups and other recyclables can easily upcycle. Take-out containers can also be used as seed starting trays and toilet paper rolls cut into 1-inch rounds can grow healthy 4-week-old seedlings, as well.

Mistake #3: Sowing Too Close?

Whether it’s sowing too many seeds in a soil block or planting too close in your garden, many gardeners stress their plants by growing them too close.

Easy Solution: The Challenging (and Essential!) Art of Thinning

For cell trays and soil blocks, simply sow only 2 to 3 seeds per cell. Thin these to 1 seedling once they emerge, selecting the strongest one. When transplanting, bring a measuring stick: It’s easy to sow small seedlings too close, wanting the garden to look lush and abundant as soon as possible. When direct sowing, resist sowing too densely and thin early and often. Most thinnings are delicious, so enjoy them as micro and baby greens!

Mistake #4: Sowing Too Deep

It’s easy to sow seeds too deep, since they only need to be sown twice their depth.

Easy Solution: Only sow seeds twice their depth, how marvelously simple! Check your packet to be sure your seeds aren’t an exception, like snapdragons, who prefer to be sown with light, barely covered. You’ll find a full list in our 40-page Rise & Shine: Starting Seeds with Ease book, available as a free ebook in Fruition’s Growing Library.

Mistake #5: Not Wanting to Make Mistakes

Easy Solution: Mistakes are how we learn! Be humble, ask lots of questions & resist comparing your learning curve to anyone else, especially on social media. Can you imagine trying to learn to ride a bicycle from a YouTube video?! Gardening is the same! Having friends to share their experiences and cheer you on makes all the difference and we’re delighted to join you on the journey.

As always, there is so much more to share!

You’ll find hours of step-by-step video tutorials in Fruition’s free Seed Starting Academy and hop on our email list for weekly garden updates as well as invitations to our events both in person and online. Our Guide to Garden Planning with Robin Wall Kimmerer is a beautiful invitation to sow so much more than carrots. And come see our murals and say hello at our Garden Store this spring! We’re open each weekend in April & May between 10 & 2 sharing organic, regionally adapted seeds, transplants, scoop-your-own compost and so much more. We share farm tours each weekend and many hands-on classes to surround us all with the community as well as the abundance we dream of.

Raised in the Finger Lakes, Petra co-founded Fruition Seeds in 2012, sharing organic seeds, knowledge and inspiration to surround us all with beauty and abundance for generations to come. Find seeds & resources at www.fruitionseeds.com and visit the farm at 7921 Hickory Bottom Road in Naples on weekends in April & May.

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