Seed starting - whats your tried and true method? (Share your results!)


I’ve been growing my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in my basement on a shelf. Below the shelf are my baby chicks and their heat lamps. I think all that heat has been sending the plants into hyper-drive. I now need to up pot the tomatoes again.

Your plants looks great. Well done.


Thanks, it took me 4 years of trial and error to get here. This is the first year things look overall healthy. I attribute most of my current success to using strong grow lights, a warm growing environment (avg 68°F), slow release fertilizer and frequent watering to keep soil moisture right around “damp”. I’m surprised at how quickly the tomatoes and peppers filled out their 1 gal pots after up-potting.

That being said I still cannot start basil from seed even if my life depended on it. It just gets to the two leaf stage and then gets all crispy and dies - every year. In fact all herbs are sluggish compared to the peppers, tomatoes and cucubrits… not sure why that is.


Do you think maybe there is too much light on the basil. I have a six pack of basil growing okay right now, but kept them under the less strong LED lights I use for microgreens. Same with parsley. I’ve been lucky enough to have dill and cilantro naturalize in my yard and chives, oregano, sage, sorrell, green onion and rosemary keep coming back.


Seed starting mixes usually have little to no fertilizer, what works for my warm season crops is adding slow release fertilizer (like Osmocote) to them and then watering once or twice with a low dose of liquid fertilizer when the true leaves starts coming in. I also find it easier to direct seed them into 2x2" cells.

In regards to up-potting, you can do it any time but the best time is as soon as the root ball gets dense enough not to fall apart during the process.

Yellow leaves are usual a sign of a) under-fertilizing or b) over-fertilizing


Maybe, but I doubt it. My volunteer basil sprouts and grows just fine, great even, on my very sunny deck planter in late spring - and my lights are nowhere near the strength of the sun.

My #1 suspicion right now is that I’m over-fertilizing them by treating them the same as all the fertilizer hungry warm season crops. Or maybe something to do with the way I water - too much / not enough.


The cotyledons yellowing is nothing to worry about. They’re only temporary reserves to get the plant started, and they yellow and fall off once their job is done.


I don’t think there are any ferts in your mix, although I haven’t looked into that specific ProMix. That is great for starting and what I prefer, but at this point they definitely need some fertilizer. You can use fish emulsion if you’re staying more organic or basic miracle grow or something like Master Blend if you are okay with synthetics, but either way, I would always go half strength with seedlings.

Once my seedlings have their first set of true leaves I water with a half strength fertilizer every 3 or 4 times I water. So when they are smaller, that is every 10-12 days and as they get bigger and use more water, they wind up getting the ferts more frequently.

If I have been remiss in the fertilizer (I use Master Blend which is more of a pain to mix so it is easy to get lazy about it) and my plants are getting yellowish, but have some size and are ready to pot up anyway, I like to use the 1/2 strength fertilizer to wet out the potting mix I’ll use. That way they’re getting a nice, more concentrated boost as they root into the new medium.

One other thing to be aware of is that adding straight peat moss without any buffering (like lime) can make your mix a little more acidic which I think can make it harder for the little plants to absorb the fertilizer. One thing to consider is putting some fast-acting lime (or even a tablespoon of baking soda) in the bottom of your watering can with water the day before you use it to get the PH up in the water you are watering with. That is a quicker way to bring down the ph in your potting mix. I don’t know for sure this is the case, but if they stay yellowish after fertilizing it might be worth trying.


Thanks so much @zendog, @dimitri_7a, and @jcguarneri for all of that useful information!! You guys are great!
I try read up on the methods people use here, but I should really take notes. It would be faster for referring back.
My ProMix is kind of all purpose. It says it is ideal for seed starting, veg, herbs, flowers, and raised garden beds. That about covers it all.
Also says:
* Contains a controlled release fertilizer to feed your plants for 9 months
* Exclusive technology With mycorrhizae for healthier and beautiful flowers, herb gardens and plants

Since my mix only contains 1/4 ProMix, I would assume I will need to fertilize. I didn’t need to use any peat in my mix, but I had bought the peat before I found coir or ProMix. So it felt wasteful not to use some. :smirk: Since ProMix also contains peat, maybe my mix is trending toward the acidic as you mention.
I will fertilize at half the rate first and see how that goes, buffering water if things still look peaked.
I haven’t used fish emulsion, is that commonly sold in lawn and garden stores? I have a little bit of basic Miracle Grow leftover from a few years ago, so I will use that up and get something else as well.
@jcguarneri, thanks for pointing out the cotyledons normally yellow and fall off. I wasn’t sure if that was the case.
Again, thanks for the help! I usually wing it with indoor seed starting, and have satisfactory results. My standards aren’t too high. I usually end up with more plants than I have room to plant out. This year I am trying to be more conscientious, so plants are healthy and strong and hopefully will have plenty to share with others that need them.


What you are seeing is normal. Dont change anything.


New to me method I’m trying this year:

Dense planting the seeds for germination, then I’ll separate and transplant all but the weakest to individual plug cells once they have 1 set of true leaves. No thinning required! However, l was not nearly as meticulous with counting out seeds as I normally am, so it looks like I’ll have a lot of extras to re-home.

The tomatoes all sprang right up, and the peppers are being laggards but getting there. The unlabeled patch of pepper seedlings are from a dried guajillo chile just to see if would work.


Looks like you’re doing better than I did while in Kansas! I was always fighting the high pH of the tap water. It comes out of the tap at 9+ in MHK! My garden there was the only place that benefitted from adding sulfur to bring the pH down.


Mhk is that high? I didn’t realize that. We have our own well. I don’t know what the pH is… We had it tested after we had it dug, and I remember thinking that everything looked good on the analysis at the time. Guess I really should test the water!


@northof53 . . . I just noticed your stinkweed post. That is hilarious! :rofl:
It should be a joke in the Farmers’ Almanac!

I found my light and hung it over my newly planted peat pots. What a difference one day made! I know I don’t have a sophisticated set up like many others, here on the forum . . . but it works! These are some tomato seeds that I ordered from Tomato Growers. Based on others’ reviews of some of the varieties I’ve never tried . . . I ordered German Johnson, Black Krim, Stump of the World, Box Car Willie, and Virginia Sweets.

I am going to put some of them in fabric pots - and some in my raised bed. I watched some of the ‘tomato videos’ on YouTube yesterday. Some were very entertaining . . . but I also learned a few interesting things that I’m going to try this year.

I did learn one Very Important element that apparently I am missing, to achieve Tomato Success!!! - So, I’ll be ordering my farmer overalls today.

Actually . . . I spent some time online this week, hunting for a really handy - but lightweight gardening ‘apron’ of some sort. I am tired of carrying a tote with me, to hold my clippers and all the other stuff that I want to have handy, when I am out in the orchard or in the garden. Any suggestions? (aside from the overalls!)


You lights look just fine they are doing the job. Mine are just hanging 4ft. shop lites, not pretty but very effective and cheap.


For me I’ve been cutting the potting mix with half perlite to give it better aeration. Of course it dries out faster too. I usually use Pro Mix or coco coir depending on what I have at the time. Initially I don’t add anything. Once they get their first true leaves I usually use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of Miracle Gro per gal per watering.

My plants are ready for outside if only the weather was ready for them.


I was wondering about this. It doesn’t seem natural to keep them ‘lit’ 24/7. Seems as though it would wear them out. I’ve been turning my light off when the sun hits the room. Then turning it back on in the late afternoon. So . . . . will they grow faster if the light is left on all the time?


When i was following the hot pepper forums there were people doing experiments with lights and i think someone said 16 on 8 off was the best but i sometimes leave my floro lights on 24 hrs when i have seeds on top of them, other than that i do just 12 on 12 off.


They will grow faster if you leave the lights on, yes. My seedlings are never in darkness from the day they germinate until they day I put them in my garden. I can start seeds weeks later than most people do. I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s not natural, but neither is starting seeds indoors… Ever seen a garden in Alaska? They grow astonishing veggies up there in the north despite their short season thanks to 24 hours a day of light.


I would love to see the research that got this info from. I may start using 24 hr lighting if it has been proven to be so.


When I was out grafting earlier this past week, I was thinking I needed to sew a toolbelt/apron type thing to hold some of my grafting items… parafilm, rubber bands, tinfoil, markers and marking tape, knives, etc. I carry a small cooler to keep scions and supplies in, but it is a nuisance to constantly be taking things out and putting them back in. Especially since the lid sticks a little…
Here is a very simple belt with pouches, not exactly what I was looking for.

Bed Bath and Beyond has this one:

Gardening%20apron apron3 apron2