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Maturing pepper plants in plastic cup "pots."

Featured Article

Seedlings: The Love and Labor

Tips and Advice for Growing Seedlings at Home

Growing your own seedlings is to gardening what side-stepping up a mountain face is to skiing. Some people may revel in the challenge, others just want to take the ski lift and call it a day.

Every year Jayne Chu, our favorite amateur gardening expert, straps on her proverbial skis and inches up the slippery slope of sowing seedlings. We asked about the process, for our reader-farmers who want to add an extra layer of difficulty to their gardening journey and clutter their home in the process.

Excited to learn more? Let’s go!


Equipment can be expensive, so do your research. You’ll need:

Grow light: A light that mimics sunlight.

Heating pad: A pad that gently heats the seeds to effect germination.

Small 2” starter pots: You can up-cycle materials found in your house like egg cartons, berry containers, or toilet paper rolls, but then you end up with “a whole heap of mess in the house,” says Jayne. Get biodegradable seed starter pots made of peat or cow pots or use plastic seed starter trays and save them for next year. Most important, the seeds need to be less than 2” deep so the heat from the pad gets through.

Larger 4” pots: When the plants get bigger they need more space to grow.

Seed starter mix: Don’t use soil! Use a lighter mixture. Jayne likes Espoma which is at hardware stores or your local nursery.


Jayne collects these throughout the year, preferring heirloom variety for cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers. My favorite is Baker seeds, sold online. I also buy seeds at Gilbertie’s, grocery and hardware stores, and share seeds with friends and FB groups.”

Westport Library has a seed library and exchange that lets you take home 2-3 seeds for every plant you want to grow.


Bury the seeds in the starter mix March/April. You’ll need 8-10 weeks for appropriate growth. “All seedlings have two starter leaves. You want a second and third layer of leaves, get the plant around 4” before you transfer to 4” pots.”

Before garden planting, seedlings need to be “hardened” or acclimated from indoors to outdoors. Place them outside for 1/2 hour on day 1, then an hour day 2, and continue lengthening the time each day (unless there’s a cold snap or rain.) Be wary of too much sun as they’re easily sunburned. Just like human babies.

Rule of Thumb(s) -

March/April: Plant the seeds in their baby pots beneath the grow light.

Mother’s Day: Prep the garden. Jayne’s tip: “I get my family to clean and prep the garden. It’s my Mother’s Day gift. It’s a free way for them to make me happy, otherwise they’d have to do it begrudgingly.”

Memorial Day: After the last frost, transfer seedlings into the garden. Then wait.

Note on Watering Seedlings:

Yes. Every day. If it looks dry, quench it. Don’t go on vacation or they all die.

Note on Soil for Your Garden:

If your flora isn’t flourishing, first look to the soil. “UConn’s soil testing lab tests dirt for a nominal fee. I bagged some and sent it off. They said I over-composted, which is a common mistake. They were very specific about how to amend the soil with specific ingredients to optimize growth for healthy plants. It also saved time and money.”

  • Maturing pepper plants in plastic cup "pots."
  • Seedlings ready to be transferred to larger pots.
  • Different types of seedlings.
  • Up-potting.
  • Third set of leaves.
  • Seedlings beneath the grow light.
  • Time for the garden!
  • Planting the seeds.