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Each year, I grow hundreds of plants from seeds started indoors—flowering annuals and perennials, heirloom and hybrid vegetables, and a wide variety of tomatoes. I’ve gathered my best tips and tricks here to give you everything you need to know to start your own garden. 

Seeds (organic seeds suitable for your growing zone)
36 3" plastic pots or small, plastic drinking cups with a drain hole punched in the bottom or seedling starter trays
Organic potting mix
48" fluorescent shop light with T8 or T5 bulbs (one “warm” and one “cold” is preferable)Plant tags or marker and tape
Automatic timer for shop light
Blocks of wood or other materials to adjust the height of seedling pots
Waterproof tarp
Watering can
Fan (optional)


1. Gather your materials.

2. Read your seed packets for specific sowing instructions. Some seeds require pre-soaking, pre-chilling, or scraping of the seed coat first. In general, start your seeds 2 – 3 months before your last frost date. (Find yours at

3. Prepare plant tags or write seed names on tape and stick to the sides of your pots.

4. Fill pots with potting mix, gently press it down, and dampen with water. Sow 2 – 3 seeds per container.


5. Position your grow lights 1" above the top of the pots. Use a timer to keep your grow lights on for 12 hours per day. As the seedlings grow, adjust the pots so the seedling tops remain an inch (not more) below the lights.

6. Water the potting soil just enough to maintain an even moisture level, not too wet or too dry. Allow air circulation in the room; if it’s muggy, use a fan. Check your seeds daily. You’ll be amazed how fast some of them will pop up—it can be as quick as a day or as long as a few weeks, depending on the type of seed.

7. If every seed in a pot germinates, remove the weaker ones. If you’ve planted seedling trays, transfer to 3" pots after first true leaves form.

8. “Hardening off”—preparing your seedlings for life outdoors—should begin 2 – 3 weeks before your last frost date. When daytime temperatures are above freezing, place your pots in deep plastic tubs and set them outdoors for 6 – 8 hours a day. Bring them in overnight. As the weather warms, gradually leave them out longer until they’re outdoors 24/7.

9. After the last frost, plant everything outdoors in garden beds or containers.

By Melissa J. Will

A version of this article originally appeared on

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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