Here is a handy guide for starting seeds in North Carolina.
Seed Starting Essentials
Seedling starter pots come in a variety of different styles and sizes. Generally, they're 2-3" deep pots made from thin plastic with a few small drainage holes. This makes it easy to transplant into bigger containers later. You can also repurpose small plastic containers from the kitchen and punch a few drainage holes in the bottoms. Depending on what you're growing, you can also use individual starting pods or peat pellets. You can rehydrate the peat pellets with water and sow your seeds straight into the peat. Later, when you're ready to transplant your seedlings to the garden, the whole pod goes straight into the soil.
Clear plastic tray covers or plastic wrap are helpful in germinating seeds. The clear plastic keeps the environment near the seeds humid. Once seeds have sprouted, plastic covers should be removed to allow air circulation. Without air movement, damping-off disease can be a problem for young, tender seedlings. It is important to note that clear covers should not be used in direct sunlight—the greenhouse effect heats the inside quickly and will kill seedlings. Think about how hot it gets in your car on a sunny day; that’s what happens under a plastic cover!
The right temperature is also required for seed germination. It’s like having the right key to unlock your front door. Cool-season vegetable seeds normally have low soil temperature requirements. Around 55˚F is sufficient for them, so normal room temperature accomplishes this. Many hot season vegetables require warmer soil temperatures to get going. For example, peppers need a 75˚F soil temperature to germinate well. In this case, you will need a heat mat to get soil temperatures up this high.
Staggering Your Seeds
Cool-season veggies and herbs like parsley, cilantro, broccoli, spinach, and lettuce should be started in early January for transplanting out in mid-February.
Hot season plants, like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, begonias, and impatiens should be started in mid-February for transplanting outside in mid-April or later.
Starting Your Seeds
Fill your pots with damp starter soil, or pour water on dehydrated peat pellets. Water thoroughly to tamp the soil and make the surface even and firm. Leave about 1/2" to 1" of room between the soil and the top of the container.
Read your seed packages carefully and spread the seeds evenly in the starter pot. If your seeds need to be buried under the soil, add a thin layer of potting soil over the top. Mist any soil added on top of seeds to moisten lightly with a spray bottle.
Then, place your clear covers over the tray and wait. If you started with moist soil and you have covers, you shouldn't need to water again until your plants begin sprouting, but keep an eye on the soil anyhow. If your soil seems to be getting dry, use a spray bottle to mist on enough water to thoroughly moisten the soil. The gentle mist from the spray bottle will help moisten the soil while keeping un-sprouted seeds in place.
That's it; your seeds have been sown for your garden this year! Now, you only have to endure the waiting game. We check our trays for sprouts every day because it's so exciting to watch them start to pop up!
Think you can handle it? (Hint: you definitely can!) If you have any questions, call us or come by our nursery to see how we do it.