When Should You Start Plants from Seeds Indoors?

Are you thinking about starting plants from seeds and want to do it on a budget?

Me too! Now is the time to get a jump on the growing season.

a portrait photo of my first seedling.

On my blog Living Large in A Small House, I may sometimes use affiliate links, which means a small commission is earned if you purchase via the link. The price will be the same whether you use the affiliate link or go directly to the vendor’s website using a non-affiliate link. You can find my full Disclosure Policy HERE

Why Start Plants from Seed

When we are talking about budget, just the fact that even the most expensive seed packet can be cheaper than one plant from the garden centers is helping with starting a garden on a budget

I spend hundreds if not thousands on plants each spring for my gardens but never had a space in my house to do seed starting. 

Setting Up a Station for Starting Seeds

If you have a sunny window with direct sunlight; ideally a south-facing window, then that might be all you need as a good light source.

In my house, my south-facing windows are in my living room and dining room. The idea of having seed trays in those rooms has never been something I’ve been interested in.

Until we renovated my office/den/guest bedroom in the One Room Challenge this past fall, I never had a space to grow seedlings. Now in this room, I have the perfect location. It doesn’t have enough light and certainly poor light but this is where fluorescent lights or grown lights come into play.

I looked at many pre-made indoor seed systems and they were quite pricy. “Handy” and I decided we could do them on a budget by purchasing a metal rack system and some grow lights.

Once the rack arrived, we hung a grow light with some S-hooks from the top of each shelf. I measured the shelves to get the right-size seed trays. The ones I found came in a pack of 6 and I could fit three across each of my shelves. I have 4 shelves so two sets of trays work perfectly.

The picture of my metal rack that I'm starting plants from seeds on.

They are well-made plastic trays, The bottom has an insert with 40 individual containers for soil and seeds. There is a plastic dome with a vent system to control the humidity. The kit included two little tools and plastic seed markers.

Our initial investment was $200.00 (not including seeds and dirt) but we can use everything year after year.

I did not use a heating mat or a heating pad under the trays last year because I thought the room temperature from a nearby vent would be adequate. Because I only had luck with the hardiest seeds, I’m going to add heat pads to my system this year.  Your soil temperature needs to be warm enough to aid in seed germination so I highly recommend a heat mat. 

Our growing station happens to be in the warmest room in our house and there is a heat vent right under the rack. We are good to go.

Other Ways to Start Seeds

While the seed trays seemed like a great way for me to sow my seeds, there are other options, including some that are appealing because they include reusing some things you might have around the house.

  • egg cartons
  • yogurt cups
  • plastic pots from old plants
  • small plastic cups
  • peat pots or peat pellets
  • newspaper pots

You want to make sure that you have some type of drainage holes in them if they are solid. Some type of humidity dome is also necessary to create the right environment to promote germination. You can achieve this by putting your containers in a larger container or tray and then covering them with plastic wrap.

Where to Shop for Seeds

As soon as we decided to venture into the seed-growing business, I headed to my seed catalogs to start purchasing my seeds.

I had heard that Johnny’s Selected Seeds was a quality seed company and had the best seeds so that is where I started.

Some of the things that I wanted were sold out so I also bought some of my seeds from Burpee and Floret. I also got some from my local garden center.

I have a combination of annual flowers and vegetables.

This year I will be starting the sweet pea seeds that I collected from my plants in the fall. 

Once I have more experience with this I am hoping to harvest even more of my own seeds from my plants in the fall and save even more money going forward.

my seed packets that I got from quality seed companys

How to Plant Your Seeds

I used an Organic Seed Starting Potting Mix and added about two tablespoons to each of my seed cups. Then I made a little hole in the center with the handy tool that came with my trays. Into the hole, I dropped a seed. You can however just use peat moss as a growing medium to start your seeds. You can’t use something like top soil to start a seed as it’s too heavy for the young plants to push through. 

I had some really small seeds and it was hard to grab just one seed so they may have gotten two seeds in each hole. As they grow I will just thin out the weaker ones and leave the strongest seedling. I also found an old tweezer to help with my planting.

Once the seeds were in the holes, I gently covered them back up with the potting soil and then using a spray bottle I sprayed each cup well. The water in my spray bottle is warm as I’ve been keeping it on the shelve under the grown lights.

my seed trays with my first early young seedlings

The combination of moisture, heat, and light is what will start the germination process.

You need to make sure that your soil stays moist. I found that I had to keep my eye on them twice a day.

spray bottle for keeping the soil moist

Labeling Your Seeds

Make sure that you label your plants. I was putting a label stick just on the beginning of each seed type row. I got confused with some of them as I often knocked over my marker or couldn’t remember if I had one row or two.

This year I’m going to buy a large pack of craft popsicle sticks and mark every individual seed plug 

When Should You Start Your Seeds?

On the back of the seed packet, it tells you how many weeks before your last frost you should start your seeds indoors. 

I’ve got a calendar for March, April, and May, and I’ve counted back from our last frost date of May 15th and put in all the weeks and then I typed in what needs to be planted in what week. You need to check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to find your hardiness zone and what your frost dates and planting dates are. 

picture of my calendar plotting out when I'm starting plants from seeds

I learned from last year that I need to start my sweet peas, impatiens, and tomatoes earlier than I did last year.

“The Day you Plant the Seed is not the day you Eat the Fruit. Be Patient and Stay the Course”

– Fabienne Fredrickson

What to Do as the Seedlings Get Bigger?

I just started plants from seeds last year so I’m relatively new to this. 

One thing I learned was that as your seedlings get bigger you need to move my seedlings into larger peat pots if they will grow too big for the growing tray. I had nice strong plants last year but I failed to move them and they got root-bound and died. 

It’s tricky with the timing and the germination rates to try to get all of the seedlings in your tray to grow at about the same rate. It would be different if I was planting whole trays of each seed but I’m not.

In the case of zucchini, I  planted 5 seeds last year and they each were nice healthy plants. This year I will only plant three so that I will have only put one plant in my garden and then give any other healthy plants to my neighbors. 

The only flowers that I would plant in a whole tray might be impatiens seeds. Impatiens need to be planted pretty early and I had really good luck with them germinating and growing well. So they will be something I will be planting again this year. 

Harding off the Seedlings before Planting Outside

For me in Zone 5b in Northern Illinois, I can’t put anything in the ground until May 15th. Even then I have to be careful with plants that don’t tolerate cold; basil is one of those plants. You also need to be careful with your fragile seedlings. Until the garden soil temperatures are warm enough, you don’t want to put your fragile little plants into the ground. While it’s tempting, you will be ahead of the game if you give things a couple of weeks to warm up a bit more. 

Before you can put the young seedlings outside, they will need to be hardened off.

What that means is taking your fragile new seedlings and introducing them to the harsher outdoor conditions slowly. 

This for me will be bringing them outside for a few hours at a time and then bringing them back inside. I might also put them in my greenhouse before putting them in the ground outside. If you have a cold frame, this can serve the same purpose as a greenhouse for hardening off your plants.

I have to be careful with my greenhouse because it could burn some of my seedlings if I’m not careful. I will have to find a place where they are not in the direct rays of sunlight through a window all day.

You can begin the hardening process once your seedlings have their second set of true leaves (as opposed to seed leaves which are the smooth round leaves that many seedlings will initially sprout).

There are ways to simulate the hardening-off process in your home and there is a great article HERE about how to do that.

a picture of the corner of the greenhouse and the beautiful pot of impatiens outside of it.

What Seeds Am I Planting this Year?

I made sure to keep good notes in my garden journal so I knew what worked well and what didn’t. We also had a chicken accidentally get into my cut flower garden right after I planted most of my floret seedlings so I don’t have an accurate assessment of how those seeds did.

This is just a short list of what did well for me last year. I will be trying new seeds this year and see how they grow.

Vegetable Garden

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Basil

Flower Garden

  • Impatiens
  • Sweet Peas
  • Bells of Ireland

What Seeds will I Sow Right into the Ground:

Vegetable Garden

  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes

Flower Garden

  • Sunflowers
  • Celosia
  • Zinnias
  • Calendula

Becoming a Seed Starter Expert

Last year was a learning year and while it’s not a huge curve, it was still a new venture for me. I expect I will learn even more this year. 

By the end of the season, I learned a lot and made a few mistakes. 

I’m lucky to have some experts that I can count on. My brother, Scott is a Master Gardener so I can always go to him with questions. You can listen to my Podcast with him HERE.

I have a blogging friend, Stacy Lang from Bricks N Blooms who is a blogger and also a Master Gardener. She has a wealth of information and resources on her blog. You can listen to our Podcast chat HERE.

Another resource for gardening that I love is Garden Answers on YouTube.

Having some good go-to resources can help with gardening.

I made some mistakes in my cutting garden last year and so some of my seeds are going to replace what I put in that area. That is a space that I think will evolve over time and as I get to know some of the new flowers.

I recently talked about my seed adventure on my Podcast. You can listen to it HERE.

In Conclusion

Every time I have a new project happening, it’s my favorite thing! So watching my seedling grow for 2024 will be my new favorite thing soon.

If you are a gardener and start your seeds in the house, please share with me your best advice in the comments below.

Peace, Love, and Happy Gardening!

Thanks for Following Along

If you enjoyed this post I hope you sign up to be a friend of Living Large in A Small House! Then you won’t miss any of the inspiration that is shared with you each week! You can also follow me on  Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. I share even more inspiration on Pinterest! You can listen to me chat on my Podcast.

A great way to save this article is to save it to your Pinterest boards. You can find the pin button in the top right corner of the photo below. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest

pinterest graphic that has a photo of a sprouting seedling with an overlay that reads "When Should You Start Plants from Seeds Indoors"

Meet Me

I’m an Interior Designer turned full-time blogger who lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago in a 1,300 sq., ft., home with my “Handy” husband, Keith.

I’m an open book about my life on my blog. Find out more about me by tapping the button below.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. This was so informative Lynn! I love your set up and I hope you don’t mind but I will be copying it!!! Can’t wait to see all your flowers and veggies!

    1. I’m three weeks in now and some of my seeds aren’t sprouting. Not sure I have a handle on this yet. But it is a learning year.

  2. Awesome post ! I’ve been wanting to try this ! Thanks for the info!

    1. Hi Marlene – It makes my heart happy when I can encourage another person to up their gardening game! Happy Planting