Gardening: Get Your Seedlings Started Now


Cary, NC — Do you miss your garden now that the Triangle has been hit with its second snowstorm in as many weeks? Then starting seedlings indoors is a worthy activity while you are homebound this frigid winter.

A Quick Guide to Seedlings

Late winter is a great time in North Carolina to sprout seeds indoors for transplant to your spring garden.


Shopping for seeds is probably half the fun of planting seedlings. What do you want in your garden this year? Striped Italian tomatoes? Bright green Coneflowers?

The best place to buy seeds might be the local garden store. They’ll have varieties that will do well in the Triangle and can offer advice about what to grow in your garden. You can also look around online or get a catalogue from companies like Burpee.

Find a Bright Spot

Find a bright spot near a window (avoid  or temper direct sunlight). The idea is to let your seeds sprout in a small bit of dirt, let them grow a few inches tall, and then transplant the seedlings to your outdoor garden once the frost date has passed. In the Triangle, the frost date is generally pegged around April 15.

Flats and Containers

Plastic flats are probably the most popular and space efficient way to start seedlings. You can find them at the local garden store.

Egg cartons also work. Dixie cups are also popular, but poke in a couple of holes for air and drainage.

Growing medium

Growing medium, formerly known as dirt, is a high-tech formulation that retains moisture and promotes seedling development. You can buy a small bag at the garden store.

Plant the Seeds

Seeds differ in how they like to be planted. Most seed packets have directions, like “plant shallowly” or 1/4″ deep.

Keep Moist

Don’t let your seed pots dry out. But don’t soak them either. Just keep it moist.


Germination is when the new plant emerges from the seed and reaches for the sky. It’s actually very exciting.

Different plants have different germination times – refer to the seed package. But 10 days or so is fairly common.


After the last chance of frost, take your seedlings outside. I usually put them in a mostly shady spot for a few days to get them acclimated to the outdoors. Your young plants should get thicker stems and greener leaves as they “harden” outdoors.

Transplant the seedlings from their small containers or flats to the garden beds according to the needs of each plant (sunlight, moisture, etc). What I’m saying here is tomatoes won’t grow in the shade or impatiens in full sun.

Wherever you plant your seedlings, dig a good hole, fertilize well and backfill with good soil (not red clay!). Water it in. Keep and eye on things until the seedlings are well-established in the garden bed.


Why I Like Planting From Seed

  • It’s cheap – all you need are seed packets (less than $1 each), some potting soil, and containers for planting. These containers can be recycled butter or yogurt containers, egg cartons, or specially purchased seedling trays.
  • It’s easy – Put soil in the containers, plant your little seeds, and keep then warm and moist near a decent light source or window.
  • Heirlooms and Exotics – One of the best things about planting from seed is variety. Choose from 19th century heirlooms or unusual varieties of popular plants.
  • Plants get a head start – by planting in mid February, your little sprouts will have a good 2 months of germination and growth before they are transferred into Mother Earth.
  • It’s Fun– if you have any nurturing instincts in you, you will love watching your little seeds sprout and growth just like a proud parent.

What Works Well?

Just about anything. We have had particular success with various lettuces, peppers, pansies, sunflowers, zinnias, cucumbers, and melons. Think about what you would like to eat this summer or what cut flowers you would enjoy in your home. These all make good seedling choices.

Head to your garden store in the middle of winter and purchase a few seed packets and some potting soil. Nature will do the rest.

The Farmer’s Almanac has this guide for starting seeds in our area.



Lead photo by Susy Morris. Envy Coneflower by Sylvia Mayer. Dill Seeds by Rachel James.


The Gardening column is sponsored by Garden Supply Company on Old Apex Road in Cary.

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