The Q&A Archives: Seed Starting

Question: I am trying to start annuals from seed using artificial light and a heating pad to warm the soil. I am confused about certain plants that 'need darkness' to germinate. Should I not use lights until the seeds begin to sprout? Is covering the seed with a small amount of planting mix enough to keep them in the dark? I have several books and none of them address this very well.

Answer: Hope I don't sound too ambiguous, but some seeds need light to germinate, and others don't. You should be able to tell by the instructions on the seed package - it should say 'barely cover' or 'plant 1/4-inch deep', or something of that nature. You can experiment if the seed you want to germinate are seeds you've saved from your garden. Sow the seeds on top of the moistened seed starting mix and press them in with your hand, but don't cover with additional soil. With the next batch, just barely cover the seeds. If the seeds are large, you can plant them about twice as deep as the seed's diameter. Some seeds like warmth to germinate and some like cooler temperatures. The conditions are specific to the kinds of seeds you're germinating. I'd venture to guess that most annual seeds will sprout just fine if you sprinkle them on top of the seed starting mix, press them in with your hand, place plastic wrap over the top to keep the moisture in, and put the whole tray in a warm place like on top of your refrigerator. After most of the seeds have sprouted remove the plastic and put the tray of seedlings under a source of artificial light. If you have seeds for unusual or exotic plants, let us know and we'll give you specific instructions for germinating them. Good luck with your seed starting adventures!

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