How to Start Seeds Indoors

It’s almost March and do you know what that means? You may have taken a guess based on the title, but yes, indoor gardening! It’s a bit too early to plant outdoors due to the unpredictable weather in East Tennessee, but have you ever considered starting your seeds indoors first? I’m here to tell you it’s easier than you think and definitely worth your while. 

Preparing Your Space

First, You’ll want to make sure you have everything you need and the space you’ll need to execute successful indoor seedlings. Below is a list of things you’ll need:

  • Seeds
  • Seed-starting mixture (I recommend using a mix made with coconut coir rather than peat moss)
  • Paper cups with a hole in the bottom for drainage
  • A shallow, rectangular tray
  • Spritzer bottle
  • A fluorescent light
  • Plastic wrap
  • Organic fertilizer (Such as fish emulsion)

What should you grow?

You should pay special attention to what crops grow well in your region and then focus on plants that are easy to transplant into your outdoor garden later on in the season. 

Stay away from root vegetables and beans and peas. Some good crops to start indoors include: tomatoes, peppers, and melons. Once you figure out what you want to start growing, research when the best time to start them is. Late February tends to be a good time to start crops that can be harvested in the spring.  Summer crops are best started in March. You can use this handy seed starting calculator from Johnny’s Select Seed by plugging in your last average frost date.  You can look that info up based on your zipcode using this website.

Seed-starting mixes:

A vital part of starting seeds inside is having the right seed starter. The most popular types are: coir and peat moss. I recommend using coir, as it is better for the environment and drains better than peat moss. You can also make your own by mixing together coir with compost that’s been heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off all pathogens and weed seeds.


  1. Make sure you have punched holes in the bottom of all your paper cups. This is for draining so your seeds aren’t over-watered. 
  2. Fill each cup ¾ of the way up with your seed-starting mix. Expect to use about 3-4 oz of mixture, so make sure your cups are of that size.

Pro-tip: pre-moisten your seed-starting mix by mixing it with water BEFORE      putting it into your containers. That way, the moisture will be evenly distributed and you won’t have to worry about seed displacement.

  1. Pat down the seed-starting mixture gently with your fingers, to remove any air bubbles. Then add more seed-starting mixture until it is about ¼ inch from the lip of the cup.
  2. Next, plant your seeds using the depth it says on your seed package.
  3. Cover all seedling cups with plastic wrap to keep moisture in. When the seedlings start to sprout, remove plastic wrap.
  4. Hang fluorescent lights on chains above your seedlings.  The lights need to be kept 1-2” off the top of the plants, so you’ll need to move them up as they grow. They should have direct light for 14-18 hours a day.
  5. After these steps, just make sure you are taking consistent care of your seedlings. Water them with a spray bottle when soil is dry to the touch. 

Optional: Start feeding them small amounts of organic fertilizer like fish emulsion, when they form their first true leaves. This will enhance their energy source and create a healthier plant.

Other Pro-Tips:

  • Having a sturdy tray to keep multiple seed cups on, makes them easier to move, water, and fertilize. 
  • Overwatering can cause seeds to rot instead of grow.
  • Keep your care steady for best results.
  • Some plants, like tomatoes and peppers, like a warmer environment to germinate.  You can buy a special heat mat that goes under your planting tray to keep the soil warm until the seeds germinate.  

 Additional Resources:

For a more in-depth analysis, visit: