Is Indoor Seed Starting Right For You?

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Did you spend your Christmas break going through seed catalogs and placing orders for everything?! Don’t worry if you didn’t, you’re not behind. In fact, in past years, I’ve eagerly rushed my seed buying and ended up with way too much. Can you relate? (It’s just so much fun!)

As a beginning gardener, I rushed to buy my seeds based on what I wanted to grow. The problem? I didn’t have the knowledge of what needed to be started inside and what needed to be planted directly in the ground. On top of that, I wasn’t even sure when to start the seed planting process.

Like most beginning gardeners, I assumed I had to start seeds indoors. But I didn’t know what or when…and I didn’t realize that indoor seed starting isn’t always necessary.

If you’re considering starting seeds indoors, in our recent episode of The Beginner’s Garden Podcast (and blog post below), we discuss all of the details that go into indoor seed planting to help you understand if that’s right for you. You can listen to that here or continue reading.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Many new gardeners believe that if you want to start a garden, everything must be started indoors. I see this lead to so much struggle and confusion in beginning gardeners because that just isn’t the case. But, you can’t know something that you haven’t learned.

I see many rush to buy their seeds, plant them inside, and attempt to grow them by a window. This is a common seed-starting mistake. Others buy a grow light (which is one of the best things you can do) but lack the knowledge on when to plant or if a seedling is growing correctly.

This leads to so much frustration and believe me when I say, I understand. As a beginner, I didn’t know what expectations to have or what questions to ask when I thought something had gone wrong. Or, maybe the seedlings looked great, but I didn’t know when to plant them outside.

emerging seedlings in soil blocks

Starting seeds indoors isn’t that hard

Because of frustration and lack of knowledge, so many believe that seed starting indoors is harder than it really is. I promise you it’s not. However, it does require some knowledge and usually some trial and error.

If you’ve already started seeds inside and you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t stress. There are so many resources available now that you can have a successful experience. A good idea and practice is to start with a few crops of indoor seeds and then work your way up to all that you need.

If you’ve not started seeds indoors yet and think maybe it’s just not for you, don’t discount that it’s not for you forever. Maybe this year isn’t your time, but with a little help and education, next year could be your season!

calendula seed germinating

Three questions to ask before you start indoor seeds

Question 1: Are you a first time gardener?

If you are starting your first gardening season, you will be learning new things all season long. This year, eight years in, I was able to walk through my garden and identify a weed sprout from a planted crop sprout. I could tell you what crops were which based on the young sprouts popping through the soil. I promise you, though, that first season, I had to google everything!

On top of learning what your plants are, you will be learning about your climate and planting zone, what diseases (if any) your plants are prone to, what pests you may have. There’s a lot of research and information available on these subjects, but just because you read about a pest or disease, doesn’t mean you will have an issue with them. Your first season will include a lot of observation just so you can get a feel for your own climate and challenges. That alone is a lot for a first-time gardener!

Another thing you probably won’t know that first season is what plants are started indoors and when to plant them outdoors. I’ve learned the hard way and planted crops too early in cold soil. These are all things you will learn and should consider before making the decision to grow seedlings inside.

broccoli in soil block inside

Do you have, or intend to purchase, a grow light?

This is obviously my opinion based on my own experiences and failures and from watching so many people struggle and succeed, as well. But, I do not recommend starting indoor seeds if you don’t have a grow light.

The only exception to this would be if you are a very seasoned gardener and know exactly what windows work, when to start and move plants based on sunlight coming in, etc. If you’re home most of the time and can babysit these seedlings, it can be done, maybe. But I don’t recommend it.

Indoor grow light on seedlings

What if you don’t want to go to the expense and hassle of indoor seed starting?

The good news is, those plants that you would’ve used a grow light for can be purchased from your local nursery! There’s absolutely zero reason to feel shame for not starting indoor seeds. So many crops and transplants are available to you and your garden can be super successful using these.

If you are interested in a grow light, I use the two listed on this page and have had great success with them.

Question 2: Do you know the difference between cool season crops and warm season crops?

This is such a huge question that not enough people talk about, in my opinion. If you rattle off what crops you plan to grow this season, can you tell me which ones grow best in the cooler weather and which grow best in the warmer weather?

Recently a friend let me look over what she planned on growing that season. In my mind, I was already planning out which crops needed to be started soon and which couldn’t be planted until much later in the season.

This is crucial information to know because when it comes to planting your indoor seedlings, you can’t just sow them all at the same time. Broccoli and tomato seedlings, for example, won’t be started at the same time because they don’t go into the ground at the same time. Broccoli is a cool-weather crop. Tomatoes are a warm-weather crop.

girl transplanting seedlings

As always, my goal is that you aren’t too overwhelmed when it comes to your gardening season and that we can simplify it as much as possible for you. There’s a lot of information when it comes to gardening and I want you to be successful!

Before you even begin to start seeds indoors or plant them in your garden, you need to know which seeds are best started indoors and which are not. And did you know that not all indoor seed starting is alike? I’ve found different “levels” depending on your goals and experience. To learn the basics of growing from seed — indoors and out — you’ll want to sign up for my self-paced mini-course, Before Yo Sow. Click here for more information.

Before You Sow 4-Lesson Mini Course: Sign Up Here


  1. Hi

    It’s nice to hear that you can think about planting where you are!! In Vermont we really can’t even find our gardens through the snow until Late April. I did try planting tomato seeds last April but without a grow light they got pretty spindly and by the time it was warm enough to put them outside I had some really pathetic looking long skinny vines with a couple pale leaves at the end. Then I failed to cover them when we got a frost. BUT I plan to try again this year ( maybe in mid May) I did buy a light so perhaps I’ll have a bit more luck this year. Glad to hear you’re up and at it again. HAVE FUN!!

    1. Hi Andy, yes, I am growing to love the longer growing seasons where I live. It makes the hot, humid summers worth it. 🙂 So glad you’re going to be growing with a grow light this year. I bet you’ll find much better results. Hopefully the late frosts won’t be a problem this year!

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