Make sure you have all necessary supplies. Peat pots or other pots and planters, tools, potting mix, seeds, plant markers, watering supplies, grow lights, fertilizers and heated seed germination equipment are just some examples of what you may need. Check out the Seed Starting section at Mastergardening.com for a complete list of products.
Plan your garden and choose your seeds carefully. Be sure to read the instructions on the back of each seed packet for the zone in which you reside. Follow the recommended timeline (for example, planting three weeks before the last frost) to achieve optimal results.
Loosen and dampen potting mix before putting it into peat pots or other seed starting containers. The mix should be thoroughly wet but not dripping.
Fill peat pots (about 2/3 full) with prepared potting mix. Tap the bottom of the pots on a hard surface to settle the potting mix. Avoid packing the mix into the peat pots.
Plant at least three seeds in each peat pot. Remember to read the instructions as some seeds require pre-soaking or chilling. Cover the seeds with soil according to instructions and water them again. Be sure to use plant markers for easy identification later.
Using any type of plastic, cover the peat pots loosely. The plastic will hold in heat and moisture like a greenhouse but must be removed as soon as seedlings begin to emerge.
While waiting for seedlings to emerge, keep the soil moist, but not drenched. The ideal temperature range for seed germination is 65 to 70 degrees F. Heating mats or seed growing systems are great options.
Once the seedlings emerge, they will need between 12 and 18 hours of light each day. A fluorescent or high intensity plant light is the best choice.
Once the seedlings grow true leaves (not to be confused with the cotyledons that emerge at first), fertilizer should be used.
At 2-3 inches tall, the seedlings can be transferred to larger pots. If two or more seedlings have grown in the same container, cut off all but the strongest seedling. Remember to cut instead of pulling out unwanted seedlings as roots may be intertwined.
Allow two to three weeks to introduce seedlings to the outdoors gradually. To do this, move your seedlings to a shady spot for increasing amounts of time each day. Gradually increase their time outdoors (protecting them from inclement weather). Remember to water the seedlings before and after planting.