Start Planting Seedlings-Linn County Extension Master Gardeners

Oh how I can smell spring in the air and can’t wait for the flowers to start blooming. With my recent trip to my favorite garden, our friends at the Linn County Extension Master Gardeners have some great advice for starting plant seedlings. Get the seeds started because before we know it, it will be time to plant them!

Start Planting Seedlings

By Linn County Extension Master Gardener Intern, Jane Schildroth

At this point in our Iowa winter, it’s a good idea to begin looking forward to your garden endeavors that lie ahead.  You can do much more than thumb through the garden catalogs.  You can start planting! With some simple equipment, you can get a head start on flowers or veggies by starting the seeds in whatever space you have at home.  It’s simple and fun and will yield a great feeling of satisfaction in the spring and summer. This is the time to get started – Many Master Gardeners are busy now with the activities mentioned in this blog.

Start with containers that are clean and sturdy – a fact I have learned the hard way with a low germination rate when I didn’t wash in soapy water and disinfect with a rinse (1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water).  This is good for wood flats or plastic trays or pots but you might also choose to use peat pots or paper pots, allowing you to set the pot and plant into the garden.  Peat pots will be my experiment this year, having started seeds in other ways for several years.

Be sure to use quality seeds from a garden center, catalog or on-line source.  As for the potting mix, you can find specially-prepared mixes at garden centers.  These will be porous and disease-free.  It’s also possible to prepare your own mix at home.  Use equal parts of garden loam, sphagnum peat moss and perlite and pasteurize the mix before use by moistening it and baking in a shallow pan at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.  For details on this, go to

With your containers, planting mix and seeds ready, it’s time to follow the seed package directions.  Don’t forget to label your containers – if you are a beginning gardener, you might be surprised when whatever you planted as a border grows to a height of 18 inches!  After sowing the seeds, water with a soft spray (avoid blowing away the seeds) and cover with a clear top. The container can be in a bright spot but shouldn’t be in direct sunlight.  When you see little sprouts, remove the lids and move the containers under fluorescent lights or in a sunny window.

If you have planted in a tray, you will want to transplant the seedlings into individual containers or at least thin out the growth after you see the second pair of leaves appear. Later, we’ll cover the next important steps in the process such the care and handling of the delicate seedlings and “pinching.”  In the meantime, stop dreaming about your next impatiens and get those seeds started!

Bev Lillie, Linn County Extension Master Gardener Coordinator, 319-377-9839,


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