Common Seed Starting Mistakes

Starting plants from seeds is one of the most fulfilling feelings as a gardener. Being able to see the whole process from seed to sprout, to seedling to a fully mature plant is one of the most magical things about gardening.

However, there are some considerations to make before you start seeds so that you can be successful. Unfortunately, there are some mistakes that can be made when starting from seed, but once you know about them, you can avoid them or know how to troubleshoot the issue. 

Recycled soil

Dampened seedling | Vego Garden
A dampened off seedling

Seeds actually don’t need nutrients to sprout, and they can germinate really easily in plain mediums like coco coir. Using old soil can cause issues because there may be bacteria or pathogens in that soil which can cause a condition known as “damping off.”

A seedling that has suffered from this will look wilted and dried out and it cannot be revived and you will unfortunately need to restart seeds that have dampened off. 

Sowing seeds

Different seed types have different needs. Some require light to germinate, like strawflower, and should not be buried, which is called surface sowing.

However, for other seeds, if they are planted too deeply, they won’t have enough energy to reach the surface and will likely perish underground. If the seeds don’t need to be surface sown, and they are planted too shallowly, the roots will have issues developing down into the soil.

This is a common mistake with root vegetables as they really need the space to grow downward. Always refer to your seed packets for information on how deep to sow your seeds. 

Light it up

Leggy seedlings | Vego Garden
Leggy seedlings

Proper lighting for your seed starts is crucial. If they do not receive enough light, they may take longer to germinate or they may not germinate at all.

The lights also need to be close enough to the seedlings for proper growth, about one to two inches away, and then you can raise the lights higher as the plants continue to grow.

When you don’t have the lights close enough, your seedlings will stretch themselves, reaching for the light. This is what is known as a “leggy” seedling. If you catch your seedlings becoming leggy early enough, you might be able to save them by providing more light and/or moving lights closer to them, but if caught too late, they will likely not recover. 


Bottom-watering seedlings | Vego Garden
Bottom watering seedlings helps ensure they receive the right amount of water

Seeds need to be watered enough so that they can germinate, and should be kept moist until they sprout, but once the seeds do sprout, you need to adjust the amount of water they receive.

Too much water can cause root rot, if the water isn’t being absorbed quickly enough, or if the location of your seedlings isn’t warm enough. When the soil is too damp, that can also attract pests like fungus gnats to lay eggs in the soil, which can be a real annoyance!

Bottom watering is a great way to ensure that the seedlings get the right amount of water. Just pour water into the bottom of your tray and let your seedlings soak it up for about half an hour; then drain the excess water out.

However, underwatering can cause your plants to suffer as well; if the first inches of soil feels dry, or if the plants look like they are starting to wilt, you can water them and they should bounce back. 

You got this

Seed starting might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if you do everything right, sometimes seeds just don’t work out, but you should never let that keep you from growing!

Being aware of common mistakes and learning from mistakes is how we improve, so don’t be afraid to start! 



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