How to Start Seed Indoors (Part 1 of 6): Reading the Seed Packet

By: Maureen Gilmer

Golden Wax Bean Seeds - Maureen Gilmer

Read the back of your seed packet to find details essential to successful germination.

Starting seed indoors is the best way to get your garden off to an early start. It also provides for earlier and longer harvest by extending the growing season. Not all plants are suitable to start indoors. Those that enjoy a long growing season such as tomatoes and peppers are best started early. These small seeds are hard to keep track of outdoors and too easily washed out or eaten by crawling pests when very young. Raising your slow-to-start plants indoors where you can control conditions yields larger plants that are better able to thrive once moved outdoors.

The first step in this process is to read all the information on the packet, which is your guide to growing that particular plant from seed. Each packet will contain:

DATE
All seed packets are stamped with a “packed for” date, which should be this year. Like food, dates ensure fresh seed is 100% viable. Out of date seed is no bargain at any price because every year that passes reduces the overall viability. With lettuce for example, seed dies after just one year in storage.

DEPTH
Each seed type is planted at a specific depth designated on the back of the packet. Plant deeper than specified or two shallow and seed main fail to germinate altogether.

EMERGENCE
This tells you how long it takes for that seed to germinate. If you sow properly and soil is warm enough, you can expect to see a tiny bean plant in 7 to 14 days. If there’s no sign of life after two weeks, you’ll know there’s a problem.

SPACING
This tells you how much space is required to grow a single plant. The distance between plants ensures they won’t be over-crowded. While it is not essential to starting plants indoors, it does tell you how many seedlings you’ll need to start indoors so there’s enough to transplant into the designated area.

HARVEST
This is the duration of your crop. Corn takes 75 days till harvest, beans just fifty days. Long duration crops are among the best for starting indoors if you live in the north where the growing season is short. When started indoors, you can artificially extend the life span of many crops.

Finally, save the empty seed packets after you use the seed. They’ll help you next year when reordering to make sure you get the proper variety and avoid any that failed.

This article is part of a six-part series entitled How to Start Seed Indoors by expert garden writer and Black Gold contributor Maureen Gilmer.READ MORE ARTICLES FROM THIS SERIES…
Intro: Germinating Vegetable Seeds Indoors: Get A Head Start This March

  1. How to Start Seed Indoors 1 of 6: Read The Seed Packet Before Starting Seed Indoors
  2. How to Start Seed Indoors 2 of 6: Use Clean Bedding to Prevent Damping Off
  3. How to Start Seed Indoors 3 of 6: The Right Container Helps Germinate Seed
  4. How to Start Seed Indoors 4 of 6: Sowing Your Seed Properly
  5. How to Start Seed Indoors 5 of 6: Proper Watering of Indoor Seedlings
  6. How to Start Seed Indoors 6 of 6: Transplant Seedlings Into Pots

About Maureen Gilmer


Maureen Gilmer has been a noted figure in horticultural journalism for over 30 years. She is author of 18 gardening books and writer of Yardsmart, a national column syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service. She is also garden columnist for the Desert Sun newspaper in the international resort town of Palm Springs. Maureen is a public speaker and former host of Weekend Gardening on the DIY Channel. She lives in Morongo Valley with her husband Jim and two rescue pit bulls. When not writing or photographing she is usually out riding her quarter horse.