Before you proceed, make sure:

  • Seed trays are filled
  • Seeds are planted
  • Seeds are labeled

All set? Now what?

Healthy Sprouts: Taking Care of the Seedlings

Getting the seeds into soil is just the beginning. Now it is up to us to provide all that those seeds need to grow. Some seeds grow quickly and easily, while others can be a bit pickier. For most, the best way to learn more about them is to jump in: get them planted, read a bit about them if you can, and watch and see how it goes.

Basic Concepts for Seedlings

While not all seedlings want the exact same conditions, most require these major needs: water, light, soil, and a preferred temperature. Many of the seedlings that go into a food garden will have similar needs. Let’s look a little more in depth…


I have discovered through trial and (sometimes much) error that WATER is the biggest key to keeping seedlings healthy and strong. When they are small and fragile, with almost no root system, they are completely dependent on having enough water as they grow.

Seedlings need to be watered, and fairly regularly. When you look at the seed packet, what does it say about water?

  • Prefers wet or very moist soil? These seeds want to be watered often, and possibly more than once per day
  • Prefers dry or barely moist soil? Be careful to not over-water these seeds
  • Most seedlings are happy with watering every day, enough that they stay moist until the next day but not waterlogged or soggy


Most garden seeds are happy to grow in standard seed-starting mix. There may be some exceptions in other kinds of plants, though. For example…

  • Cacti and succulent plants prefer a more sandy mix that allows water to run through and drain off more quickly
  • Some plants prefer very rich soil, with lots of added food sources, such as compost or earthworm castings


There are a few different things you might discover when it comes to plants’ preferred temperatures

  • Some seeds want to start in a warm environment (like tomatoes and peppers), and are best started using a heat mat to keep the seed trays consistently warmed to the perfect temperature
  • Some seeds want to start in cooler weather, and possibly even outside during very early (and cold) springtime
  • Some seeds even want (or need, actually) to spend time in the winter environment, with cold, moist conditions for some period of time (can be as long as 90 days!). These seeds can actually be planted in the late fall so that they will come up in spring. Some, though, will be happy to just spend time in some moist soil in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
  • If seeds do not specify what they want, most can be started in regular indoor house temperatures without any big deal



Most seeds want to have light in order to sprout. Some seeds require it. But there are exceptions to even this rule, as there are a few seeds (like creosote, a type of bush that grows in the desert) that will only germinate in the dark.

Most seeds will tell you where they like to grow once outside in the garden. But do any of your seeds specify what kind of light they want for sprouting?


Baby plants

Sprouted seedlings is a sign of success! You’ve met the seed’s conditions for germination. Now it is important to provide the right light and watering to allow it to continue growing into a full-fledged plant. 

Although it will cause the soil to dry out a bit faster, having an oscillating fan blowing across your seedlings will help them build stronger stems, and make them more resistant to strong winds once they start moving outside.

Growing up

As seedlings grow, they may become too large for their seed-sprouting enclosure. As they get bigger, it will be a good time to prepare larger pots and some potting soil to give the developing roots the space needed to continue growing a healthy plant.

Moving outside?

When you reach the time of transplant outdoors, be careful! Seedlings cannot move immediately from inside to outside because they’re not used to the conditions. This is one of the fastest ways to have all of your seedlings die, unfortunately.

Once it is time for moving outside, seedlings will have to be “hardened off”.

Start by moving your plant trays to a protected area outside, with only indirect sunlight. Let them sit out for an hour or so on each of the first few days, and then gradually extend the amount of time outside. Also slowly introduce the “full sun” plants to more and more direct sunlight. IF you’re starting to harden off plants before frost has ended, just be careful to bring them inside if it’s going to get too cold!

Make sure you keep the seedlings watered, too, especially if it’s especially sunny, windy or warm.


Ready for the garden!

Once the young plants have been hardened off, it is time to sort out their addition to the garden. Are they going to be in containers? Raised beds? Directly into the ground?

Sounds like we will need to come up with a garden plan! And then it will be time to transplant!



UPDATES! Despite being an active gardener for more than a decade, I still encounter new concepts, challenges and lessons very year. Check out our BLOG post What’s bugging us? about a couple specific issues we’ve encountered with our seedlings, and how we are starting to deal with them!


Coming Soon: Garden Plans and Safe Transplants…