Care for Seeds and Seedlings

Every great vegetable garden begins with seeds and seedlings. The following tips will help care for these crucial garden starters.

  • Soak seeds to get a jump on the season. Before germinating, seeds need to drink up moisture, just as if drenched by spring rains. Once they become plump and swollen, the little embryo inside will begin to grow.

  • Seeds such as broccoli, cabbage, and arugula use moisture efficiently and germinate promptly without presoaking. But slower-starting parsley and parsnip seeds benefit from presoaking. Dunk them in room-temperature water for several hours or even overnight, but don't forget them and leave them in too long. Drain and plant the seeds immediately.

Seedling transplant
It's important to minimize root disturbance
when working with seedlings.


  • Start with large seedlings for quick results in cold climates. This strategy works well for tender vegetables like beefsteak tomatoes and chili peppers that take a long time to ripen but must squeeze in their performance before the last curtain -- frost -- does them in for the season.

  • Look for seedlings grown in large pots (indicating a strong root system) with healthy green leaves and a sturdy constitution. Avoid neglected, overgrown seedlings.

  • Note that not every seedling transplants well when older. Cucumbers, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds are best started from young seedlings planted carefully to minimize root disturbance.

  • Plant leggy vegetable seedlings deeper to provide a stronger start outdoors. Seedlings started indoors or in crowded greenhouses, places without enough light, may develop lanky, barren stems that topple over in the garden. As long as they grow from a single stem (rather than a rosette of leaves) and go into well-drained soil, leggy seedlings can be submerged slightly deep for extra support.

  • Keep cutworms away from seedlings with the cardboard centers of toilet paper rolls -- recycling at its best! Cutworms, which are moth caterpillars, creep near the soil surface, eating tender stem bases of young seedlings and cutting sprouts off the roots. But it doesn't take barbed wire or an electric-shock fence to get cutworms to detour away from your seedlings. After planting, just set a 3-inch-long cardboard tube around the seedling. Push the tube down so half is submerged, thus preventing underground attacks. Then once the seedling has grown into a plant, you can remove the cardboard collar.

  • Tear the tops and bottoms off peat pots when setting out vegetables. Peat pots, which are supposed to decay when submerged in the soil, don't always break down the first year they are planted. This leaves plant roots captive inside. To complicate matters further, if the peat rim emerges above the soil surface, it can dry out and steal moisture from the surrounding soil and nearby roots. Peat pot problems are easily solved by tearing off the top and bottom of the pot before planting. This helps eliminate the danger of drying out and gives roots a way to escape if the peat pot persists.

Keep reading to check tips for laying out your vegetable garden.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.