Start seeds with the right supplies
by ISU Extension and Outreach
February 15, 2020

By Richard Jauron—Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Discover the benefits of starting vegetable seeds indoors.

AMES, Iowa – Many people like to get a head start on the growing season by starting vegetable seedlings indoors. Success requires high quality seeds, a germination medium, containers, lights, and other supplies. To have additional questions answered, contact the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Hortline at (515)-294-3108 or hortline

How Do I get Started?

First, purchase seeds. You can find vegetable seeds at garden centers and from numerous mail-order companies, including the following:

  • Park Seed, One Parkton Ave., Greenwood, SC 29647 (
  • W. Atlee Burpee, 300 Park Ave., Warminster, PA 18974 (
  • Stokes Seeds, P.O. Box 548, Buffalo, NY 14240 (
  • Harris Seeds, P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624 (
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds, 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 (
  • Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, IA 52101 (

What Should I Consider?

Germinate seeds in a lightweight, porous medium free of pathogens. Excellent seed-starting media include commercially prepared soilless mixes.

You have plenty of container options. Purchase flats, trays, pots, compressed peat or coir pellets, or other products. Previously used flats, trays, and pots need cleaning and disinfecting. Wash used containers in soapy water, then disinfect them in a solution of one-part chlorine bleach and nine-parts water. Cut-off milk cartons, plastic jugs, paper cups, plastic food boxes, and other containers with holes punched in the bottom also work.
Most vegetable seeds germinate best when the temperature of the germination medium reaches 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Place containers in a warm location. In cool environments, use electric heat mats.

Seedlings can grow in sunny windows, but often become tall and spindly because of insufficient light. For best results, grow seedlings under fluorescent lights. A standard fixture with two 32- or 40-watt tubes works fine. Position lights four-six inches above the seedlings. Keep the lights on for 12-16 hours daily.

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