Avoid These Common Seed-Starting Mistakes!

Common Seed Starting Problems

Starting seeds is an exciting and rewarding process for any gardener. However, it can also be a frustrating experience if certain mistakes are made. Avoiding these common seed-starting mistakes is crucial to ensure your plants grow healthy and strong.

One of the most important things to remember is knowing which seeds should be started indoors. Some seeds, like tomatoes and peppers, require indoor starting to ensure a proper growing season.

Starting these seeds too early will result in them growing long and leggy, and also you will have to keep them indoors for a long time before it is warm enough to plant them outdoors.

Conversely, if you plant them too late, then they won’t have long enough in our summer season to properly fruit.

1. Starting Seeds Too Early

Seedlings In A Propagator
Seedlings In A Propagator

Starting seeds too early is a common mistake that many gardeners make. It’s understandable to want a head start on the season, but it’s important to remember that seeds need the right conditions to germinate and grow.

Seeds that are started too early can become leggy and weak, and may not survive when transplanted outdoors. Also, starting seeds too early can lead to overcrowding and competition for resources, weakening the plants.

To avoid starting seeds too early, gardeners should read the seed packets carefully and follow the recommended planting dates. They should also consider the climate in their area and the average last frost date before starting seeds indoors.

2. Not Enough Light

Seeds On A Windowsill
Seeds On A Windowsill

One of the most common mistakes when starting seeds is not providing enough light. Plants require light to grow; without it, they will become weak and spindly. Inadequate light can also lead to poor germination rates and stunted growth.

Grow lights are an excellent solution to this problem. They are designed to mimic natural sunlight and provide the necessary light spectrum for plants to grow. When using grow lights, make sure to keep them close to the seedlings, as light intensity decreases rapidly with distance.

If you don’t have access to grow lights, placing your seedlings in a south-facing window can also help. However, keep in mind that the intensity and duration of natural light vary depending on the season and location.

With windowsills though, most just arent adequate enough and don’t get the required amounts of light – leading to leggy seedlings.

This is particularly true for us Cascadia gardeners early in the season, when even the sunniest windowsill won’t get the required amount of light because of our short days. I suggest investing in some grow lights, they are cheap now and also have low running costs thanks to the use of LEDs.

3. Overwatering

Overwatering Seedlings
Overwatering Seedlings

Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes that novice gardeners make when starting seeds. It may seem like a good idea to keep the soil moist, but too much water can be just as harmful as too little.

Seedlings need a delicate balance of moisture to develop properly, and overwatering can lead to root rot, fungal diseases, and stunted growth.

One way to avoid overwatering is to use a well-draining soil mix. This will allow excess water to drain away from the roots, preventing waterlogged soil. Another tip is to use a watering can with a fine nozzle to water seedlings gently.

Avoid using a hose or a watering can with a large spout, as this can disturb the delicate seedlings and cause soil erosion.

It’s also important to pay attention to the moisture level of the soil. Stick your fingertip into the soil, getting below the surface. If it feels dry, it’s time to water. If it feels moist, wait a day or two before watering again. Be careful not to let the soil dry out completely, as this can also harm seedlings.

Finally, it’s important to remember that different seeds have different water requirements. Some seeds, like lettuce and spinach, prefer moist soil at all times, while others, like tomatoes and peppers, prefer to dry out between waterings. Be sure to read the seed packet instructions carefully and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

4. Using the Wrong Soil

Many people will tell you to avoid using potting mix or compost for seed starting and instead to use a special seed starting mix. And while the seed starting mix is preferred I often start mine in regular compost and have no issues.

A good seed starting mix should be light, airy, and well-draining. Look for mixes that contain vermiculite, perlite, or coconut coir, as these materials help to improve drainage and aeration. Avoid mixes that contain bark pieces and/or fertilizer, as they can deter germination and lead to root burn.

5. Planting Too Deep

One of the most common mistakes when starting seeds is planting them too deep. It’s easy to get excited about planting and accidentally bury the seeds too far down in the soil. When seeds are planted too deep, they may not be able to germinate properly and may struggle to break through the soil surface.

It’s important to follow the instructions on the seed packet to determine how deep to plant each seed. As a general rule, smaller seeds should be planted shallower than larger seeds. Small seeds such as basil, onions, and carrots should only be covered very lightly with soil or vermiculite. That’s because they need light to germinate.

When planting larger seeds, such as beans or peas, it’s important to make sure they are planted at the correct depth. Planting too shallow can cause the seed to dry out, while planting too deep can prevent it from germinating. As a general rule, seeds should be planted at a depth that is two to three times their width.

6. Too Much Heat

Leggy Seedlings
Leggy Seedlings

One common mistake that gardeners make when starting seeds is exposing them to too much heat. While it’s important to keep the soil warm for germination, too much heat can actually harm the seeds and prevent them from sprouting.

According to All About Gardening, the ideal temperature for most seed germination is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too high, the seeds may dry out or become damaged. On the other hand, if the temperature is too low, the seeds may not germinate at all.

To avoid exposing seeds to too much heat, it’s important to monitor the temperature regularly. Gardeners can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the soil or the surrounding environment. If the temperature is too high, they can move the seeds to a cooler location or use a fan to circulate the air.

Another way to avoid too much heat is to use a heat mat with a thermostat. This will allow gardeners to regulate the temperature and ensure that it stays within the ideal range for seed germination.


Starting seeds can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be frustrating if you make common mistakes. By avoiding these mistakes, you can increase your chances of success and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

Remember to read the seed package instructions carefully, start seeds at the right time, use the correct soil or potting medium, and provide warmth and adequate light. Don’t forget to water your seeds consistently and avoid planting them too deep.

It’s also important to keep in mind that starting seeds is not an exact science. Even with the best practices, some seeds may not germinate, and some plants may not thrive. Don’t get discouraged if this happens, and try again next season.

With a little patience and attention to detail, you can successfully start your own seeds and enjoy the satisfaction of growing your own plants.

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