The Ultimate Seed Starting Guide For Canadian Gardeners
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Welcome to seed starting 101! This is everything you need to know for seed starting in Canada in a short growing season….or really wherever you live! In this post, you’ll learn what tools you need for seed starting (and which ones you shouldn’t waste your money on) as well as my beginner tips for first timers. This is a comprehensive seed starting guide, so get ready to dive in!
Before you read any further, I want you to know it is 100% okay if you choose not to start any seeds this gardening season. You can still have an abundant organic food garden by purchasing started plants from a greenhouse. In fact, buying your veggie transplants from a greenhouse is a great option if you’re brand new to food gardening.
Alternatively, you can take a hybrid approach to seed starting. Start the easier-to-grow vegetables from seed and purchase the trickier plants from your local greenhouse.
Or, you can use this guide to dive in head first, growing your entire garden from seed. This is the approach I take, but it has taken 5 years of gardening to get to this place. Don’t forget that!
So, don’t be afraid to start slow! You’ll have better success that way and are more likely to continue growing your own food year after year.
This post covers:
- What Are The Benefits Of Seed Starting Indoors
- 30+ Of The Best Seed Suppliers To Buy From In Canada
- When Should I Start My Seeds For My Garden In Canada
- Where Should I Set Up My Seed Starting Station In My Home
- What Are The Easiest Vegetable Seeds To Start Indoors
- What Are The Easiest Flower Seeds To Start Indoors
- What Are The Easiest Herb Seeds To Start Indoors
- What Tools And Supplies Do I Need For Seed Starting
- What Are The Best Seed Starting Trays
- What’s The Best Brand Of Grow Lights in 2022
- What Is The Best Seed Starting Soil Mix
- 5 Steps For Starting Vegetable And Flower Seeds Indoors
This post may contain affiliate links to products for your convenience. From Soil to Soul gains a small commission from purchases made through those links, at no additional cost to you.
What Are The Benefits Of Seed Starting Indoors
There are a handful of benefits that come with starting your vegetable seeds indoors long before the outdoor growing season has begun.
For Canadian gardeners with short growing seasons, indoor seed starting opens up a world of possibilities when it comes to what types of foods you can grow.
Here’s a few of the benefits of seed starting indoors:
- Extend and get a head start on your growing season. In Zone 3, there’s only about 120 available growing days (the number of days between the last and first frost dates). But if you start seeds indoors early, you can extend that up to another 100+ growing days.
- Grow new foods you wouldn’t typically be able to grow in a short, cold grow zone. I love experimenting with tropical foods like ginger, turmeric and lemongrass by starting them indoors in the Winter.
Plan out your garden ahead of time. Seed starting indoors allows you to have a clear plan of how much food you’re going to grow in your garden space.
30+ Of The Best Seed Suppliers To Buy From In Canada
There’s thousands of seed suppliers across the country to purchase seeds from. But it’s key to source seed from a reliable supplier in order to have the best germination rates, as well as strong plants.
To make things simple, I’ve published my trusted list Where To Buy The Best Organic Vegetable Seeds In Canada.
Here you’ll find 30+ of the best organic seed suppliers in Canada as well as some of my fav American seed suppliers that ship to Canada.
When Should I Start My Seeds For My Garden In Canada
When you should start your seeds indoors is dependant on two factors:
1. Your grow zone and local frost dates.
It is so important to know what zone you are gardening in. The Farmer’s Almanac has a fantastic tool that will tell you your exact grow zone and first and last frost dates based on your postal code. I love this tool and have used it many times. Just remember — there’s a micro-climate in your own backyard that this tool won’t take into account.
For example, we experience high winds regularly on our property, which typically results in slightly lower temps than what is projected for my region.
You can also use Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zones Map to see the 20 different planting zones across Canada. They range from as cold as Zone 0a to as warm as Zone 9a.
Here in southern Manitoba, I’m located between a Zone 3a-3b. My last frost date in the Spring is typically between May 27 and June 1. And in the Fall, my first frost date is usually the first week of October.
2. The days to maturity for each plant.
The ‘days to maturity’ tells you how many days it will take a plant to be mature enough that it is producing flowers or food. This is just a guideline and shouldn’t be followed as an exact measurement. However, days to maturity are very helpful in understanding when seeds should be started indoors.
Most seed packets will have the days to maturity clearly indicated on the pack.
You’re probably wondering — “What do I consider as Day 1?”
Truthfully, this is a topic that is up for debate with gardeners.
Some consider Day 1 as the day the seed is planted, whereas others wait until it is transplanted in the ground. Both of these dates come with their own challenges and inaccuracies.
My suggestion is to consider Day 1 as the day when your seedling puts on its first true leaves. So not the first day you plant the seed, but about 2-3 weeks after that.
For example — tomato seed packets usually say they require about 60 days until they are fully mature. But because I start all my tomato seeds indoors in mid-March, I have to take into account the fact that their indoor growing environment is not the same as it would be with natural sunlight and nutrients from the soil. So I add on an additional 20-25 days of growing time to the days to maturity of my tomatoes. I usually get the first fruits on my tomato plants by mid-June, which puts the days to maturity for tomatoes started indoors at about 90 days.
Now back to the original question…
When should I start my seeds in my garden in Canada?
You should start your seeds indoors based on when your last frost date is in the Spring and work back from the days to maturity of each plant.
This will be different for every gardener depending on where you live. So familiarize yourself with your grow zone, frost dates and days to maturity for the plants you want to grow.
Create a workback schedule, outlining what days you need to start each plant. I share more about my planning approach in my post How I Plan Out My Zone 3 Veggie Garden.
Where Should I Set Up My Indoor Seed Starting Station In My Home
Set up your seed starting station near a window in your home that receives the most daylight. This is typically a South or East facing window.
Even with grow lights, you’ll want your plants to receive natural day light as well.
Be sure that the area you choose isn’t too drafty or cold. Seeds germinate best when soil temperature is at 21ºC/69.8°F.
Ensure the area you choose has enough room for either a shelving unit that you can keep your seeds on and/or something you can hang your grow lights from.
My indoor seed starting station is actually set-up in our basement.
We have large South facing windows in the basement so our plants still get natural daylight. But the main reason why I choose to start seedlings in the basement is because it is unfinished, so I can get messy with soil and it’s not a big deal.
Our basement is also quite spacious, providing lots of room for the commercial wire shelving I use for seed starting. I love using this 6-tier shelving unit from Costco. It’s about a $150 investment, but absolutely worth it.
This specific shelving is also on wheels, making it really easy to move and clean around as needed.
What Are The Easiest Vegetable Seeds To Start Indoors
My rule of thumb is the smaller the seed, the more challenging it is to grow.
This rings true for flowers, vegetables and herbs. Seeds that are very fine and tiny are typically harder to germinate as they require more precise growing conditions. Larger seeds can be planted deeper and typically germinate more quickly and easily.
Based on my seed starting experience, here are the 5 easiest vegetable seeds to start indoors for beginners:
1. Cucumbers — very easy to grow from seed, but also do well direct seeded in the garden.
2. Tomatoes (Cherry & Large Fruits) — plant one seed per cell about 1/2 inch deep.
3. Bell Peppers — start in mid-Winter to give plants a head start.
4. Summer Squash/Zucchini — start 3-4 weeks before your last frost date.
5. Winter Squash/Pumpkins — start 3-4 weeks before your last frost date.
What Are The Easiest Flower Seeds To Start Indoors
When I first started gardening, I was under the impression flowers were harder to grow than vegetables. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Most annual flowers are extremely easy to grow from seed indoors.
Based on my seed starting experience, here are the 5 easiest flower seeds to start indoors for beginners:
1. Marigolds — extremely easy to grow, starting indoors produces early blooms.
2. Zinnias — germinate very easily but also do well direct seeded outdoors after your last frost.
3. Nasturtiums — the large seeds do best when planted one seed per cell.
4. Cosmos — start indoors to get earlier blooms, but also does well direct seeded.
5. Calendula — start indoors to get earlier blooms, but also does well direct seeded.
What Are The Easiest Herb Seeds To Start Indoors
Herbs are great plants for beginner gardeners to start with!
Most herbs are fast growing and easy to germinate. For most short season herbs, you can either direct sow or start indoors and have success.
Based on my seed starting experience, here are the 5 easiest herb seeds to start indoors for beginners:
1. Basil — sow several seeds per cell and then thin when ready to transplant.
2. Borage — sow one seed per cell as the seedlings will get wide and bushy.
3. Cilantro — start indoors 1-2 weeks before last frost or direct sow.
4. Dill — start indoors 1-2 weeks before last frost or direct sow.
5. Chamomile — sow several seeds per cell and then thin when ready to transplant.
What Tools And Supplies Do I Need For Seed Starting
After your purchase your high quality organic seeds, there’s a few other must-have seed starting tools to invest in.
The below list is in order based on the most important seed starting tools to those you can “skip purchasing” and still have success starting seeds indoors.
However I will say, this list includes everything I use for seed starting and do consider essential items. My point is you will still be able to start seeds indoors even if you don’t purchase the items lower down on this list.
List Of Seed Starting Tools For Beginners
- Organic Seed Starting Soil Mix — You need a light growing medium for seeds to germinate. You can purchase a pre-made mix or make your own. I prefer the PRO-MIX Organic Blend.
- Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights — A MUST if you want to grow strong seedlings. There simply isn’t enough natural daylight in the Northern hemisphere in the Winter months for seeds to germinate otherwise. LED grow lights maximize the quality of light output to nourish your plants while creating little to no heat. Invest in 1-2 lights to get started.
- Seedling Plug Trays — This is what you’ll plant each seed into. I like purchasing a tray with 48 to 72 individual cells in it so I can maximize how many seeds I’m starting.
- Humidity Domes — A humidity dome is a clear plastic that fits over your seedling trays. It maintains humidity while your seeds are germinating and keeps the soil moist. A humidity dome will drastically improve your germination rates. Plus, they’re very inexpensive, usually about $3.99-$5.99/dome.
- Small Fan — Air circulation is essential for seed starting indoors. It reduces the chance of mold and strengthens your seedlings’ stems. It also gives your seedlings a better chance at succeeding outside when it comes time to transplant.
- Sea Magic Fertilizer — My FAV plant-based liquid fertilizer for seedlings. I apply Sea Magic to my seedlings once every few weeks. It helps keep them happy while indoors for long periods of time and reduces the chance of disease. You can purchase it right here on From Soil to Soul!
- Seedling Heat Mat — For years I didn’t see the value in buying a heat mat and germinated my seeds just fine without one. But when I did finally buy one, I was shocked at the difference it made! My seedlings have stronger roots and germinate exceptionally faster. The heat mat also warms up the air temperature, which is ideal if you’re starting seeds near a drafty window or in a cooler area of your home.
- Plant Labels — You’ll want to keep track what you’ve planted in each seedling tray because, trust me, you’ll forget! You can either purchase small labels to insert into each tray or use my cheap trick — I write down what I’ve planted in each cell row on a piece of paper and tape it to the outside of the seedling tray. Easy as that!
What Are The Best Seed Starting Trays
The question here is what are the BEST seed starting trays, so I will answer that specifically.
But please know, if you are just starting off you can ultimately start seeds in any small container you have. Think Tupperware container, recycled plastic salad greens container from the grocery store or even a toilet paper roll!
Now, when it comes to who makes the best seed starting trays, I’ve found Bootstrap Farmer offers the best quality seed trays made from recycled plastics. They’ve lasted me almost 5 years without cracking!
The other thing to consider when buying seed starting trays is how many cells you want per tray. I like to buy trays that have 100+ cells in them. But this is because I start thousands of seeds.
Let’s say you are only starting 5-8 seeds of each variety of plant, and you’re growing 10 different vegetables. So you’re starting 50-80 seeds.
I would suggest buying two trays of 40-50 cells each. This way you can plant one tray with the seeds that will grow faster and/or have similar days to maturity. And plant the other tray with the slower growing vegetables.
It makes your seedlings easier to manage and keep track of.
What Is The Best Brand Of Grow Lights in 2022
First, you need to know there’s two categories of grow lights:
In my experience with seed starting, I’ve always used LED grow lights and I love them!
LED lights are energy efficient, won’t add any additional cost to your monthly electricity bill and have a long life span. Some of my grow lights are 5 years old and still work great each season.
The only “con” (in my opinion) to LED lights is they are more expensive to purchase, typically ranging from $80 to $200 for one strip of lighting.
I’ve personally always avoided fluorescent grow lights because they are basically impossible to recycle and don’t last very many seasons. Overall, fluorescent grow lights aren’t very environmentally friendly.
Regardless of whether you choose LED or fluorescent grow lights, be sure to select a full-spectrum light that resembles light from the sun. In other words, you can’t just use a lightbulb from your kitchen and expect to see results.
So, what’s the best LED grow light on the market?
I’m a huge fan and have been using for years the SunBlaster LED grow lights, which I believe to be the best grow lights on the market for Canadian gardeners.
SunBlaster is a Canadian company based in B.C.
The grow lights are very easy to use (basically just plug in and go!) and most come with adjustable hanging clips so you can attach your grow lights to any shelving unit you’re using for seed starting.
They design a huge range of different types of grow lights that can work for various growing set-ups, such as a counter top kitchen garden or a large scale market farm operation.
I personally use the 48” SunBlaster grow lights that are 48W, 5150 lumens.
What Is The Best Seed Starting Soil Mix
Every gardener has their own unique seed starting soil mix recipe. Trust me, this differs completely from one grower to the next.
I know gardeners who start their seeds in a vermiculite-based growing medium. Whereas others just use organic potting soil and have great results. Do some trials and find what works best for you!
Nonetheless, there is a universally recommended seed starting soil blend that I follow:
- 40% plant-based compost
- 40% rehydrated coco coir
- 20% perlite or vermiculite
These measurements don’t need to be exact. Overall, you want the texture of your seed starting soil to be light and fluffy. It should not clump together.
Alternatively, if you are new to seed starting you can easily purchase a pre-made seed starting soil mix. I really love the PRO-MIX Organic Blend.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT use soil from your garden. It will be much too heavy for seeds to germinate and may have diseases or pests.
5 Steps For Starting Vegetable And Flower Seeds Indoors
Now it’s time I walk you through the 5 steps to successfully starting vegetable and flower seeds indoors.
This is your step-by-step guide. This is exactly the type of content I wanted in my first year seed starting. So I hope it helps!
Step 1: Clean and disinfect your seed starting trays or containers.
This is especially important if you grew plants in these containers the previous year. They will have dust and dirt left on them that could contaminate your soil and seeds if not washed off. I simply wash my trays before using with a vinegar and water solution (1 litre of water to 1 1/2 cups of vinegar). If you’re using brand new trays, this isn’t as necessary but giving them a rinse would still be beneficial.
Step 2: Add WET seed starting soil to your cells/trays.
Keyword here is wet. It is so important your seed starting soil is wet before going into your transplanting cells or container. Why? Because when soil is wet it expands, filling up the container completely. Wet soil also ensures your seed is nice and moist as oppose to just the surface of the soil being wet if watering from above.
I simply dump my soil into a large bowl and mix in 1-2 cups of water before filling my seedling trays. I don’t have an exact ratio of water to soil for you. Start by gradually mixing in small amounts water until your soil is damp and will hold its shape when you squeeze it in your hand.
Step 3: Use a pencil or the end of a spoon to make holes in your soil for your seed to go into.
You can use any tool here that is narrow and circular, allowing you to poke a hole into your soil. Follow your seed packets for an indication of how deep each seed is required to be planted. Remember, the larger the seed the deeper it should go into the soil. Tiny seeds can be sprinkled on the surface of the soil and just gently covered.
Step 4: Plant seed(s) into cell/container and cover with soil. Then label each row on a small piece of paper and tape it to your tray of started seeds.
Remember, the number of seeds you should plant into one individual cell is dependant on the size of your seed. Fine, tiny seeds can be heavily seeded with 4-8 seeds in one single cell. You would then thin out the smallest seedlings as they grow. Whereas a large cucumber seed would be individually planted with one seed per cell or container.
Once seeded, cover completely with soil. You want your seeds to be kept moist and warm under the soil’s surface throughout germination.
There’s many different approaches you can take to labelling your started seeds, but I have a trick I’ve found works best!
Rather than using individual labels, I simply take a small piece of paper and write out what is planted in each row, then tape that paper to the end of the seedling tray. This strategy works really well because you can still easily cover your seeds with a humidity dome and the paper doesn’t get wet or damaged.
Row 1-2: Sweet Million Cherry Tomatoes
Row 3: Red Oxheart Tomato
Row 4-6: Candy Cane Bell Peppers
Row 7-10: Carolina Ghost Peppers
Step 5: Cover with a humidity dome and place under grow lights.
It’s best to keep your seeds covered under the humidity dome until they germinate (a.k.a grow above the soil surface). You can remove the humidity dome every few days to mist the soil with water, keeping it moist. Your grow lights should be 3-5 inches above your humidity dome. You don’t want your grow lights too far up that your seedlings begin reaching for the light and get leggy.
And there you have it!
Those are my 5 steps to starting seeds indoors in Canada.
There’s lots more to cover when it comes to seedling care and potting up seedlings, all of which you can find more of on the blog! If you have any other seed starting questions, please feel free to leave a comment below! I love chatting with you there.
I hope this seed starting 101 guide was helpful and offered some practical advice. Remember, if it’s your first year seed starting just start slow. You can and will succeed with patience and time.
Be sure to tag me in your garden photos on Instagram @fromsoiltosoul .