Growing from seed can be an exciting and rewarding experience. When first starting seeds indoors, a small pocket of space is usually sufficient to achieve germination. Many gardeners prefer to start seeds in an egg carton (or even in the eggshells themselves), in a seed cell pack, in peat pots, or in small, individual containers with holes poked into the bottom for drainage.

Choose a quality potting mix for your seedlings or transplants and enhance it if you wish. Consider perlite to aid in proper drainage and vermiculite to help hold in the moisture without water-logging your plants.

Once you’ve planted and watered your seeds, position them near direct sunlight. You may also suspend a grow light two to three inches above your seedlings if you find your natural light is insufficient.

Maximize Seedling Success

Sowing several seeds per cell or container usually helps guarantee at least one will sprout. However, this also often causes a new dilemma. While an abundance of sprouted seedlings can seem exciting at first, this gardening joy can soon turn to disappointment if the seedlings are left too close together. Called overcrowding, this results in numerous tiny plants fighting for the same growing space, nutrients and water. For best results, thin each cell or container by removing the weaker seedlings to allow proper growing conditions for the healthiest bunch. Separate the seedlings you wish to keep into other containers.

Optimize Growing Conditions for Seedlings

Sowing, sprouting and separating—check. Now it’s time to give your seedlings as strong a start as possible before you move them to their next container. Be sure your seeds are getting about 15 hours of sunlight each day. Depending on where you live and what time of year you’ve chosen to start your seeds, you may need to rely on indoor grow lights to achieve enough light.

Watering is the other vital piece of the puzzle. If you’ve started your seeds in a cell pack or other type of container, consider alternating how you water them. Take turns watering from the top and also placing the containers in a shallow pan of water to allow the soil to absorb water from the bottom up. Smaller containers will need to be watered more frequently than larger ones. Make sure the seedlings don’t dry out or become too damp, as either scenario could be the kiss of death for your young plants.

Encourage Stronger Root Systems with Air Pruning

Air pruning, made possible by specialized containers, offers quite a few benefits to your plants. Air pruning occurs naturally when a plant’s roots are permitted to come in contact with hot, dry air. When the roots hit the air, they are burned off, triggering the plant to produce more roots that branch out constantly. For best success, air pruning requires a low-humidity environment, as high humidity doesn’t stop the roots from growing out of control.

The air pruning process prevents a plant’s roots from spiraling, twisting and becoming entangled in a pot-bound mess. This technique also allows plants to stay in their smaller containers longer before they require a bigger container. As a result, the branched root systems help to optimize the plant’s nourishment and growing potential, with larger, healthier plants to show for it.

Fabric container options offer the benefits of soil aeration, moisture control and air pruning. With these containers, roots stop when they hit the edge of the planter, stimulating lateral root branching and fibrous feeder roots that efficiently feed and hydrate your plants. These containers also reduce transplant shock in your plants.

Transplant Seedlings for Continued Growth

Just as a hermit crab upgrades its shell, so should you upgrade the containers for your young seedlings and indoor plants. When choosing the next container for your plants, make sure to research the preferred root depth for each type of plant. If you are growing vegetables indoors, like carrots, radishes, or even beans, a tall flowerpot or an eco-friendly planter can be reward you with many harvesting opportunities right in your kitchen or sunroom.

If you eventually plan to transplant any of your seedlings into an outside garden, peat pots can be a great option. Peat pots are fully biodegradable and naturally add organic matter to your garden right where you want it—near the roots of your crops. Simply plant the entire peat pot in the ground in your garden, taking care not to leave the edge of the pot above the surface, as this can rapidly dry out the soil surrounding your plants.

Container gardening cultivates so many benefits no matter what you’re growing. From beautiful ornamentals to flavorful fruits and vegetables, it’s rewarding to take a tiny seedling through the journey of becoming a vibrant, healthy, mature plant.