From seed starting to seedlings – Home gardening 101 

Ready to grow your own herbs and vegetables?

This guide covers everything from seed starting to caring for and transplanting your young plants or seedlings.

This is an important guide.


Because when you know how to start plants from seed, you can grow anything.

Here, we will take you through the steps to set up a home gardening environment that will suit your budget, available space, and the amount of time you can spare.

We will help you choose the most suitable gardening method, briefly explain why the growing medium or soil is so important, and provide step-by-step instructions on growing herbs and vegetables – from seed to moving your seedlings outdoors or into a container. 

Scotch bonnet pepper seeds sprouting first seeds
Seeds sprouting first leaves

Read this guide from start to finish, or click the links below to move to any specific section.

  1. How do you want to grow herbs, vegetables, and plants?
  2. Understand the importance of the growing medium.
  3. Seed starting 101
  4. Caring for the seedlings
  5. Transplanting seedlings
  6. Caring for the transplanted seedling

But first, before we start, I would like to give you two pieces of advice to get you started today and help you start the right way.

1. Stop planning and start doing
I am an all-in kind of guy. And I know that ambition can be crippling.

We have grand plans, but they remain plans, and we never get off the ground.

Start small but do start.

When you harvest your first herbs or vegetables, the freshness and taste will amaze you, and you will be eager to grow more and more.

But you have to get started.
2. Starting the right way
Starting the right way is all about the level of difficulty and speed.

Start with plants that are relatively easy to grow. Why make it difficult? It will still taste great.

Always start with plants that will give you results fast.

Because those early first wins are crucial. 

I will help you pick fast-growing, tasty herbs and vegetables to give you that first seed-to-table success.

Part 1. How do you want to grow herbs, vegetables, and plants?

Let’s start by looking at different methods to grow herbs and vegetables at home. 

Pick one or any combination to start home gardening today!

Pots and container gardening (indoors and outdoors)

Growing herbs and vegetables in pots and containers is easy, practical, and flexible. 

Buy, build, or repurpose buckets and containers to create your Container Gardening environment.   

Drainage holes are critical as you do not want the roots to sit constantly wet. And place the containers on a saucer to protect the surface from water runoff from the drainage holes.

Pots and containers come in all shapes and sizes
Pots and containers come in all shapes and sizes

Advantages include: 

  • Minimal effort to start
  • Inexpensive, buy, build, or repurpose containers.
  • Full soil control as all soil and soil amendments are added fresh.
  • Easy to amend the soil as needed.
  • Use any space in your apartment or garden or place on a sunny balcony
  • Flexible, easy to move for more/less sun 
  • Requires less space and can easily live on a sunny balcony

But remember:

  • Ensure all containers have proper drainage holes in the bottom. 
  • Need more watering as containers dry out quicker
  • Use big containers for root vegetables and fruiting plants like carrots, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers. 
  • Herbs and leafy greens grow well in smaller containers.

In-ground gardening (outdoors)

As easy as clearing the ground and using a tiller or spade to work over the soil. 

Clear the ground, wait a few weeks, and weed before you enrich the soil and plant for best results. 

Mix in a 10 cm /4-inch layer of compost into your inground garden bed. Add perlite to improve drainage and vermiculite for improved soil aeration and moisture retention.

If you have the space, there are several advantages to inground gardening

In-ground garden bed with lemongrass, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, garlic, basil and more
In-ground garden bed


  • Easiest to start – just clear the ground and work in compost
  • Possible to grow year-round using cold frames in zone 7 and lower
  • Needs less water as root systems can grow deeper to access water in the soil

But remember:

  • Choose a sunny location, you want at least 6-8 hours of sun per day.
  • Not suitable for areas with clay or rocky soil. Takes a lot of work and money to fix poor soil. 
  • Easy access to water. You do not want to carry water long distances.
  • To amend the soil with compost for nutrients and soil amendments like perlite and vermiculite for soil aeration and moisture retention. 
  • Manually inspect for pests, snails, and slugs

Raised garden beds (outdoors)

Raised garden beds are attractive in any garden and can be made from wood, metal sheeting, or plastic. 

Choose to buy or build your raised garden bed. 

Fill your raised garden bed with equal parts of topsoil and compost; mix compost (50), perlite (25), and vermiculite (25) for a soil-less growing medium. 

Raised garden beds with garlic
Raised garden beds with garlic plants in early spring

Advantages include: 

  • Accessibility, easy to reach for sore backs and knees
  • Easy to weed
  • Earlier start in spring as the soil warms up faster
  • Full soil control as the soil is imported or added to the bed
  • Easy to cover with row covers to protect against pests, snails and unwanted insects
  • Extend the growing season by fixing row covers to the frame

But remember:

  • Raised garden beds are expensive to buy 
  • Building a raised garden bed takes work and costs money
  • Raised garden beds dry out faster than in-ground gardens
  • Access to water is important as you may need to water daily in the height of summer
  • Do not build too big. Do you want to reach across from one side?
  • Remember the height of the plants you grow before deciding the height of your raised garden bed
  • Higher and wider means you need to spend more on soil and compost

Related articles:

More about container gardening More about Raised Garden Bed Gardening

Part 2: Understanding the importance of the growing medium

The choice of growing medium is critical in herb and vegetable cultivation.

And growing mediums are more than soil. Soil-less growing mediums, such as vermiculite, coco coir, and
perlite, are great alternatives for soil-less gardening as well as hydroponics.

Luckily, it does not have to be complicated.

The first lesson is easy. Do not use soil from your garden to start seeds. Regular garden soil is too compact, and you risk introducing pests and pathogens into your seed-starting environment. Instead, use a quality soil or soil-less potting mix for the best results.

The second lesson is also easy to grasp, seeds do not need extra nutrients to germinate and sprout their first leaves. All the energy needed is stored in the seed.

You can buy ready-made mixes or save money by mixing your own soil mixes to promote excellent aeration, moisture retention, and nutrient control.

If you do mix your own, here are some key factors to keep in mind:

  1. Seed-starting mixes: Use growing mediums with good drainage, aeration, and moisture retention.
  2. Managing moisture levels: the growing medium should retain moisture but let excess water drain to
    create an evenly moist growing environment without waterlogging the roots. Here vermiculite can be added to
    promote moisture retention while safeguarding soil aeration.
  3. Loosely structured: Well-structured growing mediums prevent compacting where the roots effectively choke as they have nowhere to go. Loosely structured growing mediums promote soil aeration allowing roots to grow and develop, enhancing the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. Add perlite or coarse sand to improve soil aeration.
  4. Nutrients: Adding organic amendments to the growing medium enhances its fertility. Add nutrients when you see two pairs of true leaves on your seedlings.
  5. Disease prevention: Using quality growing mediums reduces the risk of introducing pathogens, weeds,
    or pests into your growing environment.

Related articles:

More about Soil and Growing Mediums

Part 3. Seed starting 101

As home gardeners, we often buy young plants from local nurseries when we first start. But then, after a while, we realize the benefits of starting plants from seeds.

  1. Cost savings: Starting plants from seeds will save money compared to buying plants from a local nursery.
  2. Less risk of losing plants: Starting from seed gives you full control, and you are less likely to experience transplant shock.
  3. Selection and varieties: If you want to grow it, you can find the seeds, whereas your local nursery probably has a more narrow selection.
  4. Timing: You can always start seeds, but will your local nursery have the plants you want when you need them?

Required materials for seed starting:

  • Seeds
  • Potting soil or seed starting mix
  • Seed starting trays or containers
  • Cover or plastic film
  • Watering can or spray bottle
  • Organic liquid fertilizer

Optional materials for seed starting:

  • Heat mat
  • Plant labels 
  • Grow lights
The tools and equipment we use and recommend for seed starting

Step 1: Clean and prepare the seed starting trays

Clean seeds starting trays using hot water and a household dishwasher detergent to prevent diseases. Rinse thoroughly and dry. 

Fill the cells in the seed starting tray with pre-moistened potting soil or seed starting mix, leaving a small gap at the top for watering.

Deep six cell seed staring tray with visible drainage holes
Six-cell seed starting tray with visible drainage holes

Pre-moistening the soil is important as it will make it easier to maintain even soil moisture later on. 

The potting soil or seed starting mix should be moist, not wet. You should be able to make a soil ball with your hands, but the ball should crumble on a light touch by your fingers. 

Ensure you place the seed starting tray in a plant tray that can hold water to protect the surface.

If you repurpose containers for seed starting, ensure they are made from a food-safe material, have a slight “give,” and have holes in the bottom for drainage. 
If the container was previously used for food, you should be good. 
Solid containers made from hard plastic or metal may be food-safe, but since they are not flexible, it can be very difficult to get the seedlings out when it is time to transplant or pot up. 
Drainage is key; you make holes in the bottom using a drill or similar tool.
Related read: Best Inexpensive & Free Containers for Container Gardening

Step 2: Sow the seeds

Check the instructions on the seed packet for seed planting depth and spacing.

If you do not have instructions to follow, plant seeds at double the depth of the size of the seed and plant 2-5 seeds per cell. 

Tiny seeds like thyme or basil are planted on top and covered with a light sprinkling of vermiculite. Larger seeds like coriander/cilantro are planted approximately 1 cm / 0,4 inches deep. 

Avoid overseeding. Spacing the seeds will give the seedlings room to grow and develop. 

Step 3: Water the seeds

I recommend using a spray bottle to moisten the soil lightly. 

Watering cans can be difficult to use as it is easy to overwater. Overwatering the soil may flood the cell and displace the seeds. 

You want the soil to be evenly moist but not wet or waterlogged.

The tools and equipment we use and recommend for watering herbs, vegetables, and plants with ease

Step 4: Maintain optimal temperature and humidity

Place the seed starting tray in an area with a consistent temperature of 18-24°C / 65-75°F.

A heat mat is optional but will help regulate and maintain an even soil temperature.  

Monitoring soil temperature with a soil thermometer
Monitoring soil temperature

Use a humidity dome or plastic wrap to create a greenhouse effect and maintain high humidity. Use a knife to make holes in the plastic film.

Monitor humidity levels and provide necessary ventilation to prevent mold or fungal growth.

If you see condensation forming on the inside of the cover, remove it for 15 minutes, dry off the condensation, and replace it.

If condensation is forming, you are likely overwatering. Adjust and monitor.

Step 4: Provide sufficient lighting

Remove the cover and place seed starting trays in a location that receives at least 8 hours of natural light when you see the first leaves.

If natural light is limited, position grow lights about 3 cm / 1 inch above the seedlings. 

Adjust the lights as the seedlings grow to avoid scorching the seedlings. 

It is possible to start seed on a sunny window sill, but I have never had really good result without an extra light source. And today you can but grow lights for as little as 15 USD / 14 EUR / 12 UKP.

Related articles:

More about Seed Starting

Part 4. Caring for the seedlings indoors

Remove the cover and the heat mat once the seedlings emerge and you see the first leaves.

Monitor temperature 

Removing the cover will help lower the soil temperature to the ideal range of 18-22 degrees Celsius / 64-72 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the temperature too high can cause seedlings to grow spindly or leggy.

Watering seedlings

Water the seedlings regularly to ensure the soil remains evenly moist. Do not let the soil dry out.

Nutrition and fertilizer

Monitor the growth and development of your seedlings. When seeing two pairs of true leaves, add an organic liquid fertilizer at half the recommended dose.

Adding nutrition is especially important if using a soil-less or lean potting mix.

Thin or transplant seedlings

Once the seedlings have developed at least two pairs of true leaves, thin them out if they are overcrowded.

You can prick out and replant seedlings or thin them out by cutting the stem above the soil level. 

Be gentle if pricking out seedlings to avoid disturbing the root system of the remaining seedling. 

Pot up seedlings to a nursery pot when they have outgrown their cells and have developed at least four pairs of true leaves. If unsure, lift the cell and check for roots in and around the drainage holes. 

Related articles:

More about Seedlings

Part 5. Transplanting seedlings

Transplanting the seedlings to their final location involves hardening off and transplanting the seedlings.

Hardening off the seedlings

Hardening off is the process of gradually acclimatizing the seedlings to the outdoor growing environment. Plan to harden off your seedlings about a week before their planned move outdoors. 

Start by placing the seedlings in a sheltered location for a few hours for the first two days. Gradually increase time and exposure to sunlight and wind over the next week. Do not expose your seedlings to direct sunlight for the first 2-3 days.

Transplanting the seedlings

Choose a suitable location with ample natural light in your garden, or prepare containers for transplanting.

Dig holes in the soil and ensure it is fertile and well-draining. Water the soil and allow the water to be absorbed. 

Amend the soil with compost, perlite, and vermiculite as needed to improve nutritional value, drainage, soil aeration, and moisture retention. 

Carefully remove the seedlings from the pots, not damaging the root systems.

Plant the seedlings at the same depth they were growing, except tomato seedlings that should be planted deeper. 

Firm the soil around the seedlings and water.

I find it useful to cover the seedlings with shade cloth or floating row covers for at least a few weeks. The transplanted seedlings are delicate, and the cover will protect them against extreme weather and pests, snails, slugs, and unwanted insects.

Related articles:

More about Pot-ups and Transplanting

Part 6. Caring for the transplanted seedling

Water the seedlings regularly to ensure you maintain even soil moisture.

Inspect your seedlings daily and monitor for pests and diseases, taking appropriate action if necessary.

Apply fertilizer or organic amendments as needed to support healthy growth.

Watch out for transplant shock, where seedlings look weak or suffer from stunted growth. If seedlings appear shocked or “stunted,” shield them from the sun, ensure they are watered, and leave them to recover.

Related articles:

Summary and conclusion

Let’s revisit the advice I gave at the start of this guide:

  • get you started today 
  • help you start the right way

If unsure where to start, I recommend growing basil, arugula, chervil, garlic greens, and lettuce in containers.

Basil is relatively easy to start from seed and will sprout first leaves within days. And should you end up with leggy basil seedlings, no problem, I will show you how to take cuttings to grow even more basil plants.

Lettuce is a staple in most household diets. And many leaf lettuce varieties can be grown in pots, containers, and even soil bags if you have the space. Lettuce will take up to 30 days to mature but can be harvested earlier for those delicious baby leaves.

Arugula or rocket is one of my favorite leafy greens to grow. Arugula is a cool-weather crop and thrives in the shoulder seasons but can be grown indoors year-round. The produce you buy at the grocery store comes nowhere near the taste of homegrown arugula. Grow in pots, containers, or outdoors in spring and fall.  

Chervil is also known as French parsley and is one of my favorite culinary herbs. Milder than parsley and fast to germinate and grow, this herb will soon develop into a tasty and impressive-looking plant.

Garlic greens are easy to grow in water or soil and are perfect for growing when space is limited. It is safe to use store-bought garlic if you grow it in individual containers or pots.