If you never have been a big advocate of starting plants from seed, you may want to try some this year for several reasons.
Seeds are affordable. You can buy packs, open them and trade extra seeds with friends and family. Maybe even have a seed-trading party!
Seeds are fun because you can start them indoors -- think science or weekend project with kids or grandkids -- and then transplant them into the garden.
Seeds are easy -- especially flowers like zinnias, sunflowers and poppies -- because you can sow them directly in the garden at the time recommended on seed packs. Lettuce seeds are also simple -- toss and harvest.
Now is when you'll find garden centers near you stocked with seeds by the pack and sometimes seeds by the ounce, especially vegetable seeds.
For online seed shopping and tutorials, you can turn to two experts: Lisa Ziegler of The Gardener's Workshop and Renee Shepherd of Renee's Garden. Both are longtime, hands-on gardeners who run mail-order seed companies.
* Start with fresh seed, use bottom heat for germination, provide 16 hours of artificial light once seeds sprout.
* Begin feeding with organic liquid fertilizer when the first leaves develop.
* Move seedlings to the garden as soon as the weather permits.
* Start seeds indoors about eight weeks before the last expected spring frost date.
* Plant the seedlings outdoors about two weeks after that date.
Planting containers should be at least 3 inches deep, with small holes for good drainage. Use plastic yogurt, cottage cheese containers, 3- to 4-inch plastic plant pots or half-gallon milk cartons cut lengthwise -- with good drainage holes.
Use seed-starting mixes because they are sterile and blended to be light and porous so seedlings get the moisture and oxygen they need to thrive.