There is great excitement to starting plants from seeds.

By selecting ornamental and preferred plant varieties, while giving favoured flower and vegetable varieties a head start, you have the opportunity for a summer garden that bursts with enthusiasm … a little early.

From blue Himalayan poppies to the award-winning geranium, “Rozanne”, to space-saver cucumbers and scarlet runner beans, the options for starting seeds early are endless.

Among the best reasons to grow seedlings indoors is the opportunity to select specialty plant varieties that are often not available through local garden centres. Introductory and acclaimed plant varieties are hard to find in plant form.

Many vegetables and ornamental plants also benefit from a head start to the growing season.

Great flowers start with the right seed.

When shopping for seeds, read package labels carefully to ensure our Northern climate will provide the required conditions for growth. For seed companies that sell rare and endangered varieties of fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs, check out Seeds of Diversity, Canada’s heritage seed program: www.seeds.ca/rl/rl.php.

You can store seeds, from year to year, in a dry, cool environment. Label containers with date of storage and also by colour and variety.

Great plants start in a good-quality seed-starting mix. The mixture should be sterile, breathable and hold moisture well. To avoid the commonly known fungus, damping-off, it is important to use a sterile, preferably soil-less composition.

Plant seeds according to individual direction.

Optimum and often supplemented lighting is integral for successful seedlings. Lack of adequate light results in thin, leggy seedlings. It is popular, in our climate, to use fluorescent grow lights in 12-hour cycles. Lights are best positioned four inches above the seedlings.

For plants grown on windowsills, supplement with reflectors and rotate seed trays regularly.

Seedlings should be kept consistently moist, not overly wet or too dry. Seedlings that have dried out will perk up when watered, yet never quite return to meet their full potential.

As seedlings mature, water the plants from the bottom of the seed trays to encourage roots to grow toward the moisture. Proper air movement circulates oxygen and carbon dioxide, allowing plants to breathe. Ventilation also prevents damping-off and fungal disease.

Once the second set of leaves appears, begin applying a light fertilizer. An initial blend of fishmeal and kelp, applied as a foliar spray or bottom feeding, works really well for new seedlings.

As winter draws to a close, try your hand at starting plants, from seeds, in your home. The joy that springs from selecting and starting new seedlings, along with caring for fresh new plants, is a project that everyone in your home is sure to enjoy.

Shari Morash is a gardening enthusiast and an accredited designer. Contact her at shari.morash@gmail.com.