Some people believe that when the weather gets cold, gardening must come to a stop, but that’s not necessarily true. Of course, that’s easy for me to say, here in California, but actually, no matter where you live, you can work on your garden in the winter by starting seeds indoors.

Of course, seeds need the right environment to thrive. In the same way you would protect your outdoor furniture in the winter with table and chair covers, it’s important to protect your seeds and future transplants by keeping them shielded from the weather indoors.

There are countless benefits to starting seeds indoors. First, starting seeds requires very little room, making it a viable option for people in all living situations. All you need is a small amount of counter space or an open windowsill where your seeds will not be disturbed. In addition, it doesn’t take much time to care for seedlings. The plants will need just a spritz of water every now and then to keep them moist. Seeds are also very affordable and can be found in a wide variety of species.

What to Know Before You Start

Deciding when to start your seeds indoors can be challenging. To get an estimate, check the seed packet to see how many weeks of growth are required before plants can be brought outdoors. You’ll then want to count back that many weeks from your last expected frost date to determine an approximate date to start your seeds indoors. Most seeds will need to be started about six to eight weeks before the last frost.

Best Seeds to Start Indoors

Some types of seeds are better for starting indoors than others. The best seeds to start indoors in the winter include peppers, cabbage, broccoli, pumpkins, lettuce, cauliflower, and eggplant. Other great options include watermelons, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts. Avoid seeds that are best planted outdoors, such as beets, garlic, carrots, onions, okra, peas, radishes, sweet potatoes, and corn.

How to Start Seeds

Start by choosing a prime location for your seeds where the air temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless your home receives a lot of direct sunlight in the winter, you’ll need to keep artificial light sources close to the plants. Avoid putting your seeds in areas of your home where there’s heavy traffic, cold drafts, pets, or excess heat. Commercial seed-starting mixtures consisting of peat and vermiculite are ideal for starting seeds: Once you’re ready to start your seeds, simply sow fresh seeds into your seed-starting mix according to the package directions. When planting your seeds, it is important to remember that some of your seeds may not germinate: Prepare for some possible losses and plant a few extra just in case. Then, use a tag to identify what’s in each container.

Ideas for Containers

When you first start your seeds indoors, you will need small individual containers. Containers with divided sections are best, and your seed-starting containers must have drainage holes on the bottom. There’s no need to buy special containers for seeds, though: You can usually find good containers around the house, such as egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, small yogurt cups, cottage cheese containers, or ice cube trays. You can even make your own miniature pots out of old newspaper.