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The Best Ways to Water Seeds & Seedlings

 Learn how to properly water your seeds and seedlings to grow healthier starts for your garden! 

We have been talking all about seeds lately! Why? Because growing your own vegetables and plants from seeds is like printing your own money! Seriously! It’s a sure-fire way to save money and increase your self-sufficiency while growing your own healthy, nutrient-dense food!

But, there is definitely a learning curve to growing your own food from seed! For me, it took about three solid growing seasons to really feel confident growing a large amount of plants from seed. So, I’m here to share my tricks and tips that I’ve learned along the way!

Previously, we talked about how to make your own high-quality seed starting soil mix, how to pick the best containers for your seedlings, and how to sow your seeds! 

Today, we are going to talk about how to water your seeds and seedlings. I know it may seem like a super simple concept. But I can verify that improper watering can ruin otherwise good seed starting efforts! 

A copper watering can sitting next to a tray of seedlings

**Warning: this post and the video contain many instances of the word “moist” which is just a universally cringe-worthy word! You’ve been warned!

You can also check out this video (originally posted as part of an Instagram IGTV series) for a better look at how to water your seeds!


Types of Waterers for Seeds & Seedlings:

Watering devices come in all shapes and sizes: from watering cans to watering wands and hand-pump sprayers! Each of these waterers has its benefits and its drawbacks, especially when it comes to seeds and seedlings! So, let’s take a look at each and specifically discuss how well they perform with seeds and seedlings.

Outdoor Watering Cans

Two green outdoor watering cans

There are lots of different watering can styles. The most common are the plastic watering cans that are primarily designed for outdoor use. These watering cans often have a plastic filter tip on the spout to help disperse the stream of water.

These watering cans work great for watering established plants both in the ground and in pots/containers. However, they are not ideal for seeds because the stream of water is forceful and hard to control.

A strong stream of water can actually wash away the top layer of soil, taking your precious seeds with it! This is usually what happens when you find your little baby seedlings popping up around the wall of the container, rather than in the middle where you originally planted them. And, as we talked about in my post about how to sow your seeds, we know that keeping the plants in the center of the container will help with root development and make it easier to transplant/pot them up.

Indoor Watering Cans

A copper watering can sitting next to a tray of seedlings

There are also watering cans that are designed to be used primarily indoors for house plants. These watering cans are usually smaller than their outdoor cousins and have a more slender spout.

These indoor-style watering cans with slender spouts work very well for seedlings that have had some time to get established. For very young, tender seedlings though, the stream of water may still be too forceful. I generally use this type of waterer once my seedlings are about half an inch tall so that they don’t drown in the stream of water! 

Spray Bottles

Spray bottle near a tray of seedlings

For very young seedlings or for seeds that have not yet germinated, a spray bottle is a cheap easy solution. You can even purchase a spray bottle at a dollar store! Most spray bottles have adjustable spray tips, which will allow you to lessen the stream/spray.

When using a spray bottle, adjust the stream so that it delivers a decent amount of water to the seed trays without disturbing or moving the soil. One drawback to spray bottles is repeatedly having to pump the lever – especially if you have a lot of seeds!

Hand-Pump Sprayers

A hand pump sprayer sitting behind a tray of seedlings

A hand pump sprayer offers similar benefits as a spray bottle but is more ideal if you are growing large amounts of seedlings. The hand-pump sprayer has a larger tank so you don’t have to fill it as often. And, the pressurized chamber allows you to pump it up a few times during use and supplies a steady stream of water.

This is what I use for all of my seeds until they germinate and get a good foundation. It allows me to water them easily with a gentle stream of water that doesn’t disturb the soil or seeds. Once my seeds germinate and are a bit more established, I then will switch to using an indoor watering can, like the ones mentioned above. 


How to Water Seeds & Seedlings

Now that we have discussed some of the best watering devices, it’s time to talk about the best ways to water your seeds and seedlings. Seeds and seedlings need different amounts of moisture during each stage of their life. As a general rule of thumb, think about where the growth is taking place and ensure the area is receiving adequate moisture. For instance, seeds and newly germinated seedlings rely on surface water; whereas an established seedling relies on deeper water to increase root growth. 

Let’s talk a little bit more about watering seeds and seedlings at each stage of their development:

Pre-Germination Watering Techniques: 

Using a spray bottle to water soil in a seed container

Undoubtedly the most intensive watering period is after the seeds are sown until they have germinated. During this time, it’s super important to maintain consistent, gentle moisture for your seeds. 

The soil should feel moist, but not soggy. During this period of time, I usually water my trays 1-2 times a day until they germinate.

A clear plastic tray lid can be used to cover your trays and will help increase the moisture retention of the soil and increase the relative humidity. If you are using a plug tray, be sure to check each cell or plug for moisture level. Often, the outside cells will dry out before the middle cells.

It’s very important during this stage to keep your soil moist, but not soggy. If the soil becomes water-logged, it can essentially rot the emerging seedlings. You also don’t want to wash away your small seeds with too much water. For this reason, I use a spray bottle or hand pump sprayer to ensure a gentle stream of water.

*Always ensure that your seedling containers have holes for water drainage. Place a tray under your seed containers to catch any excess water.

Early Germination Watering Techniques:

Once your seedlings have germinated, it’s important to keep watering them consistently and gently for the first few weeks. Young seedlings are very susceptible and can easily be knocked over by too strong of water stream. For this reason, I recommend using either a hand pump sprayer or a spray bottle. 

If you were using a clear plastic tray to cover your seed containers/trays, remove it once they germinate. Proper airflow is just as important as proper moisture. In fact, insufficient airflow can lead to “damping off” disease in young seedlings. For this reason, as my seedlings begin to mature, I will slowly increase the time between waterings, allowing the soil time to dry slightly between waterings. 

I generally water once a day for the first few weeks, and then slowly cut it back to every other day. During this time, it’s important to feel the soil to test the moisture level and monitor your seedlings for signs of stress as they adjust to less frequent watering. This is why it’s also important to use a high quality seed starting soil mixture which can retain moisture and nutrients. 

Established Seedling Watering Techniques:

Copper watering can pouring water onto seedlings

Once seedlings are well established and thriving, you will want to slowly transition to deeper, less frequent waterings. I water about every other day to every third day during this time. I also switch from a sprayer to a watering can with a slender spout designed for indoor plants. 

As we discussed above, it’s okay for the soil to slightly dry between waterings – don’t ever let it get bone dry through! Always keep a water catch tray beneath your seedling containers. The tray will catch any water that is not absorbed and held in the soil. Between waterings, the roots will actually start to grow deeper looking for the water and nutrients below. This will help encourage proper root growth. 

Continued watering of your seedlings is a sure way to help guarantee success! How do you manage the watering of your seeds and seedlings?

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