How to Start Plants From Seeds in an Aquarium

Written by brian albert
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How to Start Plants From Seeds in an Aquarium
Starting seedlings indoors in winter can give gardeners a jump on spring gardening. (Liz Whitaker/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Starting plants indoors is a good way to get a jump on spring gardening. Many seedlings do better when they have a humid environment in which to germinate. An empty aquarium makes an excellent temporary terrarium for seedlings. Even with the lid off, it helps retain more moisture in the air for the growing seedlings than the air outside of the tank.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Small seedling pots
  • Seedling potting soil
  • Seeds
  • Aquarium with glass lid
  • Water mister
  • Plant tags

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  1. 1

    Fill the pots with a moist seed-starting potting mix to about 3/4 inch from the rim.

  2. 2

    Poke a shallow hole in the centre of the soil, using a finger, plastic plant label or pencil.

  3. 3

    Drop a seed into each hole. For larger seeds such as squash and melons, use two seeds and cull the weaker plant later. For smaller seeds such as bedding plants, use several per hole.

  4. 4

    Cover the seeds with soil. Read the seed packet for the supplier's recommended planting depth, but in general it should be about two to four times the diameter of the seed. Very tiny seeds may not need to be covered at all.

  5. 5

    Label each pot with a plant tag.

  6. 6

    Mist the soil gently. Be careful to not wash away or uncover the seeds.

  7. 7

    Place the pots into the aquarium and cover it. If the aquarium doesn't have a glass lid, use clear plastic, such as a grocery bag or plastic food wrap. This will hold in moisture and prevent the need for further watering until the seeds germinate.

  8. 8

    Place the aquarium in a location where it will receive bright, indirect light but no full sun. A warm location around 18.3 to 23.9 degrees Celsius will increase germination speed. Remove the lid when the seeds start to sprout.

Tips and warnings

  • Time the sowing so the seeds have a chance to germinate and develop into healthy seedlings for transplant immediately after the threat of frost is gone. This time frame can be from two weeks to several months, depending on the plant.
  • Use a small tank, such as 10-gallon size, that is easy to carry around and reposition.
  • Many commercial potting mixes are specially blended and marketed for sowing seeds.
  • When the seedlings are actively growing, let them dry slightly between waterings.
  • Make sure that the pots do not sit in water in the aquarium. It may be helpful to raise them on a bed of gravel or upturned flower pots.
  • If the newly sprouted seedling falls over at the base, it most likely is because of a fungal infection. These should be carefully removed and discarded along with the soil immediately surrounding the roots.
  • Do not plant seedlings outdoors in full sun until they have been acclimated in a protected, outdoor shady place for two weeks.

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