Recreation Therapy Activity Ideas: Starting Seeds Indoors

As winter gives way to spring, starting seeds indoors is a common practice for avid gardeners hoping to jumpstart their growing season. For those of us living in more Northern climates, it is a necessary practice to ensure our fruits, vegetables, and flowers have the chance to thrive in the limited growing season.

Starting seeds indoors is also a great, inexpensive way to incorporate some horticultural therapy principles into your Recreation Therapy program. In a previous post, I discussed how working with plants can help participants improve the quality of their lives.

How Horticulture Activities Can Help

Here are some benefits horticultural activities can provide participants:

  • Learning new skills
  • Appreciating nature
  • Learning responsibility
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Promoting enthusiasm and an interest in the future
  • Building confidence
  • Feeling empowered
  • Improving motor skills
  • Stress reduction
  • Connecting with others

seeds started indoors containers

What You Need to Know About Starting Seeds Indoors

This simple activity can open up a new world of awareness to eager participants. Imagine the joy and conversations when the seedlings first emerge from the soil. Not only can this activity be a great gift idea, the plants can eventually be added to your facility’s landscape. This can provide an entire growing season of experiences caring for the plants.

Materials Needed for Starting Seeds Indoors

With the right materials, you can help ensure the activity’s success. Here is what you will need:

  • Seeds (We will discuss some options later.)
  • Seed starting potting mix
  • Containers
  • Labels for containers
  • Seed trays with a clear plastic dome (either purchased or DIY)
  • Spray bottles or other means of watering the plants

That is pretty much all you need to start. Looking at this list, you may have more questions than answers. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

What Kinds of Seeds Should I Use?

Choosing the right seeds depends on the outcome of the desired activity, where the seedling will eventually end up, your area’s growing zone, and how patient your participants can be. Chances are you want to choose seeds that germinate quickly so the initial excitement doesn’t wear off long before the seedling emerges from the soil.

Here are some fast growing seeds that and suggests for the project:

Vegetables and Herbs

  • Radish
  • Basil
  • Pole beans
  • Pumpkins

Some vegetables, like pumpkins or beans, require a lot of space when they are transplanted. If you are using these seeds, be sure to consult with the directions on the seed packaging.

Annual Flowers (flowers dying off after the growing season):

  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Celosia
  • Bachelor Button
  • Marigold
  • Zinnias
  • Sunflowers
  • Morning Glories
  • Nasturtiums

Perennial Flowers (flowers that come back year after year):

  • Rose Campion
  • Dianthus
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Sweet William
  • Blackberry Lily
  • Guara

Have pictures and descriptions of these plants to show your participants what the seed will eventually become. Make sure you check out the seed’s instructions or the internet to ensure the desired plant will survive and grow in your region if you plan on transplanting them outside.

spice seedlings growing

Tips for the Materials for Starting Seeds Indoors

  • Containers: Is this activity going to produce a small potted plant used as a gift or fixture for someone’s windowsill? Do you plan on eventually planting the seedlings outdoors? If this will eventually be a potted flower for someone’s room, you may want to use bigger containers to start–maybe have the participants decorate them before planting the seeds. Replanting seedlings isn’t necessarily difficult, but added stress of transplanting seedlings could affect their health. If this is something you and your participants are planning to transplant outdoors when the weather is nicer (like sunflowers or vegetables), simple containers like paper cups, yogurt containers, or even egg cartons can be used. Mother Earth News suggests each container hold between 3 or 4 ounces of seed starting mix, which is about a third to a half cup. Clean the containers to prevent contamination from fungi or bacteria. Also, make sure your containers have holes in the bottom to drain excess water.
  • Labels: Avoid confusion by labeling each container either with your participant’s name or what seeds were planted.
  • Potting Mix: Make sure you use seed starting potting mix for optimal results. They help retain water, air, and prevent soilborne pathogens.
  • Seed Trays: There are plenty of commercial seed trays available with plastic domes to hold in moisture. You don’t have to break the budget with these products. A simple tray covered loosely with plastic wrap pricked with holes for ventilation will give the same results. If you are planting seeds in bigger containers, for instance, if starting seeds indoors for a gift flower, just cover that container with ventilated plastic wrap.
  • Watering the seeds: Too much water will make the seeds rot. Spray bottles work well for moistening the soil. A meat-basting syringe or empty dishwashing liquid bottle can also supply water without disrupting the soil.

Let’s plant the seeds!

You have the clean containers, seed starting mix, and you picked the seeds appropriate for your activity. It’s time to plant. Here is what you need to do:

  • Fill containers with the seed starting mix. Have the participants tap the soil down with their fingers to eliminate air pockets. Add a little more mix until it is about a quarter of an inch from the top of the container.
  • Gently press the seeds to the depth suggested on the seed packet. For smaller seeds, put two or three in the container. Larger seeds only need one.
  • Put the containers in a tray and cover them with plastic wrap or a clear plastic dome. For larger containers, put plastic wrap on top. Make sure you poke holes for ventilation.
  • Store the containers in a warm area around 75 degrees Fahrenheit so the seeds can germinate. Light is not much of a factor until the seedlings emerge. Make sure the potting mix remains moist but not too wet.
  • Once the seedlings appear, remove the plastic and put the containers where there is bright light. A south-facing window is great, but having them very close to fluorescent lights can also help.
  • Engage your participants. Talk about the germination process. Allow them to appreciate what is happening.
  • Continue to water and fertilize the seedlings. The nutrients in seed starting mix are generally gone after about three weeks. Adding some liquid fertilizers to your watering container will help them grow and thrive.

If you are planning on transplanting your seedlings outdoors, consider these steps:

  • Make sure your area has passed the typical last day of frost. If you don’t know that date, the Old Farmer’s Almanac website could help.
  • Before transplanting, stop fertilizing and water less often. Put the seedlings outdoors for short periods of time. Gradually increase their outdoor exposure.
  • Transplant the seedlings in loose, aerated soil. Soak the soil around new transplants and mulch it to hold moisture and keep out weeds.
  • Fertilize as directed by the seed packet.
  • Enjoy the beautiful flowers, fruits, or vegetables your participants created throughout the season.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, I hope this article gives you the courage to consider starting seeds indoors with your participants. It will not only have them excited about the wonders of nature, it will have them looking forward to the warmer days of spring and the potential of those seeds.


The Real Recreation Therapist LogoTell the Real Recreation Therapist Community:

How do you use horticulture in your Recreation Therapy programming?

What seeds do you love to plant?

Comment below to share your experience.

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