My Favorite Cheap Seed Starting Supplies
Save Money on Garden Seedlings This Year!
By starting seed indoors by yourself, you can save a significant amount of money on your flower garden or vegetable garden.
Before you buy too many things that you don't need, check out these must-have seed-starting supplies. They include everything that you need to germinate seeds indoors and get plants ready for transplanting in spring.
You don't need to spend lots of money to begin a new hobby of growing plants from seed yourself. These items are all inexpensive and will work beautifully.
Easy Way to Grow Plants From Seed
Growing plants from seed is really simple if you just follow these key steps:
- Use big enough but not huge containers, like 2.25- or 3-inch pots.
- Use a soil made of peat and vermiculite.
- Moisten the soil before planting.
- Cover the containers after planting to conserve humidity.
- Use bottom heat for fast germination.
- Only water from the bottom and only when soil is nearly dry.
- Only transplant things like tomatoes.
- Stimulate the young plants with a fan or by running your hand over them.
- Harden the plants off.
- Plant after danger of frost.
To make the job truly simple, you just need planting pots, a tray with a cover, soil, a heating mat, and a light source—but don't spend a lot of money. All of these things can be found inexpensively. Check out the options below for the kind that I have found to work best after many years of growing my own plants from seed.
Planting Pots for Seedlings
Let's talk about pots first. There are many inexpensive tray systems out there that you can find in the nursery each spring, but the ones that are all together in one huge tray offer little flexibility or room as seedlings grow. I truly hate them. Other options that I have learned to dislike are peat pots or those expandable peat pods and virtually any elaborate seed starting system that you can buy in one big package.
All of these things cost too much and either won't last long enough or are just not flexible enough.
Except for something really simple like zinnias or marigolds, I always use 2.25-inch plastic pots for starting seeds. I can find these at the local nursery for a very low price, and I find that they are the perfect container. These pots last for years, store well, and are tough. They are small enough to start seeds but big enough to avoid transplanting until it's time to set plants outside.
I buy ones that are slightly deeper than most, which is great for tomatoes. After each season, I hand-wash all of my pots (and there are a lot) in a 10% bleach solution, the rest water, to remove any soil-borne diseases so they don't give me a problem next year. I air-dry them, put them in a big box, and wait until next year to start again.
Trust me when I tell you to stay away from expensive self-watering systems. They work well enough, but it's just too much hassle. Placing your 2.25-inch pots in a big seedling tray and giving them a "bath" to drink once per week from the bottom is not that difficult, and you have total control over your water.
Use a "Soil-less" Mix for Germination
Vermiculite is the secret ingredient to seed-starting soil that holds moisture and keeps the soil loose no matter what, so your plants' young roots grow fast. You'll know as soon as you run your hands through this seed-starting ingredient why it works.
Sterlite is also used for this purpose, but, after gardening for many years, I have found vermiculite to be my favorite. This makes a fine additive to any potted plant, but it's especially useful for growing new seedlings, since it will not harbor soil-borne diseases and will keep the soil loose.
I love vermiculite for use in a soil mix for germinating plants from seed. You really should not use real soil as it is too susceptible to diseases and compaction. A soil mix of vermiculite and peat is ideal for young plants. It will stay light and fluffy and hold moisture without ever becoming soggy.
It's easy to find peat at nearly any big box store, but vermiculite can be tricky to find in many places. Espoma's organic vermiculite is a high quality product that is affordable and the one that I use. I started using this because it was available in my city, but I love it. The granules are just the right size for this task, and the price is right. Just mix it, or another quality vermiculite, with an equal amount of peat moss, and your soil is ready for planting.
Soil for Transplants
The soil mix highlighted here is highly recommended by me for getting new plants going, but when it's time to pot them up, you have other choices. It is still perfectly fine to use the same mix of vermiculite and peat moss, but since your plants will now be much tougher, a good all-purpose potting soil should be just fine. It's your choice.
Speed Up Germination with Heat
Germination time will be cut in half for certain seeds if you apply heat. That means less time for soil-borne diseases to get at your young plants.
I routinely see pepper and tomato seedlings emerge within a few days when offered the proper humidity and bottom heat. It makes such a huge difference that I won't grow without it.
Heat is one secret weapon that you must have in your seed-starting arsenal. I'll admit that the packaging on the heating mats at the nursery look almost playful and seem like a gimmick. After many years of experimenting with bottom heat, I can tell you that this is no joke. Heat is huge.
Keep in mind that not all things benefit from bottom heat, so don't waste your money if you just like to start simple annuals each spring. However, you can significantly shorten the time between planting and germination. This is especially true for classic vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, as well as some flowers that appreciate it when nights don't get too cool.
Heat mats are a fabulous addition to your seed-starting kit for this purpose.
Hydrofarm is the leader in making quality heat mats, and their mats are of high quality, yet they remain affordable. You can find them in various sizes online depending on how many flats you want to heat. I've seen other brands around as well, and I'm sure they are fine. This is really a product that pays for itself after a year or two.
I'll never start tomatoes and peppers without bottom heat again unless there is a power outage. It has made that big of a difference in the quality of the plants.
Save Money on Grow Lights
A traditional shop light is all you need to offer light to your seedlings, and it will save you money. To make a shop light work well, follow these tips:
- Hang the lights just above your seedlings. No more than one inch of space should be between the top leaves and the light. Most shop lights come with chains to make this easy. As the plants grow, slowly raise the light to stay at this level.
- Leave your lights on for at least 12–14 hours per day. Fluorescent lights are not nearly as strong as the sun, so you need to compensate by giving your plants plenty of time under the lights. The easiest way to do this is with light timers.
There are are whole bunch of grow light sets made specially for starting plants from seed. They are excellent and look great, but you can save plenty of money here if you wish. A simple shop light fitted with standard (and cheap) T8 bulbs will work nicely.
I have been growing plants from seed under shop lights with typical T8 bulbs for years, and the results are great. In fact, I use the darkest part of my basement so natural light won't interfere. Just make sure to set the height of the light very close to the young seedling, and you will be fine.
What You Don't Need to Start Seeds Indoors
Remember, you can keep this simple and inexpensive enough to pay for your supplies the first year. You don't need elaborate kits, expensive grow lights, or fancy containers. All that is required is a T8 bulb, quality soil, a bit of heat, and your time and love of starting plants from seed. With that, you will have all kinds of strong seedlings in time for planting.
Why Should You Grow Plants From Seed?
The best reason to grow plants from seed is that you get to pick from a world of choices. The local store will only carry a few things, and most stores will carry the same popular varieties. For truly original flowers or unique vegetables, ordering seed from a reputable company is the only way to go.
Another compelling reason is that you can save a lot of money by germinating the seeds yourself. A seed packet can be as cheap as $1, and you can get a flat of plants from it. Let's face it, starting seeds indoors also gives you something to do when you are caught at the end of a long winter with nothing to do in your garden.
My Favorite Seed Catalogs
If you are looking for quality places to find seeds online or to have a catalog mailed to you that you can browse through, here are my favorites. You won't be disappointed with any of them.
This is the place to look for tomato seeds, especially heirloom tomatoes. Excellent site and great descriptions! You won't want to order tomatoes from anyone else after you get used to Tomato Fest. Their catalog is available online.
Great for annuals, perennials, vegetables, and supplies. Park is a big company that has it all.
My favorite catalog to browse through in later winter. This catalog is just fun to look at and has outstanding pictures. Contains a mix of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
Try Starting Your Own Plants from Seed
You really can get fantastic results without spending much money at all and without the need for a sunny window or lots of space. A simple seed-starting station will pay for itself right away, and it's a great hobby for gardeners like me who can't wait until spring to get going. I love planting seeds in February when it's still cold outside.
Hopefully you found this useful and will have success in your garden this year.