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The Best Cheap Seed-Starting Supplies

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You can get great results with 2.25-inch plastic pots and a simple seed-starting soil mix.

You can get great results with 2.25-inch plastic pots and a simple seed-starting soil mix.

Save Money on Garden Seedlings This Year!

You can save a significant amount of money on your flower garden or vegetable garden by starting seed indoors yourself.

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 your 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:

  1. Use big enough but not huge containers, like 2.25- or 3-inch pots.
  2. Use soil made of peat and vermiculite.
  3. Moisten the soil before planting.
  4. Cover the containers after planting to conserve humidity.
  5. Use bottom heat for fast germination.
  6. Only water from the bottom and only when soil is nearly dry.
  7. Only transplant things like tomatoes.
  8. Stimulate the young plants with a fan or by running your hand over them.
  9. Harden the plants off.
  10. Plant after danger of frost.

What Are the Most Essential Supplies?

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.

Why I Love 2.25-Inch Pots

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.

Wash and Reuse

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.

What About Those Self-Watering Systems?

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.

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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.

Where to Find Vermiculite and Peat

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.

This is my seed-starting soil mix. Just mix equal parts vermiculite and peat moss.

This is my seed-starting soil mix. Just mix equal parts vermiculite and peat moss.

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.

Heating Mats Are a Must-Have

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.

Why Kind of Heat Mat Should You Buy?

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.

This is my typical setup, with a simple suspended shop light over a tray of 2.25-inch pots sitting on a heat mat. Peppers love it!

This is my typical setup, with a simple suspended shop light over a tray of 2.25-inch pots sitting on a heat mat. Peppers love it!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

T8 Bulbs vs. Specialty Grow Lights

There are many grow light sets made especially 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.

Things That Aren't Required 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 any of the following:

  • Elaborate kits
  • Expensive grow lights
  • 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.

  • Tomato Fest: 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.
  • Park Seed: Great for annuals, perennials, vegetables, and supplies. Park is a big company that has it all.
  • Jung Seed: 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.


Mel Flagg COA OSC from Rural Central Florida on August 03, 2013:

Congrats on HOTD!! A very worthy hub! I bookmarked it for future reference because I've been trying to start veggies from seeds but have never been successful. These tips will be quite helpful!! Voted up and shared!

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on August 03, 2013:

Congratulations on your HOTD award -- it is well deserved. You have written a very informative and helpful hub for getting an early/best start on the garden. Very well done.

Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on August 03, 2013:

Mr. Lando; congratulation on your hub of the day.Thank you for sharing your article.

JR Krishna from India on August 03, 2013:

Congratulations on hub of the day. This is a very useful hub. It is always a pleasure reading about planting and its technical aspects.

Voted up and shared

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on August 03, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD, well deserved! This is a very insightful article. My parents used to have a huge vegetable garden and they would grow most of their plants from seeds and they were beautiful. You offered some great tips. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

cheeluarv on August 03, 2013:

Informative,and useful hub on seed growing.Congrats for HOTD award.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on August 03, 2013:

Great tips on seed starting supplies. Congrats on winning the HOTD award.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on August 03, 2013:

I wait until plants are at least 4" before transplanting them. And somewhere else I read the idea about using egg cartons for starter pots. These worked well for my morning glory seeds. I'm having some trouble with my lettuce, though. The seed is organic, too.

Congratulations on your hub being chosen for Hub of the Day; that's always encouraging!

Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on August 03, 2013:

Congratulations on your Hub of the Day! you deserve it for your very useful and interesting hub. Well done. Voted up

Anna Santos from Canada on August 03, 2013:

hello there! Congrats on your HOTD! This article will absolutely help me and my dad because he's fond of planting. He actually starts with seeds because he said that he enjoys doing such a thing from scratch. The joy of harvesting the "fruits" of his labour is indeed priceless. This hub indeed will help me teach dad about a lot of things to improve his planting habits. Thanks a lot for sharing this hub...again, congrats!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on August 03, 2013:

Congrats on the HOTD! Thanks for sharing this very useful and informative hub. I´m collecting now seeds for my vegetable garden that I´m planning to make. So, this hub came really handy to me. Happy weekend!

Foodstuff from Australia on August 03, 2013:

Nice article! I am about to start sowing some seeds indoors (it's winter in Melbourne, Australia at the moment) and will use the vermiculite and peat mix instead of buying seed raising mix.

I have always wondered about heat mats. But you've convinced me to try them.

I make my own little pots with this wonderful little tool called Paper Potter. Basically it's a wooden "knob" which you wind strips of newspaper around and voila! you've got a little seedling pot which will break down in the soil. So that minimises transplant stress!

Thanks for the inspiration.

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