If you are a true gardener, buying flowers, fruits, and veggies as starts just isn’t an option for you. You want to start your own garden from scratch, and that means starting all of your plants from seeds.
But you’re going to need some seed starting equipment if you’re going to do it right.
There are a lot of things needed to ensure that the seeds you plant can grow into strong seedlings and young plants. With the right seed starting supplies and equipment, you’ll get your garden started in no time.
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Why You Need Seed Starting Equipment
When it comes to starting seeds, it’s not always best to plant them directly into the soil of your garden. You can’t control the climate, weather, and temperature outdoors, so a sudden cold snap, heat wave, deluge, or frost could kill off your seedlings. Remember: seeds and seedlings are very delicate, and they are easily damaged.
The reason that you need all the seed starting supplies listed below is because you want total control over the environment in which your seeds grow. By controlling the heat, light, and humidity of the seeds’ environment, you ensure that they have everything they need to grow into strong, healthy seedlings and young plants ready to be transplanted.
Seed Starting Containers
If you talk to gardening enthusiasts, you’ll find that most of them are divided into two camps when it comes to starting seeds in containers. Half of them will say that it’s always best to buy the seed-starting containers from a gardening store, while the other half will insist that you can DIY it–using yoghurt or pudding cups, egg cartons, etc.
Truth is, you don’t NEED a lot of fancy seed-starting containers to grow your seedlings, but they can make your life a whole lot easier.
Basically, any container that can hold up to two inches of soil will do the trick. You don’t want to use a container that will be damaged by water (such as egg carton), as you will be watering the seeds fairly regularly. That is why plastic containers serve as the best option for starting seeds, as they aren’t damaged by water.
You also want containers that have holes in the bottom. This will ensure that the plants’ roots will have space to grow, and that the water that seeps through the soil has somewhere to escape through. The last thing you want is for your plants to rot because the roots have been sitting in stagnant water for too long. Any container you use for your seed-starting will NEED those holes in the base.
We are particularly fond of Epic 6-Cell Seed Starting Trays. These are designed with the professional seed starter in mind, and you can use them for years and years to come. 12 of them perfectly fit into a 10×20 tray, too. That will save you a lot of money in the long run!
Here are a few other seed-starting container options::
- Peat Pots – For those who want to go all-natural, peat pots are exactly what they sound like: pots made out of peat. You plant the seeds in the pots, and, once the seeds are grown into seedlings, you cut an X in the bottom and plant the entire pot into the ground. The peat will help to protect the seedlings from damping-off.
- Flats – These are the classic seed-starting containers, and the ideal choice for those who are trying to get their basic garden off the ground. A “flat” is basically a large, rectangle-shaped container with lots of space for the soil and seeds. You may find that some of the seedlings’ root systems become intertwined, as there is no divider to separate the plants. Still, flats are the easiest (and cheapest) for starting a lot of seeds.
- Soil Block – A soil block is exactly what it sounds like: a block of soil for you to start your seedlings. The blocks are usually compressed into cubes, and you just plant your seeds directly into those cubes. They tend to dry out more quickly than the other options, but they can be planted right into the soil of your garden without needing to remove the plant from a container.
- Individual Containers – Instead of using a huge tray (flat or cell pack), you can always go the route of using individual containers and flower pots for starting your seeds. Paper pots, peat pots, soil blocks, and plastic pots are all options for those who want total control over the environment in which their seedlings grow.
- DIY Containers – Plastic egg cartons make an awesome DIY cell pack, but you can use plastic yogurt or pudding cups, paper cups, and even old milk cartons as containers for your seedlings. All you’ll need to do is cut holes in the bottom to ensure the water has a way to drain out!
You can also opt for something like Jiffy peat pellets. Add some warm to hot water and these little discs of compressed peat moss swell up into perfect little planters. With these, you’ll want to cut the webbing around the peat at the base of the pellet before planting just as you would with a peat pot.
- Minimizes transplant shock and root damage
- Free root development
- Reliable Substrate - same product time after time
In addition to your seed starting containers, you’ll want some kind of lid to place over the top of the container. This will keep the moisture trapped within the container, encouraging germination.
A tray will help to catch water runoff, so you should definitely place one beneath the container–especially if you are growing indoor.
Seed Starting Potting Mixes
You need to make sure that the soil in which your seeds are going to be planted is fertile, contains the right balance of nutrients, and has the proper pH balance to provide those growing seeds with a healthy environment in which to grow. To do that, you have to find the right seed starting potting mixes.
The good news is that most seeds contain all the nutrients they need to start growing. You won’t need to look for special nutrient-rich seed starting soil right away–not until you transplant the seedlings. Only once the first leaves begin to grow on the seedlings will you need amendments or fertilizers. For now, stick with a soil that offers:
- Plenty of air space, ensuring the seed and the newly-sprouting roots have plenty of oxygen to grow. Air space also ensures proper humidity and water absorption in the soil.
- Proper moisture. Your plants need a lot of water to grow, so you want to find a seed starting potting mix that holds moisture properly.
Also, look for a soil that is free of toxic substances and weed seeds. You probably can’t use the soil from your garden, especially if you have sprayed chemical herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides. The chemicals in the soil will kill the seedlings before they have a chance to grow. And, of course, there are lots of weed seeds in your garden soil, and those weed seeds may steal the moisture and nutrients needed by the seeds–stopping them from growing.
This is why it’s always best to buy a fresh batch of seed starting mix when you are going to start seeds. This way, you can be certain that it’s free of weeds and any toxic substances, and that it is just the right consistency to promote healthy seed growth.
One very popular mixture for healthy potting soil contains:
- 1 part compost (great for feeding the seeds after those first true leaves appear)
- 1 part perlite or builder’s sand (the larger particles ensures better airflow and water run-off)
- 1 to 2 parts peat moss or coconut coir
By mixing these ingredients, you’ll make the perfect soil to start your seeds growing.
If you’re going to buy a seed-starting mix from the gardening store, look for soil that is labeled as “seed-starting mix” and not “potting soil”. And, of course, don’t forget the fertilizer for later–seaweed or fish fertilizer, compost tea, or some other organic seedling fertilizer.
Recommendation: Espoma Organic Seed Starter. Unless I am making my own mix or have some soil from another gardening project, this is my go-to seed starting mix. It’s organic, has mycorrhizae to promote root growth, and works perfectly for almost any plants you need to start indoors.
- For all seedlings and cuttings
- Enhanced with myco-tone
- All natural for organic gardening
Lights for Starting Seeds
In order for plants to grow, they need four things:
Heat lamps provide two of the four crucial ingredients, making them an important part of your seed-starting operation!
The truth is that seedlings need adequate light to grow. Full-grown plants don’t need as much light, but without 14 to 16 hours of illumination, the seedlings won’t grow healthy and strong.
Seedlings without enough sunlight tend to be weak and look very spindly. But if the sun isn’t out for that many hours a day, what can you do? That’s where seed-starting lights come into play!
Starting seeds under lights is the way to be certain that your young plants and seedlings get all the “sunlight” they need to grow. Even if you start your plants on a windowsill, often times they still won’t get enough sunlight. But with heat lamps, you provide both the light and the heat your plants need to grow. You’ll speed up the growth and encourage healthy, strong plants.
If you’re going to use lights for starting seeds, here’s what you need to know:
- 14 hours a day is the right amount of light. No less! You can go up to 16 hours per day if you want to encourage faster growth, but make sure the light isn’t so hot that you cause the seedlings to wither or dry out the soil. Use a grow-light system for the best results.
- Keep the lights clean. The grow-light bulbs (long tubes) tend to get dusty, and that can reduce the quality and amount of light shining on your plants. Clean them regularly!
- Rotate the seedlings. The light bulbs produce the most amount of light at the center of the bulbs and the least at the ends. For this reason, you want to rotate the seedlings. Place the seedlings at the ends of the bulbs into the middle every couple of days, ensuring that the amount of light received by all the plants is equal.
- Reflect the light. To double the effectiveness of the grow-light system, install aluminum foil or mirrors to reflect the light back onto the plants. It will help to increase the amount of light absorbed by the plants and soil, leading to faster growth!
Recommendation: Agrobrite T5 Fixture. It’s an amazing lighting fixture that I have used to start seeds season after season. I prefer the 2′ long setup with 4 T5 bulbs, but you can get longer sizes or more (or less) tubes.
- 3"H x 13.5"W x 23"L
- Includes 8' grounded power cord
- Includes 4 6400K T5 Tubes
Heat Mats for Starting Seeds
There are a lot of plants (such as peppers and tomatoes) that grow better in soil that has been warmed (between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit). If you are trying to start these plants from seeds, you may want a heat mat.
A heat mat is placed beneath the seed-starting containers, and the heat is absorbed by the soil. The plants that need warm soil grow faster because their environment is tailored just to their needs.
Some warming mats are designed to shut on and off automatically, using a thermostat (like in your house) to ensure that the soil temperature remains consistent. Others have to be manually turned on and off, but you can set the precise soil temperature.
Recommendation: The Jump Start Germination Station. It comes with a heat mat, humidity dome, and seedling tray. The tray has 72 cells for seedling inserts. I have used this for years and absolutely love it.
- UL-listed waterproof heat mat, 17 Watts, 120 Volt,...
- 2" humidity dome
- 11" x 22" watertight base tray
But remember, not ALL seeds need heat to grow. In fact, the majority of sprouted seedlings prefer temperatures in the 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit range. Once the seeds have sprouted, it’s usually best to remove the heat mats and let the soil cool down.