While it’s possible to purchase either seedlings or mature plants at a nursery, for many gardeners, it’s more rewarding to start plants from seed. A number of supplies are needed to sow seeds at home, and one of the most essential is a seed starting tray.
Shopping for the best seed starter trays online, however, can be somewhat challenging because there are so many options available at a wide range of prices. Seed trays come in several styles and can be made with a variety of materials. To help navigate the ample choices, this article breaks down what to look for when shopping for the best seed starter tray and includes our curated picks for some of the best seed planting trays.
- BEST OVERALL: Gardzen 40-Cell Plant Tray
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Aifusi 10-Pack Seed Starter Kit
- BEST SELF-WATERING: Burpee 32-Cell Self-Watering Ultimate Grow System
- BEST DOMED: Bonviee 10-Pack Seed Starter Trays
- BEST BIODEGRADABLE: Eco Pots Seed Starter Trays
- BEST REUSABLE: Burpee SuperSeed Seed Starting Tray
- BEST KIT: Jiffy 36 Peat Pellet Seed-Starting Greenhouse Kit
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Seed Starting Tray
Though it’s easy to assume that all plant starter trays offer similar performance, a number of factors affect their functionality. Keep reading to learn about some important features to consider when choosing the best seed starting supplies.
A primary consideration when choosing seed starter trays is the material. Generally speaking, seed trays usually fall into two general categories: reusable or biodegradable.
- Reusable plastic seed starter trays are a popular choice because they’re durable, lightweight, and reusable. Since they can be used repeatedly, they’re economical, making them ideal for experienced gardeners who start seeds year after year. One downside is that the seedlings must be removed from the tray before they are planted. For organic vegetable gardening, opt for trays made from BPA-free plastic.
- Biodegradable seed starter trays are typically made from peat and can be planted directly into soil without removing the seedlings. The material degrades quickly once planted, allowing the plants’ roots to grow into the soil. This also helps to ensure that the plants don’t experience transplant shock.
A seed tray’s capacity is dependent on the number of cells it has. Small seed trays may only have four cells, while large models can have up to 70. Smaller trays can be arranged together in a variety of configurations to fit under grow lights, while larger trays are better suited to large growing stations.
If using natural light rather than grow lights, it’s best to opt for trays that are small enough to fit on a windowsill. Choose trays based on the capacity needed for your particular situation.
Cell Size and Depth
Another consideration when choosing seed trays is the size of each individual cell. Seed tray cells have a standard size of 1.5 inches long by 1.5 inches wide. Their depth ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
Seedling trays tend to be deeper and can accommodate more mature seedlings and plants with deeper root systems. It’s not advisable to choose a tray with cells deeper than 3 inches because they aren’t ideal for water drainage.
While seed starting trays are sometimes sold without any extras, some include useful accessories.
- Domed lids are made from clear plastic and allow gardeners to monitor the plants’ progress while controlling the temperature and keeping the soil damp. Some domed lids are vented to provide additional humidity control.
- Base trays are designed to be used underneath cell trays and allow users to either catch water drainage or water the seeds from below.
- Watering mats function similarly to base trays but are designed to further aid in water being drawn up into the cell tray.
- Heating mats help to control the soil’s temperature and are particularly useful in cold climates.
- Labels come in handy to ensure growers can keep track of all the seeds they’ve planted.
Our Top Picks
Now that you’ve learned a bit about grow trays, it’s time to start shopping. The following are our top picks for some of the best seedling starter trays for your home garden.
This seed starter kit comes with almost everything gardners need to start a large collection of plants. It includes five plastic trays, each of which holds 40 seedlings. Each cell has a hole at the bottom to allow drainage. Base trays are included with the kit, so they don’t need to be purchased separately. Domed lids are also included, which are 2.75 inches tall, allowing for seedlings to grow under ideal temperature conditions.
Each cell is 1.4 inches long by 1.4 inches wide by 1.85 inches deep, which is slightly shallower than average, so it’s important to transfer the seedlings into larger containers (or a garden bed) before they outgrow their cells.
- Material: Plastic
- Number of cells: 200 (40 by 5)
- Tray dimensions: 14.5 inches long by 9 inches wide by 1.85 inches deep
- Comes in a pack of 5
- Made with reusable plastic
- Comes with base trays and domed lids
- Extraction tools are included
Get the Gardzen seed starting trays on Amazon or Gardzen.
Those looking to start a large number of seeds without making a major financial investment may want to consider this kit from Aifusi. The trays are sold in a pack of 10, each of which contains 72 cells, for a total of 720. The cells are each 1.5 inch long by 1.5 inch wide with a depth of 1.57 inches. Drainage holes prevent water from accumulating at the bottom of the cells.
The trays are made from thick BPA-free plastic, meaning they can be reused year after year and are suitable for organic vegetable gardening. While these trays offer a large capacity for growing, they don’t come with any accessories. Base trays will need to be purchased separately.
- Material: Plastic
- Number of cells: 720 (72 by 10)
- Tray dimensions: 21.1 inches long by 10.9 inches wide by 1.57 inches deep
- Affordable price
- Comes in a pack of 10
- Durable and reusable
- Made with BPA-free plastic
- Shallow cells
- Accessories not included
Get the Aifusi seed starting tray kit on Amazon.
Beginners may appreciate how easy it is to germinate seedlings with this self-watering grow kit from Burpee. It comes with the brand’s coconut coir pellets, which are designed to be placed in the bottom of each cell and moistened with water before adding soil. The pellets then slowly release water over time.
The kit comes with two trays (each of which has 16 cells), 32 growing pellets, a clear greenhouse dome, a self-watering mat, a base tray, and six plant markers. The cells are extra large and each one is 2.25 inches long by 2.25 inches wide by 2 inches deep, providing each plant plenty of room to grow.
- Material: Plastic
- Number of cells: 32 (16 in each tray)
- Tray dimensions: 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 2 inches deep
- Made with large cells
- Includes a base tray and greenhouse lid
- Easy-to-use self-watering design
Get the Burpee Self-Watering seed starting trays on Amazon.
While there are plenty of seed tray options on the market that come with domed plastic lids, not all of them feature humidity control. This model from Bonviee has a clear lid with a vent that allows users to decide on the humidity level that’s ideal for their plants. The trays come in a pack of 10, each of which has a matching domed lid.
Each tray is small at about 6.1 inches long by 4.4 inches wide, but the cells are 2 inches deep, giving seedlings room to grow their root systems. The kit also includes base trays and plant labels.
- Material: Plastic
- Number of cells: 120 (12 by 10)
- Tray dimensions: 6.1 inches long by 4.4 inches wide by 2 inches deep
- Affordable price
- Includes vented domed lids
- Designed to accommodate coconut coir pellets
Get the Bonviee seed starting trays on Amazon.
Plastic seed starter trays are convenient because they can be reused season after season, but they can’t be planted directly in the ground like biodegradable trays. This model from Eco Pots is made from 100 percent recycled paper and is designed to biodegrade quickly after being planted, allowing the plants’ roots to expand and preventing transplantation shock.
The kit comes with 10 trays (each of which has 10 cells), 10 plant markers, and a couple of tools to facilitate transplanting the seedlings as needed. Each tray is 8.5 inches long by 3.5 inches wide, and each cell is a 1.35-inch square and 1.75 inches inches deep.
- Material: Recycled paper
- Number of cells: 100 (10 by 10)
- Tray dimensions: 8.5 inches long by 3.5 inches wide by 1.75 inches deep
- Made with eco-friendly recycled paper
- Completely biodegradable trays
- Prevents transplantation shock
- Accessories are not biodegradable
Get the Eco Pots seed starting trays on Amazon.
This upgraded seed starting tray from Burpee is designed for repeated use and offers a number of features that can’t be found on standard plastic seed trays. The flexible cells are designed to gently pop out the seedlings and soil when it’s time to transplant them, which helps to avoid tearing delicate roots.
Each cell has molded corner slots, which improve both drainage and soil aeration, and the watering tray features deep channels that draw excess water away from the cells. The material is even dishwasher-safe, making the tray easy to clean between uses. Only one tray is included, which includes 16 large cells.
- Material: Plastic
- Number of cells: 16 (4 by 4)
- Tray dimensions: 11.5 inches long by 10.5 inches wide by 2.5 inches deep
- Flexible cells make for easy transplanting
- Designed to prevent water buildup
- Made with dishwasher-safe material
Get the Burpee SuperSeed seed starting trays on Amazon.
This kit from Jiffy is perfect for first-time seed germinators because it comes with peat pellets, fertilizer, a domed lid, and a base tray. What sets this kit apart is that there are no individual cells. Preferable for some home gardeners, the cell-less setup means the seedlings don’t need to be extracted individually when it’s time to transplant them.
To use, start by placing the pellets in the base tray and adding 1.5 inches of warm water. Once the pellets have expanded to 1.5 inches in height, the water can be drained. Users must then peel back the netting on each pellet to insert several seeds into each one. No additional soil is needed.
- Material: Plastic
- Number of cells: 36 (6 by 6)
- Tray dimensions: 11 inches long by 11 inches wide by 2 inches deep
- Includes biodegradable peat pellets and fertilizer
- Comes with a domed lid
- No additional soil is required
- Lacks cells to separate seedlings
Get the Jiffy seed starting tray kit at The Home Depot.
Having read this guide, you may already know which seed starting tray is best for your needs. If not, we recommend the Gardzen seed starting trays as our top pick for most typical home gardeners because it’s cost-effective and comprehensive. Those on a budget may appreciate the Aifusi seed starting tray kit, which is a great choice at a lower price point.
How We Chose the Best Seed Starting Trays
Years of experience covering home improvement and gardening as well as extensive product research went into creating this guide on the best seed starting trays. We explored more than 25 seed tray options and weighed a number of practical considerations before making our recommendations.
- Material: Both plastic and biodegradable seed trays have their own advantages, so we opted to include examples of both among our recommendations.
- Capacity: Seed starting trays vary widely when it comes to their capacity. We included both large and small trays in our top picks in order to provide options for most home gardeners.
- Cell size: Cell sizes on seed starting trays vary, but we opted to exclude any trays with depths of more than 3 inches because they tend to drain poorly.
Advantages of Using Seed Starting Trays
While it’s possible to germinate seeds in nearly any kind of container, using a seed starting tray makes the process simpler, tidier, and easier to maintain. Here are some advantages of using a seed starting tray.
- Seed trays line up the seedlings in rows, making them easier to heat or water evenly.
- Seed trays are easy to move around and can be brought outdoors once the weather is favorable.
- Seed trays feature drainage holes, which allow the soil or seed starting mix to drain effectively.
While you now know more about choosing the best seed starting kit, you may still be looking for more information. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about seed starter trays.
Q. How many seedling trays do I need?
The number of seedling trays needed depends on the number of seeds you wish to plant.
Q. How do I choose a seedling tray?
First, decide whether you want a reusable or biodegradable tray. Then, choose a tray with a size and capacity that best suits your needs.
Q. What do I put under seed starting trays?
A base tray should be placed under a seed starting tray to catch the water that drains out of the holes in the cell tray.
Q. How do I remove seedlings from trays for planting?
To remove seedlings from a plastic tray for planting, turn the tray upside down and gently squeeze each cell to remove the seedling. Never pull on the seedling’s stem in order to remove it. If needed, use a butter knife to help detach the soil from the cell tray.
Q. What helps seeds germinate faster?
In order to help seeds germinate faster, some gardeners opt to soak their seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting them.
Q. What is the ideal temperature for healthy seedling growth?
The ideal temperature for seedlings varies based on the plant variety. Generally speaking, however, most seedlings thrive at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Q. Does starting seeds save money?
Yes. Starting seeds is an economical choice because buying seeds is more cost-effective than buying seedlings or mature plants.