8 Essential Tools and Materials for Starting Seeds Indoors
You’ll need a few basic items (some of which you probably already have) to make sure your seed starting goes to plan.
Many gardeners skip seed starting in favor of purchasing plants, often assuming the tools necessary for indoor sowing will be too expensive to make the project practical. However, you often can get by with substituting items you already have for those you’d need to buy.
For example, shop lights from the garage can take the place of grow lights, while produce boxes rescued from the trash can stand in for seed-starting trays. Of course, if you lack time or energy to do things the DIY way, you can purchase some of the highly rated and reasonably priced items listed here.
1. Seed Starting Tray With Cover
Seed-starting containers can vary from repurposed “clamshell” produce boxes to more professional options like the Gardzen 5-Set Garden Propagator Set. As with the Gardzen set, your trays need drainage holes. This set includes a transparent cover to keep seed-starting mix damp. (Another alternative is to use shallow flower pots capped with plastic wrap).
The Gardzen set’s main tray has optimal drainage, and the set includes a base tray to catch drained water. If you make a DIY tray, you’ll need a second container without drainage holes. One option is an unperforated flat or shallow dishpan, with which you can water your seeded containers from the bottom or catch water you add from above.
2. Seed-Starting Mix
Soilless seed starting mix has a lighter texture than standard potting or garden soil, which new gardeners often make the mistake of using. Most importantly, seed-starting mix is sterile, which isn’t true of the aforementioned soils. That sterility helps prevent the damping off disease that frequently affects seedlings. Usually, seed-starting mix is composed mainly of peat moss or coir, such as Burpee Organic Coconut Coir Concentrated Seed Starting Mix, with perlite or vermiculite sometimes added.
3. Spray Bottle
Although some gardeners like to mist the surface of their seed-starting flats with water, using a spray bottle such as the Bar5F Plastic Spray Bottle, moisture delivered in that way seldom penetrates far. For the best results, water your containers from the bottom first to get them thoroughly damp, allowing them to drain afterward to prevent sogginess. Save the spray bottle to use when the surface of the mix is just beginning to dry out.
4. Grow Lights
Although it is possible to start seedlings on sunny windowsills, grow lights like the Juhefa LED Grow Lights hung above seedlings and timed to run for 12 to 16 hours per day generally work better. They prevent the baby plants from bending toward the window and can provide “sun” every day, which Mother Nature can’t always do. For seedlings, fluorescent or LED shop lights work almost as well as these full-spectrum lights.
5. Seedling Heat Mat
Normal household temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees are warm enough for most seed starting. However, tropical plants and a few vegetables—such as eggplant and okra—sprout more readily at temperatures above 75 degrees. For them, you may want to purchase a heat mat such as the VIVOHOME Seedling Heat Mat. Alternatively, place your seed-starting containers in the warmest spot in your home, such as on a high shelf above a radiator or register.
Movement of air helps prevent damping off disease and provides other benefits, so a tower fan such as this oscillating PELONIS model—which can be programmed to turn on and shut off at certain times—can stir up a gentle breeze in the room where your seedlings grow. It also will accustom the new plants to wind before you move them outdoors into the breeze. Actually, any fan should work, including the one you use for cooling yourself during summer.
7. Plant Labels
When sowing seeds, you’ll need labels to remember what you planted where. KINGLAKE’s Plant Nursery Garden Labels should work well where they aren’t likely to be disturbed. However, if you have young children or cats, opt for sticky labels that affix to containers and can’t be removed by curious hands or paws. In either case, use a permanent marker to prevent the information on the labels from being rubbed or washed off.
Before purchasing from seed companies, check online reviews or curated lists from trustworthy sources (such as Dave’s Garden) to ensure sellers are well regarded by your fellow gardeners. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, for example, scores high and offers both vegetable and flower seeds. Alternatively, you can save your own seeds from plants that aren’t hybrids—and swap with other gardeners online to obtain more. Although some seeds never should be sowed indoors, plenty more will thrive if given that head start.
The prices listed here are accurate as of publication on 3/21/22.