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Ultimate Seed Starting Guide: Tools of the Trade

Updated: Jun 12

To start seeds successfully indoors, you'll need to invest in some basic supplies and equipment. The good news is that many of these items can be reused year after year, so you can think of it as an investment in the future. Plus the money you will save in starting your own plants will more than offset these costs in the long run. So what will you need?

Seed Starting Mix

There are plenty of options for seed-starting mix on the market. Just be sure you don't use garden soil or heavy potting soil to start seeds. You want to make sure the mix is lightweight, organic, free of bark and other matter, and provides a good mix between air space and moisture retention. In fact the best mixes don't actually contain any soil at all! There are many good brands, but I recommend Hoffman's Seed Starter Potting & Planting Mix. Alternatively, you can make your own DIY mix and save money. A good formula is 1 part Sphagnum Peat Moss (or Coco Coir), 1 part Vermiculite, and 1 part Perlite. These 3 ingredients are easy to find and contain everything you need to make an excellent seed-starting mix.

Seed Starting Containers

While it's fun to try interesting DIY options like yogurt cups, empty toilet paper rolls, and egg cartons, it will make your life a lot easier if you get a few plastic flats and some seed-starting trays. Flats are large rectangular trays that hold several seed trays. You will want to make sure the flat comes with a clear humidity dome, which helps the seeds to germinate faster. Seed trays are made of individual cells, which keep your plants separate and spaced out properly. I find that using 6-cell trays is much easier than 72-cell trays. Since your seeds may germinate at different rates, having them in smaller trays gives you more flexibility. I have used these inexpensive trays with good success. You can also opt for Jiffy peat pellets. Add some warm water and these little discs of compressed peat moss swell up into perfect little planters.

Heat Mat

Some veggies, such as peppers and tomatoes, will germinate much more successfully in soil that has been warmed to 70-75 degrees. A heat mat is a great way to give your seeds the warmth they need. Keep in mind that once the seeds sprout, you will want to remove them from the mat, as they will prefer cooler soil at that point. Another great option is a kit like this one, which includes flats, domes, seed trays, and a heat mat. If you don't want to purchase a heat mat, you can place the seed trays in a warm area of your home or even on top of the refrigerator!


While you might be tempted to try growing seedlings in a sunny room in your house, the truth is, you really do need to invest in some grow lights. Seedlings typically need 14-16 hours of light per day in order to grow healthy and strong. There are so many options now for quality and inexpensive grow lights. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to be able to get the light as close to the seedlings as possible (preferably 2-6 inches), so an adjustable light on a rack like this one is a great option. If you are short on space, a floor-standing option like this will work as well. You will need to adjust the light as the seedlings grow, as they could burn if they get too warm. I have all of my grow lights on timers (wifi plugs are the best!) so I don't have to remember to turn them on and off each day.

Now that you have the essential tools of the trade, let's talk about sowing seeds!

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