What's your fave seed-starting container and why?

pjintheozarks(6A)January 18, 2008

I haven't done seeds for several years and find I need to buy a few things. One is the cells, or flats, or ___ to use for putting all the seeds in to begin with. Which also means getting them out again, of course.

I'm not sure what kind (and where) to get this year. I intend to do a LOT of seedings as I'm growing out a ton of really old seeds and just seeing what germinates, and I'll just be trying to give them away like crazy. So I need something affordable for quite a few of them.

This is just for seed starting. I'm planning homemade 3"-5" pots for the larger seedlings.

Any advice would be great! What have you used? What do you like or not like?


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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I germinate all to the first set of true leaves in used plastic butter containers, yogurt containers, plastic meat trays, and the plastic covered containers you get from salad bars. Poke a few holes in the bottom of the container and fill with 2-2 1/2" of seed starting mix, plant 15-20 seeds in each (or more depending on seed size ;), cover with plastic wrap and place on a heat mat. Once sprouted remove the wrap and place under the lights. Once 2 true leaves develop they get individually transplanted, planted deeply, to cell packs.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 2:16PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

PJ, you don't say what kind of seeds you are planning to sow, but have you considered winter sowing them? I'm winter sowing all of my perennials in 2L soda bottles, and gallon milk jugs. You can't get cheaper than free!!! My annuals, including some of my vegetables will be done this way as well, though I will wait until March or April for the more frost tender plants.

If you haven't tried it before, the link below will give you more information about wintersowing.

Happy sowing,

Here is a link that might be useful: Wintersowing info

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 6:20PM
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Thanks bonnie, yeah wintersowing is great! I am doing *both*, in part as a comparative experiment using the same seeds. :-)

    Bookmark   January 18, 2008 at 6:36PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Have any of you tried styrofoam drinking cups?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 12:29PM
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Even better, has anyone tried Vermiculite in ziploc bags, to start their seeds?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 1:44PM
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My favorite containers for initial seed germinating are some restaurant to go containers I got from a friend. They are about 2 inches deep on the bottom half and have clear lids on the top. Suprisingly they have been quite durable as I've been reusing them for three years now.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 10:48PM
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Scott Schluter

I've been collecting the "K cups" from our coffee machine at work for the grounds for my composter. What do you think about using them for starting seedlings? They have a hole poked in the bottom and a coffee filter glued into place using about 2/3 of the "K cup". Was thinking that may act as a wick if I put the cups in another container and maintained the water just around the coffee filter depth. I have little experience in starting seeds so go easy ;)

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 12:39PM
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My first year winter sowing and have read some good info here. I have never planted from seed and wanted to give it a try!
I went to a Dollar Tree store and came across roasting pans with plastic lids, A General Dollar store had some tiny dixie cups that I was able to place in the rosting pans with seedlings in them (20) to a pan. All I did was punch holes on the bottom of the cups, placed in the roasting pans, punched holes on the top of the lids and placed on top of the pans as well for ventilation.
I have set out a few this way and we'll see how it turns out!
There are many otpions out there you can use and I have found some good tips on this site.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 2:31PM
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It depends on what I'm starting but the plastic clambshells, like the kind you get from a salad bar, work well with many varieties of seeds.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 12:25AM
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When I do seeds indoors I start in separate containers, enclosed in plastic bag under lights on the warm electrical blanket used for heat source. After germination I transplant seedlings to 72 cell trays. Sometimes I transplant as soon as germination occurred and sometimes I let them grow for a little, depends how busy I am, it is really not an issue as long as your fingers are able to be precise and gentle.
Seedlings will grow better on the cool side and do not need warm heat pad anymore.
This way I save space under lights and able to fill every cell with something to grow. I intensely dislike destroying seedlings so can't bring myself plant several in one cell and cut them down to one.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 8:00AM
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We seem to eat alot of applesauce in little plastic cups (and fruit and single servings of ice cream etc). I have bunches of those 2 oz cups. Just put a hole in them and they're good for small seedlings.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 7:59AM
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in my old age I seem to be getting chea... or I mean more frugal..lol last year i took a gallon milk jug..cut it almost right in the middle..put my top half with the spout side down into the bottom half and put my medium and seeds in it..u want it cut just so the spout touches the bottom of the bottom half of the jug..make a hole in the side of the bottom half for watering. I use pro mix...make sure you soak it before planting anything then when it is pretty damp sow your seeds..then pour water in the side almost up tho the hole.oh i forgot make sure you tamp the mix down in the spout as u fill it with mix or the water won't wick up very well and never let uit dry out..my seeds germinated great and I didn't have to water that often

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 7:01PM
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I have both my greenhouse is new this year and I also winter sew.
My two favorites for winter sewing are milk containers (we go through 4 gallons a week anyway) and ziplock baggies. Both because they are free to very cheap. I ordered 1000 ziplock bags from a website for less then 20.00 including shipping.

Hmm, vermiculite only? I will try this in the next ziplock bags I set up. I use a soil less mix and add vermiculite to it, the same mix I use inside the greenhouse.

In the greenhouse I use jiffy pots for the hard to transplant seedlings, and I use plastic cups or whatever I get my hands on for planting all the other seeds.

Good luck and have fun gardening!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2008 at 2:38PM
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I often use Wendy's baked potato containers. They are a little shallow, but I just use them to germinate, transplant the seedlings I'm keeping to 2" pots after a few weeks. This year I bought some plug trays - we'll see how those go. The seedlings that grow big and fast I start directly in the 2" pots.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2008 at 10:41PM
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bencjedi(6 - Central Kentucky)

So far I like these containers from the Indian food we eat because they were free, they are clear so light reaches the plants from all directions except where the homebrew soil mix is and all my seed-starting is in uniform containers this year. It's my first year actually owning a grow light. Previous years I used the window sill and luckily my plants grew great (albeit 'leggy' at the start), but my cats kept randomly knocking them down and made big messes for me to clean up.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 12:28AM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

How deep are these containers, and how deep is your growing medium?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 1:21AM
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bencjedi(6 - Central Kentucky)

The containers are 3" deep and the soil is roughly an inch to an inch and a half (with it wetted down).

The worm-casting soil mix I made is germinating the heck out of the seeds so far (1 part worm poop, 1 part vermiculite, 2 parts screen-grated sphagnum peat moss)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 11:28PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

I guess I'm wondering if the medium is deep enough. I've been germinating native Calif. salvias (S. apiana and S. mellifera). The medium is 2" deep, and at the three-leaf stage (true leaves) the roots were growing well through the holes in the bottom of the tray. The seedlings are in pots now.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 12:21AM
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bencjedi(6 - Central Kentucky)

Oh, I'll transplant them when they get bigger. I plan to put them into toilet paper tubes of potting soil when they get bigger. The mix really compressed after a couple waterings. I guess I needed to add more vermiculite, but I could only find a small bag at Meijer, so I have to ration the stuff.

I can easily see when the roots reach the bottom thanks to the clear containers. The Indian food costs $10 per dish (one container for the sauce/meat stuff and another for the rice), so I would be stupid to throw out the containers. So far I like them, but it is my first time not using various size yogurt cups and whatever was laying around. Uniformity is good. :)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 1:05AM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

I live in Temecula, CA. I found a large bag of vermiculite at a store that specializes in hydroponics equipment and supplies. Home Depot, Lowe's and retail "garden centers" are useless for this sort of thing, at least in my area.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 2:46AM
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your seedlings appear to be too long- not enough light might be an issue.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2008 at 3:56PM
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ninjabut(USDA z 8,CA)

Last year I took toilet tissue rolls, squares of newspaper, cut into about 4x4" squares and held the paper onto the rolls with a rubber band.
When I planted into the garden, I took the band off and everything just composted into the garden.
Not bad, for free!

    Bookmark   February 3, 2008 at 8:48PM
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shellva(Camden 7b/8a)

Just about everything I sow from seed is sown in milk jugs that are left outside. I am hooked on winter sowing. But I did my tomatoes and peppers a little differently.

Last year I had great success with sowing them in peet pellets. Then as soon as they germinated I potted them up to the 9 oz (think that was the size) solo cups. I potted up the tomato plants one more time to the 16 oz cups but the peppers went right to the garden from the 9 oz.

The pellets and cups were kept outside in a plastic storage container with several inches of soil. So basically a little mini coldframe.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2008 at 8:46AM
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sinfonian(U8b A2 S5 SeaWA)

I'm new to starting seeds indoors, but I like cool whip containers with vermiculite for most things, but I've tried Jiffy Peat seedling trays and just transplanted my broccoli and cauliflower into 9 oz frosted clear drinking cups 80% full of potting soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: My seedlings...

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 12:37AM
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jannie(z7 LI NY)

A few years ago, I bought two 48-hole APS seed stsarters from a garden catalog. I have re-used them successfully.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 6:49PM
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bencjedi(6 - Central Kentucky)

lindalana I bought shop lights the other day at Home Depot and am now blasting the seedlings with light from Phillips T8 cool whites. I have the lights as low as possible and touching some of the leaves. I want to try to make the plants stocky. My seedlings last year were very leggy because I only gave them window sill light, but they flourished and grew big & strong outside. So far these plants are much shorter, so I want to keep them this way. :)

    Bookmark   February 8, 2008 at 12:53AM
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Can I place a setup of a flourescent lights in my garage to start seedlings? There is a HVAC unit and hot water heater in there so it is not that cold now. I have wired shelves and would be able to hang the shop light underneath it and adjust the height of the lighting. What do you think about this? It wouldn't be too cold, I suppose.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2008 at 9:00AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The germination container does not have to be deep. As a matter of fact, the plants do better if it isn't! Commercial seed flats are typically about the same size as a cell pack flat, only more solid.

I only need to use one or two of these flats, filled with a germination medium to which I add extra perlite. After drenching the flats, I make several vertical rows with a straight edge. My seed varieties are then sowed heavily into those rows, covered or not according to the variety, and labeled. I put the label at the beginning of each new variety. I may have three or so varieties in each row!

I can usually get in about 6 rows per flat. This will result in a couple of hundred seedlings. I do line the flats with heating cables before I put in the mix. Once the entire flat has been sowed, I water it with my misting nozzle.

I scoop the babies out as soon as they are ready to transplant, by bunches of 25 or so. They are extremely easy to prise apart as long as you don't let them wait too long. There's no reason why they transplanting rate should not be close to 100%.

I reuse the flats, the cell packs, and the heating cable from year to year, though those cell packs don't last as long as the flats.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 8, 2008 at 12:43PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I use 1/2 gallon orange juice paper cartons. The nice ladies at church save them for me. They like to help and recycle with things they usually throw away. (they also save shopping bags for me to bag my sales in!)Throw away the plastic lid, cut them in half lengthwise to make two long trays from each carton.
5 halved cartons will fit in a no holes flat, covered with a clear germination dome. So you can do 5 different kinds of seeds in there, and take them out as each one germinates.
I dip all the cartons and flats and domes in 1 T Physan 20 to one gallon of water. Then fill with a good seedstarter mix that's sterile-like my favorite Promix PGX with biofungicide. If using promix with biofungicide, fill containers with soil and water in the kitchen sink with warm water until moist. Don't use Physan or it'll also kill the biofungicide built in.
If using other mix, fill with soil and water in using 1t Physan 20 to 1 gallon warm water. Then plant seeds. As a tip, don't put seeds in there too thickly or no matter how much light you put them in,they will be spindly when they are overcrowded. 50-75 tomato seeds, banana seeds, or other large plants is max. You can sometimes put up to a seed packet of small seeds like snapdragons that grow slowly as seedlings.
If you're doing tropicals that take a long time to germinate, presoak them for 15-20 minutes in 1 t Physan to 1 gal water to sterilize the outside of the seeds to give them a better chance not to mold before they come up.
Then cover with the dipped cover and here's the cool part, put them on your FREE heat mat!
My FREE heat mat is my forced air central furnace with floor ducts. You take a empty web flat, the ones that look like mesh on the bottom, turn it over and sit it on top of the heat vent. Then you sit your germination dome covered flat on top of it. The heat will heat your flat and also your room because it can go through the mesh flat.
Check your seeds every day, and get them in bright light asap and uncovered asap. I put them out into my greenhouse.
You can use bright fluorscent lights etc as an alternative.
When you're growing on your plants, you can carefully take a sharp knife and cut slits in the bottom of the cartons for drainage if you want to, or just water carefully.
Then when you're done, throw them away. Save the flats and domes for next year after cleaning them up.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 12:18PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I respectfully disagree with the comment that the seedlings will be spindly if sown thickly. As long as there is enough sunlight AND the ambient air temperature is cool, the seedlings will be very stocky and sturdy. Air temperature has a lot do do with seedling quality. In-soil heating devices keep the soil toasty during germination, but have little effect on air temperature.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 12:43PM
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ccroulet(z9 CA Sunset 18)

Where do you get Physan 20? BTW, no floor ducts here. Most modern Calif. homes are built on concrete slabs.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 12:44PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

Bummer! no floor ducts, most houses here have them. But then again we have to heat 20 months a year! ha ha
Physan 20 is cheapest on e-bay. I sell it at my greenhouse, for walk in customers, but they sell it there cheaper than I can get it wholesale. They must be purchasing large quantities, or just want to get rid of it, I guess.
I'm glad that sowing them thickly works for you,rhizo 1, I guess I probably have too much heat in the greenhouse during the day due to solar heating. And I probably don't get to them quick enough.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2008 at 5:07PM
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loretta5_gw(Z6 PA)

I start just about everything in a damp piece of coffee filter (or paper towel) inside a small 3" long by 2" wide baggie. After germination I pot them in up 6 packs or plastic cups - whatever I have around.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 9:27AM
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Egg cartons. They're free. Small enough to save on space early in the season. Large enough that most seedlings can thrive for a few weeks before they absolutely have to be transplanted. And disposable. No clean up.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 6:14PM
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I use an assortment of things but using the plastic, zippered package's that sheets and quilts are sold in for a greenhouse brings me the most pleasure. I never could throw them away because I knew that eventually I would find a use for them and that I did.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2008 at 10:23AM
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My husband and I are new to seed starting this year, and we started them in baggies with a paper towel. When they sprouted and we planted them, my inner scientist kind of took over, so I decided to split them up and try three different pot options: newspaper pots, peat pots and 1/2 pint milk cartons (we are both teachers, so we just asked our kids to bring us their empties after lunch for a few days.) We have 1 dozen each Red Pear tomatoes, Brandywine tomatoes, Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Yellow Banana Peppers, Sweet Bell Peppers and Hot Peppers - we planted four of each plant in the containers mentioned above.

As it turns out, the peat pots (most expensive) are water hogs, and seem to be either too dry or too wet (frequently sprouting white fluffy fungus.) The newspaper pots (most labor-intensive) have worked okay, and the plants seem alright, but the pots also seem to be prone to the fluff-fungus, unless we run a fan for a few hours each day. The milk cartons (free) have the biggest and best plants, and have been fungus -free throughout the experiment. The plants in all three types of pots are okay, and will soon be ready to transplant outside, but the milk carton ones seem healthier and happier in general than the others.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 7:14PM
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I JUST SUCK IT UP AND BUY THE 72 CELL TRAYS. (sorry caps) ive tried other el-cheapo methods, but i always wish i had trays with tops once the weather warms up enuf to put everything outside during the day... i get a few years out of them, so i just buy 2 or 3 every year and keep the rotation going... watering with in-town tap water keeps disease and green slime at bay :) for only 4 bucks at dollar general, i dont want to bother hauling 500+ single seedlings in and out every day for 2 months

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 2:50PM
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Someone metioned banana seedlings here... How'd that work? How long does it take for them to get to be a good size? Thanks and good luck!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 7:11PM
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