Seed Starting: Easy Setups for Home Gardeners

Glean creative ideas for real-world seed-starting setups, from soil blockers to mini-greenhouses, so you can grow your own vegetable seedlings at home this spring.

  • Seed Starting Cart Wheels
    One gardener built this multilevel seed-starting cart on wheels to make it simple to move around his home.
    Photo by Edward Hollmen
  • Seed-Starting Bookshelf
    Try starting your seeds on a multipurpose unit that can function as a seed-starting stand in spring and a bookshelf the rest of the year.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • Yard Sale Seed Starting
    Most components of this gardener’s seed-starting setup were acquired at a yard sale, and the entire setup cost less than $7.
    Photo by John Grass
  • Seed Starting Recycled Materials
    Many resourceful gardeners use recycled materials for seed-starting pots, such as egg cartons and yogurt containers.
    Photo by Betsy Mehaffey
  • Soil Blocks
    Using soil blocks for seed starting means you don’t need to source containers for your seedlings.
    Photo by Terry Wild
  • Seed-Starting Milk Jugs
    Milk jugs cut down the middle double as seedling protectors in this gardener’s front-porch setup.
    Photo by Lisa Facciponti
  • Holiday Light Seed Starting
    Providing a bit of warmth under your seed-staring trays can help the soil reach optimal germination temperature. This gardener uses tiny holiday lights nestled beneath her trays to impart warmth.
    Photo by JoAnn Hana
  • Seed Starter Shelving Unit
    This serious seed starter grows hundreds of seedlings per year using multiple six-tier shelving units outfitted with grow lights.
    Photo by Joanne Tipler

  • Seed Starting Cart Wheels
  • Seed-Starting Bookshelf
  • Yard Sale Seed Starting
  • Seed Starting Recycled Materials
  • Soil Blocks
  • Seed-Starting Milk Jugs
  • Holiday Light Seed Starting
  • Seed Starter Shelving Unit

Growing your own seedlings indoors can save you big bucks, as well as open up a whole new world of crop variety options. When you start seeds at home, you aren’t limited to the, well, “garden variety” plants available at most garden centers. You can order seeds of anything you desire to try — such as disease-resistant, organically bred, regionally adapted or rare heirloom varieties — from the many mail-order seed companies across the United States, and then sprout them yourself.

The range of setups you can use to start your seeds is nearly as diverse as the plants you can grow. We reached out to our readers to find out what seed-starting setups work well for them, and this is a roundup of their ideas. As you get set up at home, keep in mind that using lights will usually work better than placing plants on windowsills, and certain lights are superior for this purpose. We recommend standard fluorescent T8 bulbs because two of them together produce about 3,000 lumens. Even though the glow looks bright to human eyes, 3,000 lumens is only a small fraction of the light a seedling would receive outdoors. Keeping your seedlings within only a couple of inches of these bright lights will make them sturdier and healthier.

Not all the advice here precisely follows the “best practices” for seed starting, but together the tips comprise practical ideas that have worked for resourceful gardeners. For more guidance, check out Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors.


1. Multilevel Seed-Starting Cart on Wheels

I built my grow-light stand last year using ash wood from my backyard that I cut on my bandsaw mill. The stand has two levels, and it’s equipped with shop lights and bulbs I purchased at Home Depot. The bulbs are Phillips ALTO T8s, which put out about 2,750 lumens. I’m able to adjust the fixture height to keep the bulbs within a couple of inches of the plants for best results. This stand easily disassembles for storage, and I can also move it around because I built it on wheels. It works so well that I use it to grow lettuce indoors when I’m not starting seedlings. — Edward Hollmen 

2. Multipurpose Grow-Light Bookcase

I start my seeds on a multipurpose unit that functions as a seed-starting stand and bookcase. The grow lights are a permanent fixture of the stand, affixed to the underside of each shelf. When I’m starting seeds, I stack a few books underneath the seed-starting trays to keep them close to the lights, and then adjust the height of the book stacks as the seedlings grow. To build such a unit, first purchase light fixtures, and then compile a lumber list based on the length of your lights and how many shelves high you want your bookcase to be. Find full plans for this structure online. — Cheryl Long

3.Growing Seedlings with Yard Sale Finds

My seed-starting setup resides on top of a bookcase in my den, and it never fails to produce a full complement of seedlings. Except for some cups and compost, I scored all the components at a yard sale. The cost? Amazingly cheap:

12/14/2020 4:36:40 AM

These folks either have the best behaved cats in the world, or they do not have cats in their homes. I have 9 cats that come and go as they please. I do start my own seeds, in nursery trays with peat pellets, or in peat cups with potting soil, or they go from one to the other, depends on the seed and the time of year. I have a couple of shelves that my husband built for me years ago that have shelves with florescent shop lights in the basement. For heat I use a heating coil, or wire, not sure what they are called. I won a gift certificate for a greenhouse supply place and these cables can be buried in the soil, and I have several that are. Anyway, the 8 foot ones are held under the shelves, which are made of hardware cloth, with extra chain that we got for the shop lights. They have a temp control. The entire deal is wrapped in chicken wire and the 3 doors have hook latches on top and bottom on both sets. They are 8 feet long and 7 feet tall with 4 shelves in each. I have plants going in them almost all year. Right now I am cleaning them out and am only using one set of shelves in one of the cases. I use milk jugs as caps over young plants in the spring so that they don't get killed by a surprise temp drop.....Ohio weather.....we can have all 4 seasons in one day here.

12/12/2015 11:16:22 PM

How-To video for one similar to #12 and more recycled seed starting trays like #3 Hope you like them!



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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