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Seed Starting 101: Containers

May 12th, 2010

Containers are a very important part of the seed starting system. There are all different kinds of containers, you can use specially made pots or recycled items from around the house. You can use anything from: plastic, terracotta, pressed peat, newspaper pots, toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, egg shells, and so much more. I’ve used just about every single option in my seed starting career, and continue to try new methods each year.

A long long time ago when I first decided to start some seeds I attempted to make newspaper pots and used some toilet paper tubes as well. They are cheap, but with the amount of seeds I start I just don’t have time to make the hundreds of pots I need. There are many people that use them for everything and love them, but they’re not for me. The next year I bought one of those Jiffy Mini Greenhouse that came with those little Jiffy Peat Pellets. I do like the little peat pellets, they’re very nice, quick and easy, but they can be pricey! Especially if you’re starting 500 seeds or more each spring.

photo courtesy of Joey’s Planting from Flickr
After that I used some flats with small cells that my mom gave me and I bought a few more at the local greenhouse. They cost between .99-$1.50 for each piece and can be used for several years. This is the method I still use and love. I like that you have the option of different cell sizes. I prefer to the smallest ones because they maximize the space under my grow lights, which is limited during the seed starting season.

This past year I bought some Peat Pot Strips from Johnny’s. I have to admit, I am not very fond of them. I find they dry out much quicker when my seedlings are outside and I often have to water several times a day. I also don’t think that my seedlings do as well in them as they do in plastic pots. I’ll save my remaining peat pots for things like beans and peas that don’t like to have their roots disturbed, but I’ll be back to using plastic pots after this.

There are a lot of gardeners that love to use soil blocks for seed starting. You can buy different sizes, the smallest fitting into the next larger one, and on up (here’s the soil blocker page at Johnny’s that shows all the sizes & extras). I have a medium soil block maker, but I have yet to master the soil mix for them. I also need to invest in some strong trays, soil blocks are heavier than plastic pots so the black plastic trays aren’t really strong enough to support the weight (at least with the soil mix I’ve used).

I really love using terracotta, since it’s reusable and my plants seem to thrive in it. But they’re expensive to get enough, especially for the amount of plants I have. I do use them for some of my seed starting, especially for things that I want to keep in pots or grow inside as a houseplant.

Of course you can also direct seed in the garden, then you don’t even have to worry about containers. I try to do this as much as possible since plants, like gardeners, prefer to be in real soil and under the sun, instead of indoors in a plastic pot under lights.

However, if you’re a northern gardener you’ll have to start things indoors if you want to eat a ripe tomato before the first frost. Also, some seeds are just easier to start indoors (like onions and seeds that take a long time to germinate). I like to start heat loving plants, like tomatoes, peppers and squash family plants indoors. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, peas and other cool season crops do much better when started directly in the the garden.

I’ll continue to try new container options just because I like to try new things and it gives me some great fodder for my blog. For the majority of my seed starting I’ll continue using regular plastic trays because I have a bunch of them, they’re inexpensive, they can be used for a few years, and they’re convenient. I’ll keep posting here about anything new and fantastic I find.

What’s your preferred container for seed starting?

The rest of the Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
Getting Started
Soil Mix
The Needs of Seeds
My Workflow
Diseases and Problems
Hardening Off
Learn More Each Season

Visit my Amazon store to see what seed starting supplies I like.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.