When thinking about seed starting one of the first questions that come to mind is, "What am I going to start my seeds in?" We'll talk about other seed-starting supplies in a later post but for now, I want to walk you through my experience with the various types of seed-starting pot options that are out there, give you the pros and cons, and explain what lead me to which seed- starting pots I use now. This isn't an exhaustive list of seed-starting pot choices but I feel I've been through enough to shed some light on the subject.
When I got into seed starting in 2015 my first knee-jerk thought was "I have to be eco-friendly and thrifty". I didn't have a lot of money at the time (not even enough for grow lights but that's another story) so what I did was I started saving up my toilet paper rolls. I asked friends to save some for me too. I made a makeshift tray out of a cardboard soup can tray covered with parchment paper stapled all over (you know, waterproof and all). While my initial thought to be eco-friendly and thrifty was and still is, relevant, I didn't realize the difficulty that I would have with my diy pot idea. Before the seedlings even began to sprout, the paper pots got so water-logged that they fell apart. I didn't get far enough into my seed starting venture after that. I kind of called it quits and didn't grow anything to fruition that year. I didn't give up for good though. The next season came around and just like everyone else, I got that seed-starting bug. This time, I knew I did not want to "DIY" my pots. I also did not have any interest in using eggshells as pots. I figured using egg cartons would log water just the way the toilet paper rolls had.
I set out to google and it landed me right at Jiffy. You know, the brand that makes those expandable soil disks in the mesh wrap? So, I bought some of those. I expanded them and put them in shallow, under-the-bed Rubbermaid containers with clear lids. I could not afford a greenhouse or grow lights, so I put the containers outside on my back patio. I had my husband drill holes in the top for ventilation. Looking back, I was "winter sowing" and I didn't know this was a whole different thing. This did work; however, I have a problem with OCD and the setup just wasn't right for my style. I also noticed that when the plants grew, the roots entangled with the surrounding plants. Once the plants got bigger, they would fall over if not balanced in army rows next to one another. When I look back at this, I realized that my setup was more of a problem and not so much the expandable disks themselves. Most of the plants survived to maturity and I ended up planting those that survived. Expandable disks are better than DIY in my opinion, but you need something to put them into.
SELF-WATERING CELL TRAYS WITH DOME LIDS:
My next "upgrade" was to Jiffy dome lid trays. I used several 10- cell windowsill trays and a self-watering 36- cell tray. This year I was finally able to afford one grow light. I also found a friend that had commercial soda display shelving and I made a makeshift portable greenhouse that I manually wheeled in and out of my back door! (YIPPY..lol) I kept using the expandable disks. These trays are great, but seedlings will eventually need to be repotted into larger pots. Most of my babies didn't make it because I didn't have enough space for them indoors or out in the "greenhouse" before the cold months were over. The self-watering multi-cell dome trays are good, but they take up a lot of space. Not to mention that they are flimsy so unless you are careful, you cannot reuse them for more than a few seasons. I want to add that I got thrifty and bought black felt mats to cut and put in the smaller trays in order to make them also self-watering.
By the time my seedlings grew, I had to transplant them. I decided that the best idea was to get biodegradable pots. I bought some peat pots and some coconut coir pots. Both work well. The biggest drawback that I had was that I had to transplant the plants in the first place having used the expandable disks, which are very small. Some plants don't like too much root disturbance. But either way, transplanting babies is not something that I have time for in spring because outside of raising my own garden, I have several clients' gardens to start tending. I made the rookie mistake of planting WAY
too much and by the time they grew, I more than doubled past the space that I had. I ended up using this method two years in a row and even when I eventually got a "real" greenhouse and more grow lights, I still ran out of room very quickly, both years.
MY FINAL CHOICES:
Fast-forwarding to 2022, I decided to overhaul my entire setup. I took an account of all of the seed starting pots that I've tried as well as kept my initial thought of using eco-friendly and thrifty choices. I did away with self-watering trays altogether. While they work well, they take up entirely too much space when you want to plant all the things. I decided to invest in hard plastic water catch trays. When I say hard plastic, I mean, they do not bend. They are quality trays from an indoor gardening supply company. I also did away with expandable soil disks. They work well but do not seem to hold plants all the way until time to plant them outside. Shopping for plastic pots was a big feat. If I'm going to use plastic and stay eco-friendly then I'm going to have to get high high-quality pots that will last several seasons. Something that can also be recycled in the long term. I needed to find a size that would be small enough to start seedlings but also large enough to last until planting day. I'm still thrifty but in a different way. Instead of thinking in terms of the initial cost of my pots and trays, I'm saving money by not expanding past the greenhouse and lights that I currently have. I have to choose my varieties and plan my count wisely. I'm looking for a seed starting setup that's more of a one-and-done situation. That being said, I had to think in terms of the longevity and reuse of pots and trays rather than biodegradability. In doing this, I'm going to need to weigh my options and timing. I have a lot more time in January (or at the end of the season) to wash pots and trays than I do time in May to transplant babies.
In conclusion, I chose High-quality trays that fit 32, high-quality 2" rounded square pots in each tray. I can fit a whopping 128 starts in total under 6 grow lights. That is more than enough plants for both our home garden as well as for selling. I don't need to transplant anything, and I can reuse these trays and pots for a long time before they need to be replaced/ recycled.
Feel free to contact me if you want more information on the pots and trays I chose. I hope that my seed-starting pot journey has inspired you and that I have shown you that it does NOT take a lot of money or even know-how to get some seeds started. It took me 8 years to find what works for me. Take your time and experiment with different pot and tray styles until you find what works for you too.
Written By: Irisa Green, Owner, and Gardener at Sunstone Garden LLC