Best Seed Starting Setup: Simple DIY Guide Makes it Easy!

INSIDE: A DIY indoor seed starting setup doesn’t have to be hard to make. Here’s the secret to growing healthy seedlings when you start seeds indoors…


Every year I get the same questions from gardeners who want to start plants from seed –

  • What are the best containers for starting seeds indoors?
  • What’s the best soil to use?
  • What are the best grow lights?

And I’m not surprised…

If you’ve never started seeds indoors before or had trouble in the past, choosing the best supplies and seedling equipment can feel intimidating.

To answer those questions (and more), I’ve created a list of my favorite seed starting essentials that’ll help you get your seedlings off to a good start this year.

I’ve tried a lot of different containers, seed starting mixes, and setups over the years.

And these are my tried-and-true seed starting helpers.

The ones I rely on every season to grow hearty, vigorous seedlings.

To get started, choose your own seed-starting adventure:

  1. Need to know #allthethings?
    Start at the beginning and find out what you need to set yourself up for seed-starting success this season.
  2. Already have a great grow light stand, and just need to find the best seed starting tools and supplies?
    Click here to see my picks for the best seed-starting mix, containers, fertilizer, and more!

Quick tip: Hit the easy button and download my free grow light plans and supply list. It’s the exact setup I use to grow healthy seedlings every year!

Heads up: If you buy something after clicking a link in this post, I’ll earn a small commission. I only link to products I’d recommend to my best friend.

seed starting equipment and supplies on a table
Creating a DIY seed starting station is easy!

1. Indoor seed starting setup DIY

How to create the perfect seed-starting setup in 5 steps

  1. Decide where to put your seedling rack.
    • When you start seeds indoors, things can get messy. Pick a location where you won’t mind getting a bit of potting soil on the floor.
    • You can even start your seeds in your basement—that’s what I do!
  2. Set up your seed-starting shelves.
  3. Make sure you have enough seed-starting trays and containers.
  4. Stock up on seed-starting mix and seeds.
  5. Gather your seed-starting tools. And get ready to get growing!

Related: The best free seed catalogs.

2. Why you need an indoor seed starting rack

Starting plants from seed is a great way to get ahead of the growing season and give your garden a head start.

It can be tricky though—germinating seeds requires specific temperatures, light, ventilation, and humidity levels that are hard to create without help.

That’s where an indoor seed starting rack comes in—it’s designed specifically to give your little sprouts an ideal place to begin their journey!

Already have a seed starting rack set up? Jump to the next section about seed starting supplies. I cover all the must-have equipment for starting seeds indoors.

I have a thorough tutorial about creating an adjustable grow light stand, but here are the highlights.

1. Set up your seed-starting shelves

Want your indoor seed starting setup to last a long time?

Invest in sturdy shelving.

That’s why I recommend these shelves from Seville Classics.

They’re 4 feet long and available in 18″ and 24″ depths.

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

These shelves are perfect for anyone with limited space to start seeds. And if you live in an apartment or rental, they’re easy to take with you!

Why I love this shelving:

  • it’s super sturdy (can hold up to 600 lbs. per shelf)
  • easy to set up
  • can be wheeled around
  • easy to disassemble

Could you use a FREE set of plans so you can set up your seed starting rack in an afternoon? Click here to download them now.

2. Use the best seed-starting lights

Grow lights are an essential part of any successful seed starting setup.

Without them, you’ll end up with leggy, stretched seedlings.

And if you don’t have a lot of space for seed starting shelves, you’ll want to use fluorescent lights.

Why?

  • Because you can fit twice as many plants on one rack when you use fluorescent lights instead of LEDs.
  • LED lights need a lot of headroom – they must be placed 12-24 inches from the tops of your plants. And when you factor in the space you need for light hangers and the height of your plants, you can only have 1-2 grow shelves per seed starting rack when you use LEDs.
  • Fluorescents don’t need nearly that much space – they should be 1-2 inches from your seedlings, so you can have more shelves devoted to growing seedlings.

Here are the indoor grow lights I use and recommend:

Best grow lights: 4-bulb lights (for the 1.5′ x 4′ shelves)

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

Best grow lights: 6-bulb lights (for the 2′ x 4′ shelves)

Hydrofarm Agrobrite FLT46 T5 System, 4 Feet, 6 Tube Fluorescent Grow Light, 1 Count (Pack of 1), White
  • Dual On/Off switches allow you to control the amount of lumens as needed
  • Includes 120V 10ft grounded power cord
Hydrofarm Agrobrite Flp46, 4' Fixture with Lamps, 1 Count (Pack of 1), Black
  • 2 3/8”H x 18.5"W x 46.25"L
  • Includes 10' grounded power cord

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

Why I love these lights:

  • They don’t get hot enough to burn your plants.
  • They’re daisy-chainable, so you can run multiple lights off of one timer.
  • You can hang them close to your plants, so you don’t need as much headroom for the lights as you do with LED fixtures.

Related: Build your own DIY grow shelf.

3. Use sturdy hanging hardware for your lights

I spent years fussing with chains and hooks.

But eventually got tired of all the hassle.

Imagine how excited I was to find these hangers!

Growsun 2 Pair of 1/8 inch Adjustable Grow Light Hangers Rope Hanger Ratchet for Growing Tent
  • Rope Material - Braided Polypropylen. Hook Material - Zinc Plated Steel
  • Rope Length -8 Feet. 4 easy-to-use carabiner clips

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

4. Attach mylar to your wall (optional)

Horticultural mylar reflects light back where you need it – onto your plants.

Do you need to use mylar to grow healthy seedlings?

  • Not necessarily, but if your seed starting unit is next to a wall, the mylar will help bounce light back onto the plants.
  • As a bonus, it’ll keep your wall cleaner by protecting it from dirty water splashes.
Mylar Reflective Material, 4 Feet x 25 Feet, 2 Mil
  • 2 Mil Thick (Heavy Duty not 1mil like many on Amazon)
  • 48

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

5. Set up fans for your seedlings

An oscillating fan (or two) is a must-have for any successful seed starting setup!

Even a small fan for your seedlings is better than nothing.

Why?

A fan will:

  • Provide the wind resistance your plants need to grow strong and sturdy — it’s like a stair master for your seedlings.
  • Help you prevent damping-off – one of the most common (and preventable) seed-starting problems.

Damping-off can quickly wipe out an entire crop of seedlings.

But running a fan on your seedlings will go a long way toward preventing it because it keeps the surface of your growing medium dry. – Damping-off thrives on the surface of warm, moist soil.

So, give those seedlings a wind workout!

You won’t be disappointed.

The type of fan you choose depends on your specific setup.

10000mAh Battery Operated Clip On Fan with Hanging Hook, Super Strong Airflow, 4 Speeds, Sturdy Clamp, Timer, for Desktop Tent Treadmill Golf Cart Hurricane Camping
  • The BEST INVEST AGAINST HOT SUMMER: The new and upgraded personal fan deliveries powerful airflow to make...
  • STRONG CLAMP & HOOK FOR WIDE APPLICATION: What makes this fan unique is the base that doubles as a clip...
Sale
Comfort Zone 6" Electric Portable, Quiet, Indoor 2-Speed Desk Fan with Clip and Fully Adjustable Tilt, Ideal for Home, Bedroom, Dorm & Office, CZ6C
  • 🌬️VERSATILE AIR CIRCULATION: Tailor the airflow to your preference with this fan's two-speed...
  • 🌬️360-DEGREE ROTATION: Experience versatile cooling with the 2-speed desk fan that offers a...
Lasko Cyclone Pedestal Fan, Adjustable Height, Remote Control, Timer, 3 Speeds, for Bedroom, Kitchen, Office and Living Room, 18", White, 1885, Large
  • ✅【ADJUSTABLE SPEEDS SETTINGS】This Lasko white pedestal fan features 3 speed settings that allow you...
  • ✅【CUSTOMIZED COMFORT 】The fan's height can be adjusted from 41" to 53.5", making it perfect for any...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:59

Pro tip: If you choose to use a small fan, get one for each shelf that has seedlings on it.

6. Use a heat mat to speed germination (optional)

Why use a heat mat?

  • Have you struggled to get your seeds to germinate?
  • And you’re sure it’s not because your seeds are too old?
  • Then a heat mat may help.

A heat mat can help speed up the germination rate of many seeds.

Just be sure to turn it off once your seeds sprout. Leaving it on after germination can encourage leggy growth.

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

Free download: Seed viability chart pdf

7. Control everything with heavy-duty timers

Once you get your shelves assembled and your lights and fan(s) set up, you’ll need to plug those into a timer.

  • I suggest using two heavy-duty timers, one for your lights and one for your fans.
  • Using a timer is the only way to ensure your plants get the same amount of light every day.
Sale
BN-LINK 7 Day Heavy Duty Digital Programmable Timer, FD60 U6, 115V, 60Hz, Dual Outlet, Indoor, for Lamp Light Fan Security UL Listed
  • ✓ VERSATILE & CUSTOMIZABLE: Easily set up to 8 on/off programs for the timer’s two grounded outlets....
  • ✓ JUST SET & GO: Choose your own individual days or simply select one of the convenient pre-set...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

Don’t add “forgot to turn the lights on” to the list of reasons why your seedlings fail.

8. Plug everything into a surge suppressor

Use a quality surge suppressor  to protect the investment you’ve made in your grow light setup.

Sale
Tripp Lite 8 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip, 8ft Cord Right Angle Plug, LIFETIME INSURANCE & $75K INSURANCE (TLP808) light gray
  • Protect Any Electronic Device From Power Surges & Spikes:Surge Protector with eight outlets and protects...
  • PREMIUM SURGE PROTECTION WITH LONG POWER CORD: This surge suppressor provides eight total NEMA 5-15R...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-18 at 15:40

3. The best seed starting equipment and indoor seed starting supplies

Where to shop for the best seeds

Here are my top three handpicked seed catalogs. I keep coming back to them year after year…

  • Botanical Interests– You’re in for a treat when you tear open your order from Botanical Interests! Their gorgeous seed packets are tiny works of art that’ll make you long for summer. But they don’t just have a pretty face … they’re chock-full of growing tips too!
  • High Mowing Organic Seeds– One of the few seed companies to sell 100% organically grown seed. They’ve been 100% organic from the start and offer over 700 varieties of organic vegetable, flower, fruit, and herb seeds.
  • Renee’s Garden Seeds– A garden-to-table seed company run by gardeners for gardeners. Renee’s mission is to make sure you can purchase seeds that’ll perform well in your garden, no matter where you live.

Seed starting trays

Don’t you hate it when cheap seed starting trays crack and spring a leak?

And when you’re growing indoors, you can’t afford to have leaky trays ruin your floor.

Do yourself a favor, and invest in some heavy-duty seed starting trays. IMO, these are the best seed starting trays.

They’ll last for years.

And they’ll never sag under the weight of your containers!

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Pro tip: Skip the humidity domes altogether or only buy a few. You don’t need one for every tray.

You can fit four of these trays per shelf on this seed growing rack.

Seed starting pots

If you use or purchase 10 x 20-inch trays, make sure you also get pots that fit them.

My advice?

  • Skip the cell trays and jiffy pellets.
  • They’re too small.
  • So you’ll end up spending a bunch of time potting up seedlings into larger containers.

Instead, invest in containers that hold enough seed starting mix to grow a healthy root system.

And avoid the need to pot up most of your seedlings.

The best pots for seedlings are 2.5-inch pots. These work well for the vast majority of seedlings.

But if you’re going to start tomatoes, you’ll need to pot them up to bigger 4.5-inch pots a few weeks after they sprout.

The best 2.5-inch pots

32 fit in one 10 x 20 tray

2.5" Square Extra Deep Landmark Nursery Pots - Press Fit (100)
  • 2.63'' square at top; 3.5" deep
  • Volume: 0.59 pint; 17.09 cu. inches

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

The best 3.5-inch pots

18 fit in one 10 x 20 tray

Square Greenhouse Pots 3.5 inch x 5 inch- Black - Plastic - Deep - Qty 100 by Growers Solution
  • You are purchasing 100 black 3.5 inch square greenhouse pots. In stock ready to ship!
  • Great black plastic, vacuum form pots. These pots measure 3.5" across the top, 2.5" across the bottom and...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

My favorite seed starting mix

The best seed-starting mix is one that holds enough water yet drains well.

For the best results, use a fine mix that has small particles.

Seedling roots won’t have to struggle to get around large clumps, bark chips, or twigs.

What I love about Sungro's Black Gold Seedling Mix:

  • It’s double-screened. It has fine particles, so I don’t have to sift it to get large chunks and twigs out.
  • It’s made in the U.S.
  • It has an organic wetting agent in it, so it’s easy to wet even when it’s bone dry.

Where to buy seed starting mix:

Black Gold Organic Container Mix 16
  • You will receive (4) 16-Quart bags
  • Ideal for root growth in newly germinated seedlings

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Plant labels

Don’t forget to pick up some plant labels, or you won’t know which variety of heirloom tomato is which…

You don’t want to get your Brandywines mixed up with your Malakatovoya Shktulka!

Why I love these plant labels

  • They’re durable and will last several seasons.
  • They’re easy to write on.
  • They’re wide enough to accommodate Brother label maker labels.
Luster Leaf 840 100061593 Garden Plant Labels, Natural
  • 6” White Plant Labels, 50pk
  • Bright white color, write on with any marker

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

When I’m not printing labels for my plant markers with my accommodate Brother label maker, I use this pencil to write on them.

  • Pencil marks are essentially indelible and don’t fade in the sun as sharpies do.
  • To reuse your labels, just erase your writing at the end of the season.
  • But don’t use just any old pencil – #2HB pencils (extra soft) are the better choice.
Sale
General Pencil Company Cedar Pointe No. 2 Pencil (ANG333-2)], 12-pack
  • Box of 12 HB number 2 Pencils
  • Maintain their point for less frequent sharpening.

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Fertilizer for seed starting

The best seedling fertilizer will have an NPK ratio of 3-1-2 (or something very close).

It’s the same ratio used by professional growers.

Here are my top picks for the best seedling fertilizer:

Miracle Gro Plant Food (24-8-16)

Sale
Miracle-Gro Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food, Fertilizer for Indoor or Outdoor Flowers, Vegetables or Trees, 3 lbs.
  • Full of essential nutrients, it instantly feeds to grow bigger, more beautiful plants versus unfed plants
  • Feed every 1-2 weeks

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

The best organic seedling fertilizer: Age Old Organics, Age Old Grow (12-6-6)

Believe it or not, it doesn’t have a fishy odor!

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

No matter which fertilizer you use, be sure to fertilize your seedlings at half strength!

Download my FREE grow light plans and supply list as a bonus for joining my newsletter.

3. Must-have seed-starting tools

Now that you have your seed starting supplies ready, the last step is to gather your seed starting tools. Here’s what I recommend you use.

Potting tray

I’d have a much messier house during seed starting season if I didn’t have one of these!

  • This tray makes it easy to fill your containers without leaving a trail of potting soil behind.
  • Unless you have a dedicated spot where you can get messy, you’ll want one of these.

Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Sale
Tierra Garden Tidy Tray, Durable One Piece Potting Tray for Mixing, Growing and Potting, 24.5 ”x22”x8” (Green)
  • VERSATILE GARDEN TRAY – Great for potting, mixing, growing and more, this tray brings garden work into...
  • EASY TO USE – Perfect for private and commercial gardeners, this garden tray is an essential gardening...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

BONUS: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, download a free set of plans and get your grow light assembled in an afternoon. You’ll be sure to grow healthy seedlings this year and every year!

Soil scoop

Anything you can do to make seed starting easier on yourself will make the whole process more enjoyable.

And having the right size soil scoop (or trowel) makes filling your pots so much easier!

Fiskars Nursery Tools Hand Trowel
  • Flower trowel (total length: 29 cm) for easy planting and transplanting in flower beds, boxes, tubs and...
  • Sturdy and comfortable handle made of glass fibre reinforced material with hanging loop for easy storage...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Seedling widger

This unassuming-looking tool is unbelievably helpful when it comes to seed starting.

If you prick out or pot up your seedlings, you’ll want to have one of these.

Its slim profile makes it the perfect tool for repotting seedlings!

Secret Garden Burgon and Ball Stainless Steel Widger/Transplanter
  • Hardened and tempered stainless Steel head for optimum strength and rust resistance
  • FSC hardwoord handle for long lasting comfort

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Pastry tamper

Did you know you need to gently tamp down your seed-starting mix to get the air pockets out as you fill your pots?

And silly as it may seem, a pastry tamper like this one is the perfect tool for the job.

It can even tamp down soil in smaller cell-type trays.

Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Dual-Sided Pastry Dough Tart Tamper, Hardwood, 6-Inches
  • Mrs. Anderson’s Dual-Sided Tart Tamper for forming professional-looking tarts, mini pies, mini quiche...
  • Made from hardwood; fits large and small baking pans (larger end measures 1.75-inches, smaller end...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Bottlebrush

Do you clean and sterilize your containers each season?

A gentle bottle brush is a must-have to prevent damaging your containers.

This is the one I use.

OXO SteeL Bottle Brush,Black,10 In
  • Long, durable neck flexes for easy reach inside bottles, pitchers and carafes
  • Stiff blue bristles give hard-to-reach corners a serious scrub, while white bristles are ---gentle enough...

Prices last updated on 2024-02-19 at 07:22

Seed starting journal

Track your progress with a garden journal.

  • Keeping a seed starting journal not only creates a record of what happened, what worked, and what didn’t, but it also helps you focus on the day-to-day details.
  • Since we’re looking at our seedlings every day (and sometimes multiple times per day), it can be easy to lose track of milestones.
  • Taking the time to jot down a few notes each day or two will help you focus on how things are progressing.

Get started with this printable garden journal.

Related: Is it worth growing plants from seed?

Frequently asked questions about creating an indoor seed starting setup

How tall should seed-starting shelves be?

Your seed-starting shelves should be tall enough to accommodate the height of your lights, your light hangers, and your seedlings. A six-foot-tall shelf unit works best in most situations.

Is a garage warm enough to start seeds?

Seedlings grow best in rooms that are between 65 and 70°F. So, it depends. It may be warm enough to start seedlings if your garage is climate-controlled. If it’s not, you can use a space heater or heat mats to keep the temperature up while you’re starting seeds and then turn it off when you’re done.

Do you need a grow light to start seeds indoors?

Absolutely! To grow vigorous, healthy seedlings, you need to give them a steady stream of strong light. The only way to provide that is with seed starting grow lights. So, the best way to avoid leggy seedlings is with grow lights.

Download a free set of seed growing rack plans

Make sure you have everything you need to set up your seed starting shelves so you can grow healthy seedlings this year and every year!

Click to download a free set of printable grow light stand plans.

Here’s a sneak peek of your plans:

seed starting rack plans

Here’s how to make it easy to grow healthy seedlings every year: download my FREE grow light plans.

Final thoughts about your seed starting setup

By getting the right seed starting supplies and equipment, you can stop wondering “what do I need for seed starting?” and start planting.

Keep in mind that certain items such as seed starting mix, durable trays and pots, fertilizer, and even fans are essential to creating a successful indoor seed starting setup.

And don’t be discouraged if your first try doesn’t come off exactly as planned—with practice you’ll be an expert seed starter in no time!

Have you grown seedlings inside under lights? How did it go?

Do you have any questions about creating a seed-starting setup?

Leave a comment below!

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