What You Need to Start Your Seeds

I have these dreams and aspirations of a beautiful large garden. Growing and preserving food to store up for the year ahead. Gathering flowers to create a beautiful bouquet from my garden. When I start something I want to do it right. This year I decided we would start our seeds while tackling our first year in the garden. Here is an overview of what I have learned you need to have to start your seeds at home.

Essentials for Starting Your Own Seeds

Starting your seeds to be able to transplant seedlings into your garden always comes recommended by many gardeners. Seeds are quite inexpensive and can be more cost effective to start your plants from seeds yourself rather than buying them. A lot of the choices I made were influenced by this fabulous podcast episode hosted by Jill Winger of Old Fashioned on Purpose with her guest Shawn McLoughlin of All About the Garden, more on him later.

Grow Light

Plants need light, especially seedlings. A full-spectrum LED light is recommended for starting your seeds indoors. You want the grow light to be 4 to 6 inches above the plant. We don’t want our seedlings to have to travel far to find light. If the light is too far away from your plants you will end up with leggy and spindly seedlings. Rather, we want to develop strong and stalky plants. Using a grow light at the appropriate distance is the best way to start your seeds and ensure your seedlings are getting enough light to grow strong.

A seed tray under a grow light.

I purchased two of these lights. I was debating between another light but decided on this one. This is a starter grow light. It had good reviews and a friend of mine has had success with it. When I am ready to upgrade in future years, I would like to get these 4ft long 80W Full Spectrum LED Grow lights by Sunco Lighting. This was the recommendation by Shawn McLoughlin in the podcast episode I mentioned earlier.

Heating Mat

Another essential, must-have item on Shawn’s list was heating mats. This is important because, for seeds to germinate, the ideal temperature is between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The heating mat will help the germination rate to be higher. Not only will it help the germination rates to be higher, but it will create a faster germinating seed. A heating mat offers consistency and a more controlled environment for the plant. This helps in establishing a strong seedling.

Heating mat for growing seeds.

 Seed Starting Module Trays

 Seed-starting module trays also commonly called cell trays are the small modules you can start your seeds in. You want a sturdy cell tray that won’t crack out in the sun and will keep its’ integrity of shape. Shawn’s business, All About the Garden, helps solve this pain point for many gardeners. They have developed a collection of durable and long-lasting seed-starting module trays.

Seed cell tray.

I was debating if it was worth the investment, but I figured that I could either waste $20 on flimsy cell trays that I would need to replace in 2 to 3 years or I could spend that money to buy a product that would last for the next 15 years. I was also compelled to purchase these module trays from All About the Garden becuase it will provide a consistent environment for my seeds and allow a repeatable process for years to come. I’m all about preparing a good environment for things I love, so that’s why these seed trays seemed like the best fit this year!

Seed Starting Mix

Seed starting mix? Potting soil? Compost? What should you use to start your seeds? I have gauged that any of those planting mediums would work, but if you are hoping for a repeatable and consistent outcome with your seeds, starting with a simple seed starting mix would be recommended. Getting an organic seed starting mix like this one will offer a consistent and repeatable process. For better pricing, purchase from your garden center at your local hardware store. For more details on Shawn’s recommendations about seed starting mix, listen to this podcast episode.

Bag of seed starting mix.

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You can buy seeds just about anywhere. I was ordering my seeds this year from Johnny’s Seeds. I was intrigued to hear that the best seeds are going to be non-GMO heirloom seeds. Some online stores that sell these varieties are Gary Ibsen’s Tomatofest, Baker Creek Seeds, and Survival Garden Seeds.

As I build up my collection of seeds over the next few years, I would love to invest in high-quality seeds so we end up with high-quality fruits and vegetables.

Seeds scattered with four seed packets.

Plant Labels

Labeling your plants is important as well. I found these plastic plant labels that I will use in my cell trays and then out in the garden as well. I learned a trick from my sister, who is a flower farmer, to write on them with a fade-resistant permanent marker. Otherwise, one day you will walk out to your garden and your signs will be blank!

A seed tray with 5 plant labels throughout.

Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors

When it comes to how to care for seedlings, I get a little nervous! Just like any good intending parent, sometimes too much of something has the opposite effect. Here are a few things I have gathered from various sources. Most of these recommendations come from that podcast episode with Jill Winger and Shawn McLoughlin. If you are serious about wanting to start your seeds, you will learn something from that conversation!


Just like Goldilocks, we want to water our seedlings not too much, not too little, but just right. How do you water seedlings just right? Use observation to know when to water your plants. You shouldn’t just water them every day unless they need it. You don’t want your block of soil to go completely dry, that is bad. However, allowing your plant to be dry to the touch at the top of the plant is a good thing. However, the same is not true for the bottom, you want there to be moisture in the soil at the bottom. The frequency of watering will depend on the size cell tray you have and the maturity of the seedling.

Bottom watering is a recommended method for watering your seedlings. This is when you place water in a bottom watering tray, or like I will be doing this year, just a cookie sheet. You add water to the tray and let your seed-starting module tray sit in the water to absorb all that liquid. Allow your plants to soak up all that water in about 20 to 30 minutes. Then you want to dump off any extra water because you don’t want the plant roots to be constantly in water or they can rot.

A seed cell tray with a watering can and dirt sprinkled on the surface.

Hardening Off

Hardening off is the term for gradually exposing your plants to more and more of the elements. For example, if it is 70 degrees in your home where your seedlings have been happily growing, but you will be transplanting them into the garden when the temperatures are 50 or even 60 degrees, that could shock the plant. You want to slowly harden them off over a few days. Allow them some time outside each day and gradually increase, even overnight, as long as there is no risk of frost.


Over time, if using a seed starting mix, which is recommended, the nutrients in the soil will dwindle. You can add a liquid fertilizer. This particular one was recommended by Shawn and is specific to stimulating root growth, which is exactly what you want to establish while growing seedlings.

Planning Your Seed Starting

There are so many things to think through when it comes to starting your seeds. Last frost dates, days to maturity, succession planting, and plant spacing. All of these details need their own space on the blog. Check out this blog post for how I planned out my garden and calendar for starting seeds.

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