How to - Seeds

Buy vs. DIY: Starting seeds

Gardening experts weigh in on whether you should spend the money on seed-starting products and kits, or make your own.

Annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs. Whatever you fancy, it can be grown from seed. However, some plants are easier than others and having the right tools can make a big difference.

We reached out to some experienced gardeners from across Canada for their top tips on the tools they use, whether store-bought or rigged up at home.

The biggest DIY investment you can make, according to our panel, is time. Research what you want to grow and when it needs to be planted. Determine what you need to plant when by counting back from your last frost date, then get to work.

“There's no gadget or gizmo that will replace the daily care you'll have to give your seedlings. If you don't love nurturing those tiny plants, don't do it!” says Winnipeg blogger Getty Stewart. “There'll be plenty of healthy seedlings to choose from once the season starts.”

Put your money where it matters and save where you can. Here, our experienced gardeners share what works and what doesn’t:

Heat sources for starting seeds

If you want to buy: Heat mats are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Our master gardeners and bloggers had mixed reactions on heat mats. Most had tried them, some continue to use them, but most said they could live without them. While a heat mat can expedite germination, it’s not essential for seed starting.

If you want to DIY: If you have a warm room (without any cold drafts), place your seedlings in the sunniest spot. Try to keep them at least a few centimetres from windows or doors so they’re always warm. If you have a spot in close proximity to a furnace vent, you’ll get heat and circulation in one package. This seems to work for many home gardeners. If you don’t have a vent, Ottawa-Carleton master gardener Rebecca Last says an oscillating electric fan ensures a continuous flow of air over the seedlings and so reduces the risk of damping off.


If you want to buy: Fancy grow tables might have integrated watering systems, but none of our gardeners use anything like that. They love the pleasure of watering by hand. Mary Ann Gilhuly from the Kitchener Master Gardeners says as long as seeds don’t dry out before they sprout and you keep your soil just damp, not soggy wet, then it doesn’t matter how the water gets to your soil and seeds.

If you want to DIY: Thoroughly clean a spray bottle from a household cleaning product when it has run out. “The fine spray from a spray bottle is much less likely to dislodge small, shallowly planted seeds than would be the case if you use a watering can,” says Last.

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