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.

Lights and grow lamps

If you want to buy: Grow-specific lights are available at most hardware stores, from single bulbs to sets. “I have a series of recycled florescent tube fixtures that hang over the propagation table. I can raise and lower these,” says Heather Connors-Dunphy, vice president of the Atlantic Master Gardeners Association and a director on the board for the Fredericton Botanic Garden. “I usually have these on a timer to produce 16 hours of light in a 24-hour period.” Connors-Dunphy also advises gardeners to be particularly careful when making DIY tables and setting up a seed-starting table. “Water and electricity are not good friends!”

If you want to DIY: The sun shines everywhere! A good sunny spot at home is often all your little plants-to-be need, although many home gardeners like fluorescent lights because they can control them. “There is no need to spend good money on specialized grow lamps—just buy one each of fluorescent yellow- and blue-toned lights and you get the same full spectrum light,” says Last. Using bulbs instead of the sun also means you don’t have to worry about rotating your seed trays every couple of days.


If you want to buy: Helen Gordon from the Kitchener Master Gardeners says she purchased a seed-starting kit made from Styrofoam, including a water well and wick mat for watering plus a clear plastic dome, over 10 years ago. “I find that starting seeds in small cells is the best way to go and this gives you that all in one set,” she says. Once properly cleaned, a set can be stored away for use year after year.

If you want to DIY: All our home gardeners agree: You have all the containers you need at your disposal without buying anything new. “The only criteria is that they're clean, have good drainage and can hold at least two to three inches of starting mix. I've used everything from yogurt tubs (with drilled holes), plastic salad containers, toilet paper rolls, rolled newspaper and recycled seed trays from a greenhouse,” says Stewart.

Avoid egg cartons, though, says Gordon. They become wet and soggy. Instead, when she heads to the DIY route (in addition to her purchased set), Gordon leans towards homemade newspaper pots. “There is some advantage to using newsprint as it contains sulphur and so discourages fungal infections.”

“Plastic clamshell containers that have a black bottom and clear plastic top make great little mini-greenhouses for retaining heat and humidity when you're starting delicate seeds,” says Last who keeps all of her small containers and pots in one large tray so she can water from the bottom, so as not to dislodge seeds. Then, she carries everything outside at once when it’s time to harden off her seedlings.

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