Growing your own seedlings can be so rewarding and economical. Here are 9 Seed Starting Container Ideas that will hold your seedlings as they grow and get ready to transplant outdoors.
This post contains affiliate links, clicking on them will not cost you anything extra, but does allow Stoney Acres to make a small commission on your purchase through the Amazon Affiliate Program.
One of the 3 basic things you need to begin seed starting is a container. The basic requirements for seed starting container ideas are that it will hold soil, it will drain well, is food safe, and it will hold together long enough for your seedlings to grow (around 6 to 8 weeks). Below is a list of 9 seed starting container ideas that I know will all work great for starting seeds. Most of these seed starting container ideas are made from recycled or re-purposed common household items.
There are a lot of well-meaning folks out there that have created lists of lots of household items that can be converted into seed starting container ideas. But I have issue with many of these “clever” ideas. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom of the article for a list of seed starting container ideas I think you SHOULD NOT be using as well.
Seed Starting Container Ideas
Potting Packs or Trays
Traditional Potting cell packs and trays are the easiest to use in my opinion. These can come for 2 different sources. First, you can buy them new from your local nursery or online. Be sure you buy packs that are at least 2.25 by 1.75 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep. Anything smaller just won’t be able to hold enough seedling soil mix and you will end up having to transplant your seedlings out into bigger containers.
Potting packs can of course also be recycled. When you buy flowers from a shop be sure to save those containers! And ask your neighbors to save them for you as well. Well cared for plastic potting packs can last 5 years or more being used 2 or 3 times a season.
Using Yogurt cups as one of your seed starting container ideas is great! Yogurt cups as seedling containers are perfect because they are usually large enough and hold enough soil that you don’t have to worry about your seedlings becoming root-bound. Just be sure you punch a few holes (at least 2) in the bottom of the yogurt cup for drainage before you fill them with your favorite seedling soil mix.
One caution here. Some of the fancier yogurt brands use a cup that is smaller at the top than they are at the bottom. Don’t use these cups. The soil and seedling are very hard to remove from these types of cups. Be sure that the containers you use are taper up from smaller at the bottom to wider at the top. This makes it easy to remove the seedlings.
Paper or Plastic Cups
The next time you have a party (or your neighbor does) do a little dumpster diving afterward and save all the disposable cups. This is a great way to re-use what would normally be more junk in the landfill! Plastic cups will usually last much longer than paper cups when you are using them to grow seedlings.
In either case be sure to cut a couple of small holes in the bottom of the cups for drainage. When you are done using the paper cups they could be composted, plastic cups that are worn out can be recycled.
Toilet Paper Tubes
The cardboard tubes left from your toilet paper rolls or paper towels can be cut into 3-inch pieces and used for starting seedlings. Place the tubes in a tray and then fill them with soil mix. Water the trays from the bottom and the water will wick up in the soil. These tubes are pretty small so be sure to only use them for seedlings that will be indoors for 4 weeks or so. Otherwise, they may get root bound.
When you move your seedlings outdoors simply peel the remaining cardboard off the soil and through the cardboard in your compost bin.
Soil blocks are a container free option for starting seedlings. The general idea is that you compress moist soil into a dense block shape and then plant seeds in the top. The blocks are created using a soil block maker. If you would like to learn more about using soil blocks read this review article I wrote about using them.
This is a fun idea that creates a temporary pot made from newspaper. You can buy a mold that creates the paper pots. Or even better learn how to make your own mold. You can see how I used newspaper pots and learn how to make them by reading this article I wrote, that also includes a video!!
Take Out Containers
Smaller take out containers like the ones you get from your favorite Chinese place are perfect for growing seedlings. Just fill them up with soil and be sure to make a few holes in the bottom for drainage.
Cardboard juice or milk containers
Cardboard juice or milk containers are a great option for seedlings. I especially like the smaller milk cartons (like the ones you used to get from school) as they are a perfect size and a bunch of them can fit together in a tray. Don’t forget drainage holes and compost or recycle them when you are finished with them.
Strawberry or other fruit clam-shell containers
I like these sturdy plastic containers for things like micro greens. Leaving the lid on them allows you to create a mini greenhouse environment. These can also be great for starting a large number of small seedlings that will later be transplanted out to their own individual containers.
Container Ideas for Seedlings I think you shouldn’t use:
I’ve seen a million articles, Facebook posts, and Pins with all these clever ideas for seedling containers. Although many of these ideas are “clever” ultimately they are not good ideas! Here are some examples.
The idea here is to use the individual cells of an egg carton for seedlings. The biggest problem with this idea is space. The individual compartments in an egg carton just can’t hold enough soil mix to really give your seedlings room for the roots to grow.
Along with the idea of an egg carton as a seedling container I’ve also seen folks use egg shells. Again the biggest problem with this idea is space. Eggs are small and just can’t hold enough soil to keep your seedlings from becoming root bound.
Citrus or Avocado Shells/Peels
I’ve seen folks carefully cutting oranges, grapefruit, and avocado in half so that the peels remain in a cup shape. Then they use them for seedling containers. I understand the desire to try and reuse these things but this idea presents several problems.
First is drainage. It would be hard to get holes cut in the peels to allow excess water to drain out. Second is the risk of pests. You may not even notice but there could be tiny insect eggs on the peels that could introduce pests to your seed starting operation. The third is mold. Have you ever seen what happens to an orange peel when it starts to decompose? Mold starts to grow. The last thing you want to do is introduce your new seedlings to the world in a bed of mold!
Ice cube trays
All I will say here is space and drainage!! Ice cube trays are just not big enough to get the job done!
Cut plastic milk cartons or soda bottles
These could have some use in seed starting if you are growing a plant that is going to need to be in the container for a long time and needs a very large container. Or if you are starting a bunch of smaller seedlings that will later be separated out into individual containers. But for the most part, these large plastic containers are just too big and impractical for use in seed starting.
Well, I hope this post helped you with some ideas for containers for starting seeds. To learn more about growing your own seedlings check out my Video course Seed Starting Simplified. Only $15 on The Online Gardening School.