Want to know which seed starting supplies I use to grow my own herbs? I’ve included a list of my favorites and some similar options for you to get started. Plus some DIY alternatives that you can use in a pinch.
Just a quick note on my background.
I have been growing herbs from seeds for about 20 or more years. I have grown basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, borage, lavender, thyme, and too many others to count.
I also grow some of the tougher ornamentals like petunias and hostas from seed which can be a little tricker. But growing from seed is something that always brings me joy.
Over the years, I’ve developed a system for starting seeds that seems to work well. Even some of the more “difficult” herbs to grow from seed (like parsley and lavender) grow just fine. I think that in part this is due to finding the right seed starting supplies. It just makes the whole process that much easier.
My Top Ten Supplies for Starting Seeds Indoors
Here is my list of seed starting supplies that I hope brings you the same success with indoor growing. I’ll give you some options on where to purchase each online and a few well-known stores where you can find the same supplies locally.
Click on any of the links below to jump directly to that section.
- Seed Starting Pots & Cell Packs
- Seed Starting Trays & Domes
- Seed Starting Mix
- Plastic Storage Tubs for Mixing Soil
- Growing Racks
- Grow Lights
- A Timer
- Indoor Watering Container
- Plant Labels
- Heating Pad (Optional)
1. Seed Starting Pots & Cell Packs
Pretty early in my seed-starting journey, I switched from peat or fiber pots to plastic. They are reusable, cleaner, and just frankly work better.
I use several different types of individual pots. I’ll list them in order of preference.
Individual Plastic Herb Pots
Starting seeds in their own pots has many advantages & is the most flexible choice.
- You can move the individual pots under the right light height when they grow at different rates.
- They are sturdier than the seed starting cells and last for years.
- They come in a variety of depths. I like the deeper pots for quick-growing herbs & vegetables.
- They are easier to clean.
- They are the easiest for transplanting.
I have several sizes that I use. The smaller 3-4 inch pots are great for seed-starting. The larger 4-6 inch sizes are better for transplanting young seedlings before you begin the hardening-off process.
Choose the deeper seed starting pots for herbs that have a tap root (like parsley) and fast growing vegetables. Plastic dixie cups or solo cups are also great for growing indoors.
Plastic Seed Starting Cells
The seed starting cell packs are a close second.
- Fast to fill & an efficient use of space.
- They last several seasons.
- Relatively easy to clean.
In the example above, the cell pack had 72 cells. I used scissors to separate the pack into groups of 6.
The downside is they can be a little tricky during transplanting time. When you are trying to pop out one cell, sometimes the others fall out too. But I still use them all the time as they are very quick to plant & the larger packs let you grow a ton of seeds in a small space.
2. Seed Starting Trays & Domes
These are a must-have for starting seeds indoors. And they have several uses throughout the growing season.
- The domes make it easy to keep your seeds covered and the humidity high, an important germination factor.
- You can use the trays independently for starting seeds (if you like). I personally like the individual cells, but it’s good to have options.
- The trays are an easy way to move seedlings outdoors & back inside during the hardening-off period.
- The trays make bottom watering a cinch. Watering your seedlings is better from the bottom, so the roots grow down to reach the water. Top watering can cause problems like mold, dampening, and other issues.
Why I Don’t Use Peat Pots or Planting Trays
I don’t use peat (or fiber) pots anymore. I know people say you can plant them right in the ground – pot and all. But I’ve found that it stunts the growth of small herbs and vegetables with finer roots. And if you peel off the pot, it’s nearly impossible not to tear the roots. That’s fine for a full-grown plant, but it can prove too much for a tender seedling.
I also prefer starting my seeds in individual cells or pots instead of the tray method. The trays work great for germination, but transplanting can be more difficult.
When all the seedlings sprout in a single tray, you need to separate them before the hardening off stage. Or at the very least, before planting the seedlings in the ground.
That means you either have to pinch off all the other seedlings that are too close – which I personally have a hard time doing. I want to save them all. Or I spend too much time untangling the roots with a toothpick.
I know I shouldn’t be so soft, worrying about hurting the “extra” seedlings. But what can I say? They become like your little babies.
3. Seed Starting Mix
I start almost all my seeds with a seed starting mix – I use all different brands – Jiffy, Miracle Grow, Organic blends. In a pinch, I’ve also used an indoor growing mix, but that’s not ideal.
The reason for using the seed starting formula is the regular potting mixes normally have fertilizer added. This type of potting mix is designed for older seedlings. And adding fertilizer into the growing process too early can burn the roots of your young seedlings.
Mother nature has added all the nutrition your plants need to sprout and grow for the first few weeks within the seed.
Another thing to watch out for if you are in a store and it is not quite planting season, scan the area for any little flying gnats. Sometimes they store the extra ones all winter long and unfortunately, the organic matter can attract insects. You don’t want to bring home any unexpected visitors. You can also order seed starting mix online in the off-season when you can’t find it in the stores.
4. Plastic Storage Tubs for Mixing Soil
Whenever I am growing inside, I use these little plastic tubs to moisten the seed starting mix before filling the pots. In the image above I was getting ready to transplant some thyme seedlings.
They are the perfect size and fit nicely on a table. I have the 6-quart size that is about the same size as a shoebox.
You can find them at most general merchandise stores like Target, Walmart, Amazon, Home Depot, and most dollar stores. They typically only cost 1-2 dollars and come with a lid.
I keep an empty one or two when I am working for used supplies to keep my table neat. They are also nice for storing seed packets & other small supplies like labeling tape, pens, toothpicks, etc.
5. Growing Racks
You can grow trays of seedlings anywhere. I like the racks since they keep all your seed starting efforts in a single location.
These racks are especially nice for growing seedlings under lights.
- They hold up to 10 or so trays
- The lights hang from the bottom of each shelf.
- The shelves are adjustable so you can have taller shelves for older seedlings, shorter ones for seeds that haven’t sprouted, etc.
When you put together the shelves, make one higher for taller seedlings, then shorten the height with each layer. You can also store supplies on the bottom (or top) rack.
The dimensions of the metal shelving unit pictured above is 48 inches wide by 72 inches tall.
6. Grow Lights
I use several types of grow lights for starting seeds. The setup I choose depends on how many seeds I am growing. My favorites are the shop lights. But individual task lights can also work for smaller operations.
For serious indoor seed-starting, the shop lights are the best.
Here is what my setup looks like with the lights in place.
This was my setup from last year. I started with the clip-on lights using CFL bulbs. I used those early in the season, then switched to the shop lights when more seeds started sprouting.
I had set up a smaller shelving unit, 3 feet wide instead of the usual 4-foot rack. (I had moved my bigger shelves to the garage.)You can see my lights are a little too long, but it still worked. The standard 48-inch shop lights work well with the four-foot HomeDepot or Lowes Metal Racks I listed above.
If you are growing just a few seeds, you can get away with these smaller clip-on task lights. This is also a good option if you don’t have the metal racks to mount the longer shop lights.
I am also testing one of the small grow lights that fits in a single pot – I’ll update this post with the link once the seeds have grown up a little.
If your budget is a little bigger and you don’t have the inclination to build your own, you can simply buy a pre-made seed-starting grow light setup.
7. A Timer
When grown indoors, young seedlings need between 12-16 hours of artificial light. The best way to do this is with a timer.
Look for a timer that has enough slots for all the lights you plan to use. Mine has about 10. This is enough for four shelves, with two lights each plus two extra slots for the fans.
Depending on your specific setup, you may also need an extension cord or two.
Look for lights in the Christmas section if you can’t find one in a local store. I use the one I bought to turn my Christmas lights on and off. Most have a little cover that closes over the outlets to protect them against spills.
DIY Tip: If you don’t have a timer at first, you can turn the lights on when you first wake up & off when you sleep. But don’t forget! Your young seedlings don’t like to be in the dark too long.
When gathering up your seed starting supplies, don’t forget to find a small fan for air circulation. I use these little clip-on fans in my seed-starting room. They attach nicely to the metal racks. If you find one with a rotating head, that is perfect, so they can reach all seedlings on the rack.
You can also use a ceiling fan if you have one or a box fan if needed. The fan helps keep the air circulation up. Stagnant air can cause mold or mildew to appear on the tops of the soil. It can also cause young seedlings to suffer from dampening off which can be fatal.
A light breeze also helps to mimic nature and makes the plants a little tougher, strengthening the stems & teaching the plants to grow stronger roots.
8. Indoor Watering Container
Look for a smaller watering can, the kind that people use to water their indoor plants. A skinny neck works best so you can fit the sprout under the lip of the seed starting cells into the tray.
Always try to water your seedlings from the bottom, so the roots grow down to reach the water. This creates a strong, healthy root system that will give your young seedlings a good start.
I try not to use the outdoor one inside since it might bring outside pathogens or little bugs indoors. You never know where those little guys may be hiding! It’s best to keep the indoor environment as sterile as possible to prevent potential issues.
I sometimes use a little bulb or flower vases for indoor watering when I can’t find my watering can. The skinny neck of the vase makes it easy to hold and pour. They are also a good size. A liquid measuring cup also works well in a pinch.
DIY Tip: You can also carry your trays over to the sink. Just be careful not to spill the trays. They can get a little wobbly when filled with water. And be sure the water temp is neutral. Very hot or cold water can shock the little ones.
9. Plant Labels
I don’t use the standup labels when growing indoors. Just a sharpie and masking tape. Sometimes I get a little fancier and use colored tape or pens when I am growing herbs, vegetables, and ornamentals. And I also use sticky notes. Whichever you pick, just make sure the labels stay put.
Although the supplies are simple it is really important to label all your seeds. I’m sure I’m not the only one who waited on this this step then had to guess a little down the road once the seeds started sprouting.
Write down at a minimum the type of seeds. It is also a good idea to write down the date if you have room. I’ve started keeping a seed starting log that helps me keep track of the specific dates.
10. Heating Pad (Optional)
I don’t use these every year. But they are good to have on hand for seeds that require warmth to germinate. Basil, Chives, and Chervil all need the soil to be 70 degrees or higher.
If you are starting seeds in an air-conditioned house or a drafty location, you might need them.
I generally start my seeds without heat. But if the seeds haven’t germinated by the time expected, I may add a heating mat to speed up the process.
If you are new to starting seeds, I would probably get at least one to have on hand. You can also try it without first and pick one up only if needed.
DIY Tip: Check the top of your fridge – this is often quite warm & can help to get things going. Just don’t forget you put the seed tray up there!
Miscellaneous Seed Starting Supplies
Those are the basics. I also like to have a few other seed starting supplies on hand. Most of these you can find around the house or garage.
- Water spray bottle for sowing seeds.
- Newspaper for quick cleanup.
- Indoor temperature gauge, so I know the temperature of the room. If you aren’t using a heating map, this can be helpful to find a warmer room for your seed trays until they germinate.
- Plastic baggies and coffee filters. I use these to test germination rates on older seeds and sometimes to start seeds quickly when I don’t have enough pots or soil handy.
- Paper towels. Always keep a roll of paper towels nearby as there are bound to be spills. Growing can be messy – but that’s all part of the process.
I’ll add to this list as the season goes on if I find any new favorites.
Ready To Get Planting?
Starting seeds indoors is a lot of fun. And having the right seed starting supplies is super important to the success of your seeds.
There is an enormous amount of satisfaction in watching the little guys grow up from a tiny seed to a full-grown plant. And once you get the basics down, there is no limit to the new varieties you can grow!