Hot to Start Seed Indoors (Part 3 of 6): Seed Starting Containers

By: Maureen Gilmer

Six Pack

Six Pack: Keep newly sown seed moist under clear plastic wrap until seeds germinate, then the plastic comes off.

You can spend a lot of money buying kits and containers specially made for starting seed indoors. If you want to grow more for less, try germinating seed in recycled containers and save your money to buy quality Black Gold potting soils. The biggest challenge when germinating seed is keeping the soil evenly moist, but not wet. Let it go dry for just a day or two, and those tender young sprouts may wither. If you’re busy with the kids or gone at work all day, you won’t be able to rescue temporarily wilted sprouts. This means they suffer long enough to go into permanent wilt, which is irreversible. In dry climates the evaporation rates can double, making these regions the hardest places to grow anything from seed. One of the most common failures is due to sowing seed directly into deeper pots of soil. It’s because the surface of a larger soil mass quickly dries out while deeper down it may be very wet, even saturated. When you rewet the surface soil where seeds lie, you risk further saturation deeper down, which stimulates fungal diseases.

Cheese Tray

Cheese Tray: This tray and cover saved after an office party makes the perfect enclosure for germinating seeds in small containers.

For this reason, accomplished gardeners germinate their seed in shallow containers with a clear or translucent plastic top. Recycled clear plastic take-out food containers are ideal. Either way, the ability to close the top greatly reduces the rate of surface evaporation thereby maintaining moist conditions without applying more water. Just make sure there are holes in the top and bottom for oxygen and free drainage. For larger projects, consider using shallow under-bed storage boxes or try covering the top of any open nursery flat with food wrap to trap moisture. The goal of all these choices is to turn the container into a miniature greenhouse environment where seeds keep warm, stay evenly moist, and will be quick to germinate. Within this environment, control temperature and moisture levels by opening and closing the lid all or part way. This allows more or less air exchange during periods of wet or dry weather.

Salad Box

Salad Box: Clear-lidded take out boxes make ideal germination chambers.

Fill the bottom with a few inches of damp Black Gold Seedling Mix, which is actually a sterile soil-less media. Into this sow your seed. Once up and growing, each seedling will soon be transplanted into its own growing container. For this second stage use six packs or four inch pots and Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. The most important part of starting the garden indoors is your choice of containers. The right one makes this easy to do, but the wrong choice can leave you perpetually struggling to keep moisture and warmth at optimal levels. Yes, it may be easier to get started with an expensive growing kit, but you’ll pay for it. Why not reuse free plastic containers from salad boxes to yogurt cups to help the environment. Or use all those containers you saved from previous season’s nursery grown bedding plants. There’s no need to spend your money on anything except quality seed, starting media and organic potting soil to get your garden off to a screaming start indoors this year.

This article is part of a six-part series entitled How to Start Seed Indoors by expert garden writer and Black Gold contributor Maureen Gilmer.READ MORE ARTICLES FROM THIS SERIES… Intro: Germinating Vegetable Seeds Indoors: Get A Head Start This March

  1. How to Start Seed Indoors 1 of 6: Read The Seed Packet Before Starting Seed Indoors
  2. How to Start Seed Indoors 2 of 6: Use Clean Bedding to Prevent Damping Off
  3. How to Start Seed Indoors 3 of 6: Seed Starting Containers
  4. How to Start Seed Indoors 4 of 6: Sowing Your Seed Properly
  5. How to Start Seed Indoors 5 of 6: Proper Watering of Indoor Seedlings
  6. How to Start Seed Indoors 6 of 6: Transplant Seedlings Into Pots

About Maureen Gilmer


Maureen Gilmer has been a noted figure in horticultural journalism for over 30 years. She is author of 18 gardening books and writer of Yardsmart, a national column syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service. She is also garden columnist for the Desert Sun newspaper in the international resort town of Palm Springs. Maureen is a public speaker and former host of Weekend Gardening on the DIY Channel. She lives in Morongo Valley with her husband Jim and two rescue pit bulls. When not writing or photographing she is usually out riding her quarter horse.