Dedicated gardeners find themselves itching to plant as soon as possible. Luckily, you don’t have to wait for spring if you use seed starter trays. You may feel inspired by the first warm spring breeze or eager to get going as soon as the winter holiday season is over.
You may be waiting patiently for the soil to become workable or hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Or perhaps, you’re sitting out the worst of the heat in the Southern region waiting to start your fall vegetables. With seed starter trays, you’ll have happy, healthy seedlings ready to go as soon as the thermometer hits the right temperature.
What Are Seed Starting Trays
Seed starting trays allow you to sow and grow seeds indoors (or even outdoors) in a large, flat container that’s set out in grids. Also often called “cell flats,” this grid forms cells that hold potting soil or starter medium. Most seed starter trays
consist of one flat tray with cells that have drain holes at the bottom. You’ll likely also get a slightly larger tray for beneath the grid to catch water that drains from the cube.
Most seed starter trays also come with a clear cover that allows you to cover the seedlings and still see how they’re growing. This cover protects the seedlings from wind or other damage and also helps trap moisture, which condenses on the top of the lid and then falls back into this mini eco-system. More upscale seed starter trays may include a heating pad to provide warmth to the seedlings.
Manufacturers make seed starter trays out of several different materials. Usually, the trays are plastic. However, you may also see those made of biodegradable materials. In this case, instead of removing the seedlings from the tray for planting, you’ll cut each cell out individually and plant the whole thing in your garden or a larger container. These are great for delicate plants that react poorly to transplanting.
The Benefits of Seed Starter Trays
No matter your hardiness zone, the growing season feels sadly short for every gardener. You only have so many weeks or months to get beautiful blooms or fat, juicy tomatoes. However, by using seed starter trays, you’ll have as much as two extra months of the growing season to create a productive garden. You may even have three additional months, depending on what you’re planning to grow and your climate.
Starting Vegetables Indoors
In most zones, you can start your garden vegetable seeds in February through March, so they’ve developed into fully formed seedlings right before the last freeze. In Southern climates, you can start them in January or even as early as December. You’ll need to research each vegetable to find out how soon to start them.
If you’ve looked at vegetable seed packets, you’ll see that the instructions recommend planting them in the ground once the soil temperature reaches 70F. By starting your tomatoes or peppers in seed starter trays, you can take advantage of the warmth of your home and have veggies ready to pick as early as May. By getting an early start, you can enjoy the benefits of a much longer growing season and enhance the food production of your garden.
Seed starter trays can save you money, as well. Don’t visit the local home improvement store or garden center for seedlings and plants every season and spend $4 or $6 for each one. Instead, invest in good seed starter trays. After that, you’ll only need starting medium and seeds if you take good care of your trays.
Vegetables suitable for starting indoors
Not every plant in your garden is a suitable candidate for starting indoors. Some plants don’t do well after being transplanted, so consider your garden plan before stocking up on seed starter trays and starter mix. The following vegetables do well when started early indoors: tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, and lettuce. If you use biodegradable starters, you can plant cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash in seed starter trays. Other seeds require that you plant them directly in the ground because any interference with their roots disturbs their growth.
Starting flowers indoors
If you like adding annual flowers to your garden for lots of color and fragrance, seed starter trays will let you add blooms to your landscape on the first planting day of spring. You can also get a better variety of plants with seeds. Your local big box store is limited to nearby growers. Many commercial growers or sellers also treat the plants with neonicotinoids, a pesticide implicated in bee colony collapse.
Gardeners who depend on perennials also love the ability to get a jump on the growing season using seed starter trays. Perennials often grow much slower than annuals, which means every extra week gained by starting them indoors means one more week to enjoy the blooms before winter.
Some annual flowers suitable for starting early indoors include petunias, marigold, impatiens, salvia, vinca, and zinnias. With biodegradable starters or peat pellets, you can grow morning glories, nasturtium, and alyssum. Perennials suitable for starting in seed trays include columbine, hibiscus, delphinium, lobelia, and coneflower.
Tips for Using Seed Starter Trays
Along with all the money you’ll save and the wide variety of plants you’ll be able to grow in a much longer season, seed starter trays have a few disadvantages. First, do some research on the seeds you intend to plant to ensure they'll flourish when started indoors.
When reusing your seed starter trays, wash them thoroughly before adding more growing medium. This will helps prevent the spread of diseases and fungi throughout your garden.
Make sure you transplant them when they're ready. If left too long, plants can become rootbound. This makes them difficult to remove from their cells without damaging the roots.
Best Seed Starter Trays to Buy
You’ve decided to get a jump on the growing season by purchasing seed starter trays for your favorite flowers and vegetables. Take a look at our list of the best ones currently on the market. Presented in no particular order, we’ve provided options for every home gardener at several price points. You’ll see options for organic gardening and cold-climate plant propagation, as well.
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Most plastic starter trays are thin and brittle, which means they degrade and crack over time. These Sili-Seedlings silicone seed starter trays are an excellent investment for the long-haul. The company boasts that you’ll never need to buy trays again.
Silicone is flexible, too, which means you can remove seedlings from the cells easily without damaging the stems or the roots. The manufacturers have also used food grade silicone, which is BPA free and safe for any of your edible vegetables.
- ☘ GREAT FOR SAPLINGS & STARTERS - With a 1.9" diameter, KORAM Seedling Trays are perfectly sized for starting flowers,...
- ☘ EFFICIENT TRANSFER OF HEAT - With humidity lid and base allow heat to easily penetrate and keep soil at consistent...
- ☘ FLEXIBLE PLASTIC - allows for easy plant removal and convenient 6 cell packs make transplanting a breeze; Thickened...
Made of flexible plastic to make plant removal safer and easier, these seed trays from KORAM include a humidity lid and base. They’re engineered to allow a quick transfer of heat to provide a consistently warm temperature for fast seed germination. These trays feature larger cells with 1.9 diameters to sprout a wider variety of seedlings.
- The Best Urban Gardening Supplies Set : Starting an indoor garden on your kitchen window sill, or in your classroom is...
- Perfect Sized Seed Starter Pots : Each seed cell or seed starter kit is just the right size for starting broccoli,...
- Ideal Transplant Conditions : Hardening off and planting out is a delicate process made simple with our peat pot plant...
Biodegradable and organic, these peat seed starters from Greenfinger are perfect for giving your plants the best possible start in life. You’ll need a drain tray, but once your seedlings are ready to transplant, all you’ll need to do is cut them into individual peat pots. Then, just plant the whole pot. This results in less damage to their root ball and less transplant shock. These peat starter trays are sturdier than most you’ll find, which means they’ll hold up better to watering without falling apart.
Jiffy’s seed starter trays have been popular with gardeners for many years. With everything you need included in one orderly kit, their “greenhouse” starter trays deliver the ultimate gardening convenience.
Unlike many other seed starter trays, the Jiffy product provides peat pellets in their kit. That means they include an excellent starter medium for your seed. The kit contains pellets, the tray to hold them, a drain tray, and a humidity lid. You can use the trays and lids over and over again using peat pellet refills easily found for purchase online or in home improvement and big box stores.
- Includes: 12 Sets Seed Trays,Watertight base tray,Humidity dome,10 Pieces Plant label.Drip Trays base has a rolled edge...
- Easy to manage: Drain holes at bottom of each cell, no hole at bottom of watertight base tray,Not so stiff that it would...
- Good visibility:Dome lid is clear as glass,See the growth of seedling,Very tight cover not easy to move, It is strong as...
With a watertight base tray, Litchi’s seed trays have a rolled edge for easy handling and a high dome for retaining moisture. The dome lid is crystal clear for visibility, and it snaps in tight to keep moisture in. They also stay secure when moving your trays. You’ll also find the dome lid is taller than most, at 1.75 inches, which is a nice bonus. The seed cells are tapered from top to bottom, so seedlings are easier to slip out for transplanting.
- CHECK OUT OUR STORE! - Click on the blue Window Garden link at top of page*** SO EASY! – Just hydrate the Fiber Soil,...
- COMPLETE – Includes 2 high quality and reusable greenhouse trays and covers, creates a warm and moist environment...
- VENTILATED COVER – The clear greenhouse cover provides the needed warmth for seed to germinate. But sometimes heat can...
Like the Jiffy starter trays, the Window Garden kit provides growing medium in compressed pellets. Called “fiber soil” and made of coco coir, the pellets provide better aeration and more room for root development. The starter kit includes a sealed lid to retain moisture and protect delicate seedlings.
- Burpee 72 cell Ultimate Self Watering seed starting kit comes with one watering tray and two 36 cell planting trays with...
- 72 Burpee natural coconut fiber super growing pellets and clear greenhouse dome
- Two plant-o-gram diagrams to note which varieties were sown in each cell
These seed starter trays come from one of the biggest names in seeds, Burpee. Famous for their extensive catalog of flower and vegetable seeds, Burpee has channeled their experience into this seed starter kit. Like the Jiffy and Window Garden products, it includes pellets of starter medium. However, unlike the Jiffy product, after the pellets are gone, you can use any other type of growing medium you like. It has cells of 1.5 inches square and 2.25 inches deep for potting soil. This kit includes a self-watering reservoir and a clear plastic dome to preserve humidity.
For starting seeds in cold climates, check out the Hyrdofarm Jump Start kit. It includes a UL-listed waterproof heat mat to provide just the right temperature for germination. The 72 cells boast a 2-inch clear plastic dome. The dome has adjustable vents to ensure the health of the seedlings while keeping humidity at the optimal level.
- Climate control. You can remove the clear vent as the plants grow, but at first, especially if you're starting seeds in...
- Incredible rooting medium. The bio sponge is simply the best way we've ever found to reliably germinate and grow on...
- Bottom watering. You water the base of this tray, NOT the bio sponges themselves. Put enough lukewarm water into the...
Another big name in seeds provides seed starter trays based on their experience. The Park Seed Bio Dome comes in several sizes. The 120-cell version includes a very high dome lid, which means your seedling will have plenty of space to grow. The kit includes their Bio Sponge starting medium. The kit includes the bottom tray, the vented cover, two 60-cell flats, and 120 organic Bio Sponges.
Getting a Head Start on Your Garden
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It doesn’t take much to get passionate gardeners excited about the next growing season. If you often lie awake planning next year’s vegetable beds, you may need to get some seed starter trays to hold you over until the last frost.
A quick online search will reveal a wealth of information about how to start seeds indoors from online gardening blogs and forums. You’ll also find everything you need to get started, even in the dead of winter. From starter trays to seeds to growing medium, there’s no reason to wait until spring.
If you have any tips about starting seeds indoors or have used any of these products, please let us know in the comments. Our readers look forward to your ideas and experience with seed starting trays.