Frugal Ways to Start Seeds Indoors

by heather

7596557If you’re getting  ready to start seeds indoors in preparation for your spring garden, then there’s no need to rush out to Home Depot to buy several of their $20 plastic “seed starting” kits. There are plenty of frugal ways to start seeds indoors!

I’m about to start doing this myself. And, as usual, I figured I’d write a post about this as I researched how to do it on the cheap.

When Can You Start Seeds?

I had this question today as I was longingly gazing at pictures of tomatoes, pole beans, and eggplants. Of course, my time to start seeds indoors is going to be very different than someone living in, say, Mississippi.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a very handy database that tells you, based on your zip code, when you can start your seeds indoors. If you click on that link you’ll see that here in Howell, I can’t start until at least March 7. But all you have to do is enter your own zip code to get your specific timeline. And it even tells you which plants to start which week, which is handy.

Ok, now on to the frugal ways to start seeds…

Frugal Seed Starting Method #1: Bags of Potting Mix

This method for planting seeds is super fast. Simply buy bags of mix, rip open the top, and plant your seeds. Instant vegetable garden!

This is a great way to start seeds, but you can also just leave your seeds in the bag all summer long. If you do this with a tomato plant, then stick with one plant per bag. Other vegetables can have multiple plants to the bag.

Want to see exactly what this looks like? has a great article on it here (complete with pictures!).

Frugal Seed Starting Method #2: Egg Cartons and Other Trash



Styrofoam egg cartons, styrofoam cups, yogurt or butter tubs (with a hole punched in the bottom), cut off milk or orange juice containers, plastic 1 lb. coffee bags, and even plastic shopping bags make great, eco-friendly options for starting seeds indoors.

You can also check out the post I wrote last year on How to Grow Vegetables In Plastic Shopping Bags. There are even instructions for turning a coffee bag into a hanging planter (which is a super cool project!)

You also might want to check out this awesome tutorial at for growing vegetables out of a hanging canvas shoe organizer, as shown on the right. This is a fantastic use of space if you have a small yard, and I’m definitely making one of these this year!

Tip: If you do use egg cartons, make sure the seeds don’t get too dry. I was surfing around online and saw that several people had problems with their seeds drying out. One reader at Apartment Therapy covered his egg carton with Saran Wrap to make a tiny greenhouse, and this helped his seeds sprout successfully.

Frugal Seed Starting Method #3: Old Plastic Casserole Containers

Ok, the kind of containers I’m talking about here are the rectangle lasagna pans you can buy at the grocery store for around $3. They’ve got a tin bottom and a clear plastic top. If you have trouble getting rid of stuff, you probably have several of these in your kitchen.

These work awesome for starting seeds because the plastic lid makes it into a little greenhouse. Spread dirt in the bottom, and use halved toilet paper tubes to start each seed. Plastic salad trays also work well too.

Frugal Seed Starting Method #4: Old Ice Trays

To use ice trays, it’s important you line them with newspaper first. This will help get the tender plants out of the cubes once they have established a root system.

To line the tray simply wet down the newspaper and lay it over the tray. Poke the newspaper down into each hole with your finger, and let it dry completely before putting in your dirt and seed.

Frugal Seed Starting Method #5: Toilet Paper Rolls

I found an awesome pictorial tutorial on the YouGrowGirl blog. She shows you step by step how to cut up a toilet paper roll to create a tiny little pot for starting seeds. It looks ridiculously easy, so give this one a look! This blog is also a great resource for growing things in urban, small spaces.


  • It’s best to use a spray bottle when watering your seeds. They can’t handle a lot of heavy moisture at once, and any dribble of water will disturb the dirt and potentially harm the little plants.
  • The seedlings need to go in front of your brightest window.
  • Invest in good potting mix (not dirt). This will make a huge difference in your success!
  • When your seeds grow their second set of leaves, it’s time to move them to a bigger container. But, this is easier said than done. The tiny plants are really delicate! There’s a great tutorial at Sunset that shows you exactly how to do this without killing your baby plants.

Last Word…

Michigan may be under a blanket of white right now, but I’m dreaming of green grass and dirt smells and tiny little plants! I’m counting down the days until March 7.

Do any of you have some frugal ways to start seeds indoors? If so, I’d love to hear them! I’m sure there are plenty of clever ways to do this that I didn’t think of…

Also, don’t forget to enter our contest with Hometown Seeds! The contest is running until February 16, and you could win an amazing package of survival seeds. Click here to find out more and enter to win.

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RenaissanceRonin February 17, 2010 at 1:28 am

Here’s a few more tips…

Recycle that old fish aquarium that the kids are using to throw dirty socks in, and turn it into a mini greenhouse. They work perfect for starting seeds.

And when they sprout, transplant them into old rain gutters mounted on the south side of your house and use it for planting beds. You can space them every few feet apart. You’ll get a killer green wall outta it, and it won’t take up any of your yard.

Strawberries love this, by the way….

heather February 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Ronin, that’s an awesome idea, thanks!

RenaissanceRonin February 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Well DUH! 😉

Now leave me alone… I got my face pressed up against the window waiting for my “Goat Worms” to arrive…

Victoria February 18, 2010 at 6:40 am

I recommend newspaper cups. You can plant your spouts cup and all when the time comes, and they are easy to make.
Cardboard cores from t-paper and paper towels make nice starter pots also. Cut t-paper cores into two pots, paper towel cores into 3 or 4.

johanna March 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

The awesome thing about using toilet paper rolls (or making little pots out of newspaper) is that they’re biodegradable–so you don’t have to worry about disturbing the roots when you transplant into a pot or the ground.

You can also put old clear plastic bags (no matter how much we try to avoid them, I think most of us end up w/some–the greens we get from our CSA often come parceled out in one) over the trays of toilet paper tube seed pots in order to keep the moisture in.

Kate from Kinda Crunchy Kate blog February 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm

This is great! Thanks! I just emailed a few friends and asked them to start saving their empty toilet paper tubes.

Tree Pruners February 27, 2011 at 7:46 am


I’ve been using the egg carton method, but only with moderate success, now I see that the problem might have been the seeds drying out, I’ll try the tip posted, and see if it works. Thanks!

connie May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I’ve been using homemade newspaper pots for years. The last few years, tho; I have been taking 2 liter pop bottles, laying them on their sides, cutting a hole in the sides to put the seed starting mix in. Then plant seeds, water lightly, and slip the bottle into a fairly clear, long bread bag and tie it shut until the seeds germinate.

Sue February 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm

In the past, I would put plastic bag over a photocopier paper box lid and fill it with potting soil and whatever, and use it like one big tray to plant a “microcosm” of a big garden, using a long pencil to mark the rows which were just a couple inches apart. And then I’d tranplant things when the got bigger. But my friend got a whole bunch of flat flat trays from a local garden shop and shared some with me. They have big holes in the bottom where the dirt can fall through. So I use the weed block fabric in the bottom for drainage, but to hold the dirt in. I really like starting seeds in one big tray instead of cupped containers. But I did snag a large plastic cupcake container that could be used as a mini green house. And I also use those 1 pound organic salad containers from the grocery store for starting things especially if I want to use them like mini-green houses. If anyone is interested in winter sowing, check out the Wintersown sight. It’s a way of starting things early, but out in the snow instead of taking up space in the house. .

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