Containers for Starting Seeds

Care and How To

There are many different options for containers that can be used to start seedlings. 

Plastic Seed Starting Trays

Stores and garden centers have several different types of containers made specifically for germinating and growing annual and vegetable seeds in late winter/early spring.   These options include plastic trays specifically designed for seed starting such as row seedling flats or open flats where your sow seeds in individual rows. These trays can hold several types of seeds in their own little rows utilizing very little space. Once the true leaves form on the seedlings they can be separated and transplanted into their own separate containers.  Some gardeners prefer to start their seeds in individual containers like peat pots, cell packs, or plug trays.  All of these containers can be reused as long as they are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before each use.

Types of Commercially Available Seed Starting Containers

Row seedling tray
Row Seedling Tray

Cell packs for seed starting
Cell Packs

Plug tray for seed starting
Plug Tray

peat pots for seed starting
Peat Pots

Peat Pots

Biodegradable pots in various sizes can also be used.  Peat pots are made from compressed peat moss.  Occasionally compressed paper or cardboard pots look much like peat pots and are used in much the same way. Peat pots are plantable.  While you can peel the pot off the root ball before planting, it is not required as the pot will break down in the soil.  Be sure to remove the top portion or bury the entire container as any part that sticks above ground after planting can cause the soil around the young plant to dry out quickly.

Recycled Food Containers

Clear plastic fruit tray that strawberries and other fruits are packaged in at the grocery store can be used for germinating seed. These containers already have holes in both the top and bottom for drainage and air exchange. Eight, one-quart containers will fit into a flat for easy transport. Once seeds have germinated I open the top until the seedlings are big enough to transplant to individual containers or cell packs.

Any smaller plastic or styrofoam container can be recycled and used as a conainter for starting seeds. Make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom to prevent over-watering.  Some recycled containers to consider include:

  • yogurt containers
  • plastic or foam drinking cups
  • soda bottles with the top cut off
  • plastic dessert or sundae containers
  • plastic clam-shell containers used for restaurant leftovers, salads, or bakery items
  • styrofoam take-out containers
  • plastic corsage boxes
  • milk jug cut in half
  • any plastic container that can hold germination mix about 3 inches deep

Cardboard Tubes and Egg Cartons

The cardboard roll found inside paper towel and toilet tissue is another possibility. Cut the rolls into 2 or 3-inch sections, fill with potting soil and sow 1 seed per container. The rolls can be planted just like peat pots without having to disturb the root ball of the plant. Make sure all portions of the cardboard are planted below the soil surface. Any exposed edges will act like a wick and dry out the transplant even if planted in moist ground.

Cardboard egg cartons work much the same way and are easy to use for germinating and growing seeds. Styrofoam egg cartons can be used as well; however, remove the plant from the styrofoam carton before transplanting because it does not break down in the soil.

Origami Paper Pots

Folded Paper Pots for Seed Starting

Origami Paper Pots

Newspaper or other paper can be folded to create a small container perfect for starting seeds.  These containers can be used much like peat pots.  Once seedlings are hardened off they can be planted, paper and all as the paper will decompose.  Find directions on how to create these folded paper pots in this article from the University of Maine: Newspaper Pots for Seedlings or this video: Newspaper Pots for Seed Starting

Be Creative!

Seeds will germinate in just about anything as long as it holds soil and provides adequate drainage. Once seeds germinate, the seedlings will require adequate light, water, fertilizer and space for adequate growth. Using everyday items from around the home is a great way to recycle items that would otherwise be thrown away. Even eggshells can be used to germinate seed and the shell can be planted right along with the plant. However, you'll need to save the carton as well to hold the eggshells while the plant grows.

Last Reviewed: 
January, 2023