What you need to Start from Seed

updated on 16 April 2024

Must-have gear to fit any budget!

Guest Contributor: Cassey Anderson, Horticulture Agent, Colorado State University Extension

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Starting your garden from seeds is both economical and satisfying! Whether you've saved seeds from last year's garden, purchased packages from your local garden shop, or ordered from your favorite seed company, you may now be wondering how to get started.

Seed starting can be very basic (seed starting soil, water, container), but a few extra elements will help for more successful seedlings. To ensure the best start for your seeds you should seek out: sterile seed starting soil, good quality seeds, a heat mat, supplemental light, and containers that can help increase ambient humidity. Most seeds that can be started early will tell you how early to start. For example, tomatoes need to be started 6-8 weeks before you plan to transplant in the soil. Be careful not to start too early, as larger seedlings can be harder to transplant. 

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Sterile media 

Sterile media is critical to eliminate seedling death from damping off, a common fungal pathogen present in soil.  These can come in bulk if you already have trays or pots for your seedlings, or in pellets. While peat is a traditional base for seed starting media, consider a renewable product, like this top-rated coconut coir.

Quality seeds

Seeds can be saved from good local sources (your local seed library) or purchased from commercial retailers. (See our post on Seed Catalogs!) At Fresh Food Connect, we're big fans of Seed Savers. They're a wonderful source for heirloom seeds and are doing important work to teach gardeners about seed saving. Pro-tip: there are currently no GMO products available for home sales, so don’t worry about finding GMO-free seed, they all are. 

Laura, our Director of Operations, keeps her seeds neatly organized, of course! What's your favorite way to
Laura, our Director of Operations, keeps her seeds neatly organized, of course! What's your favorite way to "catalog" your seeds?

Heat mat 

Many seeds germinate well at room temperature, but even better with an extra nudge. Peppers, for example, can take up to 4 weeks to germinate at low temperatures but as quickly as 2 weeks at 75-80 degrees F. This heat mat is available in different sizes, to fit the space you have. 

Your pets may also enjoy the extra warmth!
Your pets may also enjoy the extra warmth!

Supplemental light

LED lights reign supreme now for successful supplemental light, but if a new light is beyond your budget you can combine a cool and warm ballast in a traditional shop light. Just be sure to keep the light close to your young plants. There are many types of grow lights - this one's flexible, so it can grow along with your seedlings!

Seed starting containers 

Containers can be repurposed or purchased. Low and flat containers are often the most ideal, especially those that have a lid or top. Repurposed salad bins can be a great way to go, or seed starting flats. We've also seen gardeners use red Solo cups for tomato plants: start with just 1/4 of the cup filled, and spoon in more soil as the seedling grows! Be sure to have some way to check moisture at the bottom or encourage drainage (see the algal growth that can happen with a little too much moisture above!) We like this one, as it's reusable, and you can use your favorite soil mix.

Seed starting pellets are a convenient 2-in-1 solution: seed starting mix and a container!
Seed starting pellets are a convenient 2-in-1 solution: seed starting mix and a container!


Timers can ensure that you have good amounts of light (14-16 hours is great!) without having to remember to turn lights on/off. Heat mats should stay on 24 hours. A basic timer will work just fine, or you could use a wifi-enabled timer to stay connected to your seedlings while you're away from home!

If you have specific questions, be sure to reach out to your local county Extension office. 

Happy Gardening! 

Gardening in Colorado? Check out Grow & Give and in particular our Colorado Vegetable Guide for more crop information on all of the above plants.

What if every gardener shared just a little?

One small donation can have a tremendous impact. Just imagine, if every gardener planted one extra plant to share, or donated just a pound from the garden. Collectively, we would have an abundant source of fresh, healthy produce available to be distributed to families experiencing food insecurity in our own communities! The free Fresh Food Connect mobile app connects you to a local hunger relief program, then manages and tracks your donations of homegrown produce throughout the season.  Download the app today!

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