If you want to start a bunch of seeds at home to save money, you’ll need to buy some seed trays, but not all are created equal.
I used to start seedlings in styrofoam cups, but as my gardening efforts grew, I realized I needed to ditch the cups and try something else. I started using some flimsy seed cells from a local greenhouse, but those didn’t seem to work as I hoped. That’s when I decided to invest in seed trays.
Using seed trays changed how I started my seeds, and it made it easier to start large amounts of seeds at once. I found that moving my large amount of seeds was easier with trays and watering from the base increased my germination rate.
Who know that using seed trays and pots rather than just whatever I had laying around would make such a big difference?
Nowadays, I recommend new gardeners get some seed starting trays to increase your chances of success!
Do You Need Seed Trays to Start Seeds at Home?
No, you don’t need to seed trays or even seed pots to start seeds at home. However, it does make life a little easier.
I used a mismatched collection of items to start seeds for years as a way to save money and start seeds on a budget. I used styrofoam cups labeled with a Sharpie marker and seed starting mixes, placed on baking sheets or inside of boxes for years.
However, last year, I finally invested in more seed trays and found some things that I like about them. The drainage holes help to maintain a proper soil moisture level, encouraging better seed germination.
Also, it makes organization of the seeds easier. All seeds need different requirements, so this makes it easier to ensure each gets what they need. Moving a tray is easier than moving 20 individual cups.
How to Pick the Best Seed Trays and Pots
Whether you’re buying your seed starting trays at a local garden center or online, you want to know how to decide which ones are for you.
For years, I feel like I used the wrong ones, and it affected how I started seeds. Sometimes, it takes trial and error to decide which type works best for your garden.
The Material Used for the Seed Trays
Most seed trays are made with plastic, but some seedling trays are made with a biodegradable material, such as coconut fiber. Each of these has pros and cons.
Plastic is reusable, in many cases, so you save money using them. I also find that the cell trays tend to feel more durable and less likely to snap in half when I pick them up. However, you take to them out the cells to up-pot and transplant outside, which is a lot of moving around for a little seedling.
Biodegradable pots are handy because you plant the entire pot into the ground, and the material eventually disintegrates. Many plants suffer from transplant shock or get root bound when you start them in the trays, and using these pots help.
However, this is more expensive. If you’re only starting a few plants, it may be work, but I start hundreds of seeds, making this impossible financially.
Seed Tray Size
Consider how many seeds you need to start. Some seed trays hold up to 70 seedlings per tray, but others have only six cells.
The size you pick depends on how many seeds you need to start and how much space you have to keep your plants. For example, if you have tables with plenty of space, you may want the bigger trays, but if you’re using small shelves or windowsills, small trays are ideal.
Extra Options and Accessories
Look at what accessories come with the seed trays before you buy them. Here are some things that often come as accessories.
- Base Trays: These are durable trays that hold seed trays and lets you water your plants from the bottom. They also make moving your seedlings easier.
- Watering Mat: Some seed trays include a special mat that helps pull water into the seed cells without overwatering the soil.
- Dome: A dome is a clear, plastic cover that goes over your seed trays to maintain ideal humidity levels to increase germination rates.
The 7 Best Seed Trays for a Vegetable Garden
Last year, I invested in several of these sets of seed trays, and it help revolutionize my seed starting.
Gardzen Propagator Set includes five seed trays with 40 cells per tray that have drainage holes. Then, there are five base trays to hold the excess water, and a transparent dome snaps over the trays to keep in the humidity, creating an idea environment for seeds to germinate and grow.
I like that everything I needed came with the set, and the price is affordable. The only downside is that the seed cells are quite small, so you will need to up-pot these to larger seed cells or individual pots before planting outside.
If you’re growing a lot of plants, these seed trays are the way to go. You’ll be able to start 200 seeds per pack; that’s a lot of plants! Gardzen Seed Trays are ideal for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and more.
|– Comes with 40 cells for each tray, five trays, and five lids. |
– The cells have holes at the bottom to prevent overwatering.
– The clear dome maintains humidity.
|– These aren’t biodegradable.|
– The cells are small, so you will have to transplant.
Bonnie sells a fantastic seed starter kit that includes base trays, seed cell trays, plastic domes, and plant labels. Each tray has 12 cells and holes at the bottom to allow for adequate water drainage.
The cells are decently sized, measuring 1.5 inches roughly. The base tray is larger to catch and hold the water, so moving the seedlings around is easy and it also allows for bottom watering.
Use the included top domes to retain humidity and increase the temperature around your germinating seedlings; this encourages faster germination. Their domes are unique and have vents at the top to allow you to regulate the humidity.
Overall, I like that this starter kit includes so much. It comes with ten seed cells – that’s enough to start 120 plants – ten base trays plus ten humidity domes. Bonivee also includes ten plant labels, but that won’t get you very far.
However, it’s important to remember these seed cells aren’t huge, so you do have to transplant them into large seed pots. That’s the only negative I see for these seed trays; the thick, PP plastic will allow these to last for years, and who doesn’t love that?
|– Comes with seed trays, bases, and humidity domes.|
– The domes have vents at the top for adjustability.
– Thick, PP plastic for durability
|– Have to transplant out of the seed cells|
Wild Green Fingers sells these seed trays that measure 14.5 inches x 9 inches x 2.2 inches, so they fit well on most shelves. The trays are reusable and durable, and they have no holes at the bottom. Water won’t get everywhere when trying to move them around.
The best way to use the wild Green Fingers Trays is for watering cells by soaking them below, but these trays don’t come with seed cells. You’ll have to order those separately, but watering seeds from below is the best practice.
Each set comes with 10 seed starting trays and ten plant labels.
I like this option because the trays are so durable. They will last for years; all you need is some cells as well. You also could probably use this for block planting if you’re interested in that seed starting method.
|– Comes with 10 trays |
– The trays are reusable and durable.
– No holes at the bottom of the tray
|– It doesn’t come with seed starting cells|
Burpee is one of the best known names in the gardening world, so it’s no wonder that they sell one of the best seed trays on the market. This seed starter tray comes with a self-watering base tray and decently-sized planting cells to allow the seeds to develop further.
This set is a little different than others.
The seed cell trays fit perfectly into the base tray that acts like a water reservoir to bring moisture up to the plants’ roots rather than overhead watering. That often causes problems and decreases the chances of germinating the seeds.
Burpee includes a lid that helps increase the humidity around the seeds; humidity helps germination rates. Then, they include expandable coconut fiber pellets, so you don’t have to buy other mediums to start seeds.
Self-watering trays are an excellent idea. I’ve accidentally overwatered the cells and caused the seeds to come back out of the seed pots. It also means that you don’t have to water your seedlings every day if you have a self-watering tray.
However, you have to rebuy the pellets, and the cell trays and watering mats need to be replaced, and the pellets are small. Plan to up-pot into bigger seed pots.
|– It comes with a self-watering tray and lid.|
– Large 2.5-inch cells
– Base watering helps reduce watering problems
– Comes with tags and coconut fiber pellets
|– Everything needs replaced after a few uses.|
– You have to rebuy the pellets.
– Limited space for seed growing.
Mr. Sprouts & Co sells a set of 100 biodegradable seed starter pots and seedling trays to place the pots. Despite being degradable, the cells are sturdy enough for planting, and you can plant them directly into the soil instead of removing them out of the seed pots.
The kit comes with two reusable plastic flats, made with 1020 plastic that is sturdy and durable to use for several years.
Mr. Sprouts uses pressed-peat material that absorbs extra moisture, and the size of the cells increases the likelihood for germination and success. However, you will have to continue to buy more peat pots in the future.
|– Seed trays are biodegradable and safe.|
– Comes with 2 seed trays.
– Great size for germinating seeds.
– You have to buy new peat pots each year.
Peat pots are an alternative for seed trays. This set comes with 60 biodegradable peat pots that measure three inches in diameter.
Some gardeners love peat pots because you don’t have to take them out of the pots. Simply plant the pot into the ground when it’s time to put them into your garden, and they break down over time. Doing this helps to reduce transplant shock since some plants dislike their roots being disturbed.
However, peat pots don’t always fully degrade in the soil, so that’s something to consider. Also, these aren’t reusable, but you can start seeds in them and not worry about transplanting to larger pots.
This set by Growneer comes with 15 labels for free since writing on biodegradable pots is a little difficult!
– No need to transplant when bigger
– Includes 15 free labels
– Ideal for small-scale gardeners
– Doesn’t always biodegrade fully
Jiffy is a recognizable name in the seed starting world, and people love their seed starting sets with peat pellets. This set comes with two greenhouses – a tray, peat pellets, and a greenhouse dome – and two packs of plant markers.
Each greenhouse contains 72 peat pellets that measure 36mm in diameter, perfect for starting herbs and flower seeds.
The downside to using these seed trays is that the peat pellets aren’t reusable, and they’re pricey. Jiffy sells peat pellets for $12 for 50 – that is pricey if you want to start hundreds of seeds. However, for someone only starting 50 plants, this may be great.
Remember, you still have to transfer them to larger seed pots later. The pellets only work for the first few days!
FAQs about Seed Trays and Pots
How Long Can Seedlings Stay in the Seed Trays?
Seedlings won’t typically stay in seed trays for the whole time; you usually have to transfer them into larger pots before moving the seedlings outside.
How long seedlings stay in a tray depends on how big each cell is. Larger cells may allow a seedling to stay in the tray for up to 8 to 10 weeks. With these, you typically have only 12 cells per tray.
However, if you have the large trays with over 60 cells, expect to have to transplant them into new seed trays or seed pots within two to three weeks at most.
How Do You Get Seedlings Out of Seed Trays?
One of the things I don’t like about starting seeds is getting the seedlings out of the trays.
The easiest option I have found is to simply turn the tray cells over in your hand and tap or push on the bottom to move the soil. They typically slide out in one piece, making it easy to transplant into larger trays or pots.
However, how do you do this when you have 50+ cells in a single tray?
One idea is to cut the cells into smaller sections before planting. That makes it possible, and they’ll still fit into the base trays fine.
Never grab the seedling by the stem and pull up. You may damage the stem OR break the roots, damaging or killing your little seedling entirely.
You don’t want that, so don’t do it!
Don’t waste your time using other things to start seeds; grab some seed trays or pots to start seedlings for your vegetable garden.