Starting Seeds on a Budget

Starting seeds is a great way to save money on your garden since you're growing from scratch rather than buying established plants. However, you can go the extra mile and save even MORE money starting seeds.

Here are some great ways to start seeds on a budget and make your garden journey a truly super frugal adventure.

seeds growing in eggshells

We covered the basics of indoor seed starting, but today we're going to focus on lots of money saving tips for each part of seed starting to make your garden even more cost-effective and all of them are great for anyone trying to save money gardening.

Things to NOT Skimp On

Before we go any further, there is one important thing to note. There are two things that you simply CANNOT cheap out on: seeds and soil. These are the bedrock of your entire seed starting empire, and if you go cheap here, you'll pay for it later.

Quality Seed

As I said, don't cheap out on seeds. Buy quality seeds to help guarantee a good harvest. If your seeds don't germinate, you don't save money! This is one of the seed companies that I love.

It's best to go with heirloom varieties when starting seeds if you can, as they've been proven to be winners in both health and production. In addition, you'll be able to save those seeds for next year, which will reduce your future costs.

Quality Growing Medium

Cheap starting mix can be a cheaper way to go, but you will likely pay for it by having poor quality seedlings. Quality soil will give your fledgling garden has the best chance to thrive and produce.

This brand of soil and this brand both have good reputations. Alternatively, peat pellets are another great route that yields good results.

Pinterest collage for Starting Seeds On A Budget post

Things to Save On

There are a lot of websites out there touting all the things that you'll need to start your garden plants indoors. From heating pads to fancy grow lights, starting seeds indoors could even cost you the same as or more than it would to simply buy plants at your local garden center if you follow some of the tips out there.

Don't fall for the hype. Sure, all that stuff is nice to have, and it can make a marginal difference, but you can often do just as well without them. You truly don't need all that fancy stuff to grow healthy plants that will thrive.

Save on Heating Pads

Yes, seeds need warm soil to germinate, however, that doesn't require a heating pad. You already have the heat running in your home during winter, and your seeds are in tiny containers. They'll be warm enough.

If you want to go more the conventional route, here are some great DIY options-- this DIY heat mat and another DIY heat mat.

Save on Water

So, tap water is not only bad for you, it's bad for seeds and seedlings as well. It has chlorine, other synthetic chemicals, and heavy metals in it, all of which can harm fragile seeds. However, you don't need to spend tons of money on specialty or distilled water when starting seeds. All you need is good filtered water.

Having quality filtered water is imperative for overall good health, so just use the same filtered water for your seedlings that you would use for yourself, however as noted in the post linked to above, I do recommend using a filter that removes fluoride.

DIY Seedling Watering Device

Some websites and stores say that you need a fancy seedling watering device like a mister that will gently water your seeds without disturbing the soil or harming delicate seedlings. You don't. While you do for sure need to be careful with watering, you don't necessarily need to buy anything.

Instead, here's a frugal "DIY seedling watering can": simply take a small water bottle, poke a hole or 2 in the lid, and fill with water. Boom. Instant watering device.

When you turn the bottle upside down and gently squeeze, you'll be able to gently water your seeds or seedlings without too much pressure or soil disruption.

Skip Fancy Grow Lights

One of the most common questions when considering starting seeds is whether or not you you need a grow light to grow seeds indoors. The answer is--maybe.

If you choose to try your luck, here's how to start seeds without grow lights. Place your seeds in front of a sunny south-facing window. You'll need to pay attention to them, however, and they will get more "leggy" typically than their "light grown" counterparts.

A better way to go without spending too much is to try good, old-fashioned fluorescent "shop lights."

This set of 4 shop lights is a very inexpensive option. Many even come with hooks on the back and pre-installed cords, so you can just hang them and plug them in.

You can also start seeds under LED lights, which helps avoid the mercury concerns of fluorescent bulbs. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that LED lighting is more directional and the light is at the bottom of the tube, so plants at the outer edges of your planting system will tend to lean inwards.

Frugal Plastic Covering

You'll often see literature on starting seeds advising you to cover your seeds with plastic domes (either one large dome or smaller, individual domes) until the seeds sprout to speed up sprouting.

If you can be patient, you don't need to do this, so you can save here. If you're in a hurry, skip the dome, and just use some plastic wrap and toothpicks to keep the wrap at the proper height, removing it once the plants sprout.

Cheap or Free Seed Starting Containers

Rather than spend a lot of money on specialized containers at your garden center, use things that you have around the house for. You can make seed starting containers from a variety of different cheap or free containers, and they all work very well.

One thing to keep in mind is that it's best to use containers that are the same height to prevent headaches when positioning your grow lights.

Plastic Containers

If you're like most people, you have a lot of seed containers lying around your home, just waiting to be used. Containers of all types make excellent planting vessels for your new crop. Use the following in place of purchased pots for starting seeds.

  • Small Containers - Small containers like single-serve yogurt cartons, water bottles cut in half, and other such containers make excellent seed starters. Just poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage.
    You'll have to transplant them later, of course, as we discussed in this post on starting seeds. Foam egg cartons are perfect for this too!
  • Medium Containers - Medium containers like large yogurt containers, plastic dip containers, SOLO cups, and the like make excellent transplant vessels or starting vessels if you want to avoid transplanting seedlings. Again, just poke some holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Large Containers - Large containers like rectangular milk and orange juice cartons are excellent seed starters. Simply cut the containers in half, add your mix, and plant your seeds. The only downside is that you'll have to manually separate the seedlings later on.

Biodegradable Containers

Biodegradable Containers are a little more unwieldy in that, if they get too wet, they will decompose, but they are handy in that you can plant the seedlings directly into the ground once they are ready. Here are some free / almost free options that work great.

  • Newspaper Seed Pots - You can make your own sturdy seed pots from newspaper.
  • Toilet Paper Tubes - Toilet paper tubes make great starters for almost any plants outside of those with aggressive root systems like corn or peas. Simply cut your TP tube in half, fill with your seed starting mix, and plant. You'll need to set your tubes on something flat to keep the mix in the tube, but that's about the only headache you'll have.
  • Cardboard Egg Cartons - Simple separate the sections when ready to plant
  • Other Paper Tubes - You can also start seeds in a paper towel tube or in wrapping paper tubers. These work the same as the TP tubes, but you'll have to cut them into smaller sizes first.
  • Eggshells--Yes, you can start seeds in eggshells with an added benefit being that the eggshells enrich the soil with calcium and nitrogen.

Here are some other great DIY seed pots for more inspiration.

Free Seedling Flats

Just like I mentioned in this post on getting free plants, you might just be able to land some free seedling flats. Often times, your local big box store's garden center will give away flats at the end of the gardening season. You can also check with your local garden center too.

While this won't help you for the current season, it will give you some nice seed starting containers for the next one. Larger flats make it more convenient for when it's time for hardening off seedlings since you can move them in and out of your house more easily.

Cheap or Free Plant Tags

There are lots of fun and cute plant tags out there, but they can get really pricey fast.

One method I've used is to wrap some scotch tape around a toothpick or unbent paper clip. Make a little tag out of the tape and write on the tape with a Sharpie pen. Easy and cheap!

You can also just make a paper diagram, or take a photo of your garden and label it using an app on your phone.

Know What to Start Indoors vs. Outdoors

I didn't know this when I started gardening, but there are some plants that do better when started indoors and some which should be sown outdoors. Knowing the reasons for seed sowing indoors vs. outdoors will help you make good decisions in this area. Plus, that post also has a list of plants you should simply not start indoors.

No one wants to go to all of this effort (even if it doesn't cost that much) only to have it fail and then your money is completely down the drain.

Conclusion

Starting seeds on a budget can be easy and even fun. Between recycling and some easy DIY projects, you can do a lot with very little if you know how.

Hopefully, you'll be inspired to give these frugal tips a try so that both your summer and fall garden vegetables will cost as little as possible to bring from garden to table.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Adrienne, thank you for sharing this great idea. I tried planting mung bean and tomato in egg shell and it starting to sprout. I am very excited because I haven't done this before. I am planning to transfer them in plastic bottle once they grow a little higher. I have a lot of empty coke plastic bottles. Probably I will cut a large hole in the middle and punch a hole where I can place a string so that I can hang them. This will save a lot of space I think.