How To Start Seeds Indoors

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This is a guest post by Jay Harris of The Home Depot.

How To Start Seeds

Remember in elementary school when your class nurtured bean plants inside Dixie cups by the window? I can recall the thrill of seeing a little green sprout push through the dirt in my cup after what seemed like a lifetime of planting patience.

That same excitement still surfaces every March, when the days of spring begin to tease my green thumb from its hibernation. And just like that anxious fourth-grade gardener, I can hardly wait to get going on my growing.

Luckily, there’s plenty to be done while the last of winter’s frost lingers. Seeds offer a wide variety of colors, sizes, and growth habits at a fraction of the cost of started plants, so get a jump on the season by coaxing seedlings into sprouts indoors. Just like those tiny cups on the classroom sill, a seed starting setup doesn’t necessitate yards of space, so even those limited to apartments, condos, and bitty balconies can dig in.

Here, I’ve sowed several tips for sprouting seeds in small spaces.

The Setup

Have a south-facing window?

Install one or two glass shelves between the frame or stack cabinet organizers on top of the sill or an adjacent table. If your window is subject to drafts (as many are in older urban buildings), consider situating an electric heating mat underneath your window plot.

Go vertical with your window garden by stringing from the upper frame recycled coffee k-cups, plastic soda bottles, Ziploc bags, or plastic trading card sleeves. These makeshift planters are the perfect size to hold a handful of potting mix and a single seed in each compartment.

Have a sunny wall?

Hang a clear plastic shoe organizer on the wall (like this one), and then poke holes in the bottom of every pouch except those on the lowest row. Plant individual seedlings in each section. Water the top row, then watch the water trickle the top down to the bottom.

Check out the array of green wall systems on the market, such as these modular, magnetic arrangements or fabric planting pockets like these and these.

Have a sunlit porch or patio?

How To Start Seeds 1

Create a ‘cold frame’ using a clear plastic bin or a wooden box with a hinged window top. By raising the Rubbermaid top with small stakes tucked into each corner or by bracing open the glass box cover, you can allow your plants to get fresh air and grow accustomed to the wind and cold (just remember to close the lid at night to protect your seedlings from freezing temperatures).

Have none of the above?

Purchase a grow light, which provides the illumination seeds need when natural sunlight is lacking. Most of these lights have been outfitted with chains meant for suspension from the ceiling, but to keep your seed-starting footprint to a minimum, try hanging the light beneath a shelf or coffee table. Seedlings can then be tucked beneath this furniture without detracting from its functionality.

The Process

Create a planter.

Once you’ve established a warm home for your seedlings, you’ll need to make their beds. And the use of paper cups in the aforementioned primary school project was spot on, as indoor seed starting is prime recycling time: consider transforming biodegradable egg cartons or eggshell halves, homemade newspaper pots, or plastic clamshells from store-bought greens into petite planters. You’ll want to place a single seedling in each container or space them out a great deal so that their roots won’t tangle together. (Find organic seeds here.)

Make the potting mix.

Purchase starting medium or soil mix from a store or create your own by combining equal parts compost and vermiculite. (Find organic potting soil and fertilizers here.) You’ll want the soil to be loose enough to allow roots to grow freely.

Water regularly.

While your seeds are germinating, the potting mix should be kept damp. A turkey baster makes easy work of dribbling water into individual containers, while a spray bottle can be used to lightly spritz the surface of planters without washing away the soil.

Acclimate your sprouts.

Roughly two weeks before transplanting your seedlings outdoors, begin hardening them off by introducing them to the elements. Start by placing them in the shade on warm afternoons for two to three hours, and then gradually move them into the sun while also increasing their alfresco time.


Once your seedlings have sprouted and established leaves and the threat of frost has passed, it’s time to move them to a larger outdoor garden or patio planter. If you’ve utilized a biodegradable planter (such as an egg carton), you can cut it to divide the compartments, then transfer each seedling directly into the ground, container and all. Otherwise, you’ll need to gently remove the sprout from its nest, taking care not to damage the root ball, into moist, fertile soil.

Do these ideas plant a seed for your small space?


Jay Harris is a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs and a writer on Home Depot’s blog.

photo credit to redmudball and inkandpen respectively

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  1. Catherine says

    Thank you for these awesome tips! I already have some started in little kits I got for a buck! I work for THD also, but I am not know to have a green thumb. So thanks THD people who help us otherwise!

  2. Gail says

    Thanks, not sure if this has worked for others, but it has for me. i save seeds from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and dark watermelons seeds from store brought produce. put them in some water(normally a water bottle i cut in half and use the bottom). within a day or two the seed will sprout a tail, kinda like a tadpole. then i add them to dirt( again used water bottle bottoms,applesauce individual cups, pudding/jello cups). place 3 or 4 in a gallon ziplock bag, creating a mini green house in a bag. once it sprout thru the dirt i place in the window until they ready for my raised beds outside. i have a bad back, but built my beds out of used wood doors. they are placed on 5 cider blocks. i attached wood panels to enclose the doors. i have 4 and truly enjoy the produce and so do my friends and neighbors that i share with.

  3. Shelley S says

    A tip. Sometimes the seedlings will develop a fungus on the soil and rot at the soil line. A great preventative is to sprinkle the surface of the soil with cinnamon aftyer seeds are planted and watered in. No fungus!

  4. Jennifer says

    I have a south facing window, it is facing my front covered porch. Will that work for starting herbs & teas from non gmo seeds? I live in ohio and the nights are still in the low 40’s so im not sure starting on the porch now will work.

  5. Melissa says

    Using an egg carton is a great ideal to get seeds start. I will be recycling quite a few.

  6. Linda says

    Pretty good coverage of the subject of starting seed, with options for various ways to start according to a person’s needs. This is a good reference. Thanks.

  7. Mitch says

    Just In Time. I am planning on starting my seeds indoors this week. Hope I am not too late in the game though. I will be referring to this post in a couple days whaen I get started. Thanks.