11 Frugal Seed Starting Hacks to Get Your Garden Going

Can you believe that it is almost time to get out the seeds to start our spring gardens?

Can we all have a collective ‘Yay!’ for just a moment? I’m so happy! I know that winter is really just getting started, but the sight of anything new growing lets me know that spring is’a coming!

But did you know that there are many different hacks that we all should know and take advantage of to make our seed starting experience that much better?

Well, I wanted you to at least know some of the hacks I’ve seen over the years so you could try them out and see which ones worked best for you.

Here are different seed starting methods we all should know about:

1. Paper Mache Planters

Starting your seeds can get really expensive if you buy everything you need to start them.

Well, thankfully, people started getting creative in ways to save money, and they shared their thoughts. Instead of having to purchase a bunch of seed starter trays, you can make your own paper mache seed starter pots.

According to the tutorial, this is a great way to reuse old cereal boxes. But if you have other cardboard boxes on hand you could re-use, then this would be a great way to upcycle items to create new items that you need and save money in the process in too.

2. Grow Under Shop Lights

When I wrote the Morning Chores article about starting your own seeds, I shared then how my husband and I couldn’t afford typical grow lights. They can be quite expensive.

So instead, we found where people were using shop lights to start their seeds. In our area, shop lights were about half the price of grow lights.

Naturally, we tried it out and fell in love with the idea. It worked really well for us, and we’ve used them every year since.

So if you are trying to start seeds on a budget, try using shop lights to start them this year.

3. T.P. Pots

What do you do with all over your toilet paper rolls? Whether you are tossing them into the trash or the recycling bin, there is still a way that you can upcycle them.

Basically, you’ll save them to plant your seeds in. You just fill the rolls with potting mix and plant the seeds in them.

Then the seeds will grow, and when it is time to plant them in the ground, you can literally put the toilet paper roll and all in the ground. It will then compost and make the soil around the plant that much more vibrant.

So consider starting your seeds in your old toilet paper rolls this year and see what you think.

4. Portable Greenhouse

A portable greenhouse is a really cool idea that I’m going to implement this year when we start our seeds. In previous years, we’d grow our seeds in trays (we used either seed starting trays or aluminum lasagna dishes to start our seeds in), and when it was time to harden them off, we had a greenhouse to do that in.

But we moved this past year and don’t have a new greenhouse up just yet.

So this year, I’m going to have to get creative. Thankfully, there are lots of great ideas on the internet (like this one) where you get clear plastic totes that have lids.

Then you set the plants inside the totes. You can leave the totes outside covered or uncovered, depending on the wind, weather, and what stages the plants are at. You’ll have a miniature and inexpensive cold frame greenhouse.

5. DIY Seed Starting Mix

When starting seeds, you find that specific stores and brands are very proud of their seed starting mix. They display their pride through high prices.

So if you are like me and trying to raise your own plants for as little upfront investment as possible, then this probably doesn’t go over very well with you.

Well, it doesn’t have to. Thanks to the internet, lots of people share their wonderful ideas for creating their own seed starting mix.

Then you can get the ingredients and make your own any time you want and (hopefully) for less money than what you’d pay for it already mixed at the store.

6. Winter Sow

The above picture is another brilliant idea that every gardener should know about and tap into when possible, especially those who live in particularly cold climates with shorter growing seasons.

Now, this is an idea called winter sowing. Here is a complete tutorial on how you go about doing this, but I’m going to give you a brief overview.

Basically, you create miniature greenhouses from old milk cartons. You fill the cartons with soil and plant your seeds in the soil.

From there, you make sure that you poke holes in the jug for proper drainage and that you water the soil thoroughly.

Then you put the jugs outside, in a place where the wind or animals won’t knock them over. You just let them sit all winter.

However, it is recommended that you plant your perennials earlier because they can handle snow and frost better.

But you should wait until most of the harsh winter is over before planting annuals, as they can be a little easier to kill.

7. Plant in Lemon Rinds

I love the idea of reusing objects or food that we usually would toss in the garbage, to the chickens, or in the compost bin.

So it should come as no surprise that I love this idea because it allows me to take food and use it for planting. If you are someone who eats lemons, cleans with them, or cooks with them, then you’ll want to begin to save your lemon rinds.

Or if you use other types of citrus fruit to eat, clean or cook with, then you might want to begin saving those as well. Lemons are smaller, so they seem to be a better fit for starting seeds.

Either way, you’ll put seed starting mix inside the lemon and plant your seed. You’ll allow the seeds to sprout and go through the hardening off process.

But when it is time to put the seedling in the ground, you’ll plant the rind and all. Then it will compost and add to the soil around the seed.

8. Plant in an Egg


I love this idea as well. It is very similar to the idea of planting in a lemon rind or a paper mache pot. This requires some forethought for me, though.

See, I usually feed all of my egg shells back to my chickens as a source of calcium.

So when I know I’m going to be starting seeds, I have to think ahead, so I don’t give all of my future pots to my hens.

But if you can remember to save your eggshells, you’ll want to rinse them out. Then let them dry until you are ready to use them.

From there, you’ll fill the shells with potting mix and plant the seeds in the shells. You’ll care for the seeds as you would if they were planted in any other container.

Then you’ll allow them to sprout and go through the hardening off process. When the seedling is ready, it will be time to plant it in the ground.

So when you plant it, again, you’ll plant the shell with the plant. This way it won’t disrupt the plant, and the shell will break down and be a source of calcium for your plants. That is really important because in certain plants, like tomatoes and peppers, they can develop bloom rot if they don’t get enough calcium.

Which means, planting those in eggshells could help prevent disease and give you a better harvest.

9. DIY Heat Mat

When it is time to get your seeds to sprout, this can be a difficult thing to do. The reason is the seeds have to be kept warm to germinate.

So we used to put the seeds on top of our fridge and freezer in our kitchen. The warmth from the top of those appliances would help spur germination along.

However, there is an easier way. You can purchase a heat mat. This mat will warm the seeds from underneath and cause germination to take place.

But what if you don’t want to purchase a heat mat?

Well, you can make your own. Here is a tutorial to help you through the process, but I’m going to give you a brief overview too.

So you’ll place rope lights on a piece of plywood. Then attach smaller pieces of woods, kind of like skids, to keep the seeds from sitting directly on the rope lights. This should produce enough heat to help with germination.

10. Egg Carton Pots

If you don’t want to save your eggshells, maybe you could keep your egg cartons to start your seeds in. This could save you money on purchasing seed starting trays and is a pretty easy set-up with virtually no set-up costs.

So you’ll just fill each slot in the egg carton with the starting mix. Then plant your seeds in each slot. You’ll need to put some drainage holes in the bottom, so the plants can soak water up from the bottom when starting.

From there, you are pretty well done. If you have cardboard egg cartons, then you can plant those in the ground when you plant the seeds.

But if you are using Styrofoam egg cartons, you’ll have to pull the seedling out to plant it.

11. Paper Cups

The final method of starting seeds that you may find very helpful to you this year is by planting your seeds in a paper cup.

So if you are planting seeds on a budget, then you’ll be happy to know that you can purchase 3-ounce cups here or medicine size cups here. They are very inexpensive.

However, you can also find them at your local chain grocer on the picnic supplies aisle, usually.

Either way, you just fill the cups with starting mix, plant the seeds, and allow them to germinate, grow, and go through the hardening off process.

From there, when it is time, you’ll plant the seedling and the cup together in their permanent location. The paper will compost and create a more fertile dirt for the new plant.

I really love all of these ideas because they give all of us something new to think about and try out. It challenges us as gardeners to try to create healthier plants with each passing year and a lot of these methods (or hacks) help us to be more economical about our gardening efforts as well.

But I’d like to hear your thoughts. What methods or hacks do you use when starting your seeds? What has worked well for you in the past? What hasn’t worked very well for you?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave us your comments in the space provided below.

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