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best seed starter kit

The best seed starter kit

Planting seeds directly in the garden outside can have iffy results, which is why gardeners often start their seeds indoors. Whether this is your first time growing a plant from seed or your hundredth time, picking the right seed starter kit can make all the difference. Seeds that are started in a protected environment with optimal soil will germinate faster and grow into hardier plants that can stand up to less-than-ideal conditions later on. Read this buying guide to decide which seed starter kit best fits your situation. We’ve included a few recommendations, like the Bootstrap Farmer Extra-Strength Seed Starter Kit, which enables you to start hundreds, not dozens, of seeds at once.

Considerations when choosing seed starter kits

A seed starter kit makes it possible to start seeds indoors months before the outdoor planting season begins. For gardeners in northerly climes, this is a real game-changer.

Seed starter kits are compact, sturdy enough to hold several cubic inches of soil, and easy to tend without making a big mess. This makes them a great choice for apartment dwellers or those with limited space to start seeds indoors.

Ease of watering is important for seed starting. Kits should include a catch tray for water overflow or that you can keep water in so the soil around the seedlings remains moist but not soaking wet.

Size matters when choosing a seed starter kit. If you’re planning to grow larger vegetables like squash or tomatoes, the early shoots will quickly grow too big for small chambers that are just an inch or two wide. You’ll have to shift them to a bigger pot, which can be risky for new shoots that shouldn’t be moved until their stalks have gotten a bit wider. To avoid this problem, decide what you’re going to plant and then purchase a seed starter kit with chambers that are the appropriate size for the seedlings you’ll be working with.

Transferring seedlings needs to be an easy, stress-free process for you and the plants. If you’re worried about having to grub around each chamber to lift out a seedling, choose a kit that is less likely to have this happen.

The central component of a seed starter kit is a preformed plastic tray with chambers. A second tray is included, which fits underneath the chamber tray to catch water. Seed starter kits also include a clear plastic top, which helps maintain temperature and moisture while the seedlings grow.

A starting medium is also frequently included in seed starter kits. Peat is a popular choice, as it holds moisture, provides support for new roots, and can be transferred with the plant to the garden bed. Peat pellets, which expand when you add water, are great for germinating seeds. Peat pots — often sold in trays of six to eight attached pots — are easy to detach and plant when it’s time.

Some kits don’t include starting medium, as many gardeners prefer to mix up their own blend of soil, compost, and supportive ingredients like peat or vermiculite.

If your indoor space is chilly or gets little direct sunlight, a kit that includes a warming mat (placed under the tray) or a kit with a grow light can be a huge boost.

For those who want to grow specific plants like herbs, seed starter kits are available that include seeds, appropriately sized trays, starter medium and even plant food.

A tremendous variety of seed starter kits are available for less than $25. Kits with a low-end grow light can range between $30 and $50, while those with optimal lighting and warmth to get seedlings going run between $50 and $100.

Q. Do all plants grow better and more hardy if they’re started in a seed starter kit?

A. No, not all plants handle indoor starting well. Root vegetables like potatoes, beets, onions and carrots do best when directly planted in a garden or large container, and other garden vegetables like corn, peas and beans also tend to do better when not transplanted from one location to another. However, some vegetables and flowers do much better when started indoors: members of the brassica family, such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, tend to thrive when started indoors ahead of the planting season.

Q. I live in a warm climate and can plant my garden as early as March. Do I really need a seed starter kit?

A. Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 8, 9, and 10 can plant outdoors much earlier than in zones northward, and their growing seasons last much longer. Using a seed starter kit can still be a great help with plants that aren’t as hardy. Also, starting seeds weeks before planting them can help prolific gardeners get two crops in a growing season.

Our team of experts has selected the best seed starter kits out of dozens of options. Don't buy a seed starter kit before reading these reviews.