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How to Start Your Own Seedlings (Veg, Fruit, Flowers) and Save a Bundle

Starting your own plants from seeds is a great way to save money (quite a lot) and have the exact varieties you want, as local nurseries and big box stores often have a limited selection and few heirloom varieties of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, cucumbers, melons and other vegetables and flowers. So, you may think you have a black thumb and can't succeed, but, if you follow the simple directions below, I can assure you that you will have great results.

How much money can you save? 

Ypou can save at least 90% of the cost. The math is simple.  I'll use 100 plants as a figure, even though you may only want a dozen,because the math is simpler.


Buying the plants

In January 2017, most stores (Home Depot, Lowe's Wal-Mart, etc.) are selling Bonnies plants for $3.68 (plus tax) , if the tax rate is 7 or 85, that means $4 per 3" or 4" peat pot. Potting soil

And to grow your own?

Here's what you'll need:

Plastic 16 ounce cups (ccommonly called "Solo cups") - about $10 for 240 at BJ's warehouse.

Potting soil: Miracle-Grow - 40lb bag: $10 at Costco, BJ's or Sam's Club.

Tray to hold the cups - free, just ask for the empties at HomeDepot, Lowe's etc.

Seeds - anywhere from $1.5 to $3 for a packet, for 100 plants, you'd need 2 or 3 packs, so let's say average total of $5.

That''s it.  To raise 100 plants, it would cost $10 for cups, $10 for potting soil, and $5 for seeds.  That is a total of $25, or 25 cents per plant. to get exactly what you want. Compared with $4 per plant at the store.  Can you say "Obsecene profit ,margins"?

Here's how to do it

Step 1 - Gather your supplies.Solo cups labeled for seeds

Here's what you will need and some common places to get them:

  • 18 ounce size Solo cups (or any other sturdy large plastic cup at least 16 oz size)
  • A tray to hold the cups to prevent them from falling over.  The empt plant trays at Home Depot or Lowes work great.  You could also use dish pans, or even cardboard boxes from Costco.
  • Potting soil - the 50 Qt size bag of Miracle Gro potting soil will fill 100 cups. Why buy the soil?  It is sterile, so there are no weed seeds in it.  It is light and designed to have the best denisty for starting seeds. It has the nutrients the seeds need to get started.  Is all of that true of the soil in your back yard?
  • Seeds. Whatever you want to grow.  This method works with almost anything.  I've used this to raise hundrerds of tomatoes, eggplants, canteloupes, watermelons, peppers, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, artichokes, etc.
  • Tools: a scoop, hand trowel, etc. and a sharp knife or sizzors and a sharpie pen or other permanent marker.
  • A spray bottle filled with water

Step 2 - Label the cups. Fill the cups with potting soil

You can be as OCD or casual as you like.  I just abbreviate, like C for canteloupes, BK for Black Krim tomatoes, etc.

Step 3 - Fill the cups

Fill each cup 2/3 full with the potting soil. Do not tamp it down.

Step 4 - Add water

Add about 4 ounces of water to each cup.  That will take sometime to fully obsorb, so although it shouldn't be soupy, it may have some free water. We add the water now to mpoisten it and it avoids uncovering the seeds if we did this after planting the seeds in the cups.

put seeds in each cupStep 5 - Add the seeds to each cup

Carefully place 3 seeds in each cup, spread apart (like at the points of a triangle). Why 3 seeds? Not every seed germinates!  See the table farther down this page for typic al gernmination rates, it varies from one plant to another, typically from 55% to 80%.  SO, 3 seeds, pretty much ensures you will have at least one sprout.  You can plant 4 or 5 seeds per cup if you have enough. And the converse is true, with larger seeds that have higher germination rates, like canteloupes, you can put only 2 seeds in each cup.

Step 6 - Cover with more potting soil

Add more potting soil to cover the seeds.  Typically, we cover seeds with enough soil to make 4 times the diameter of the seeds, but more most seeds, simply covering them with 1/2 inch of potting soil is finSpray 10 times into each planted cupe.

Step 7 -  Spray more water into the cups

I set the spray onto a wide spray patter, so it won't wash away the seeds, then give each cup 10 squirts.  This ensures that the soil above the seeds is moist, too.

Step 8 - Put in a warm place, sunny or notSeeds just sprouting

Most seeds have an optimal germination temperature.  For most vegetable seeds it is between 75 F and 85 F.  SO, a sunny location is fine, as long as you do not let the cups dry out. I check them every morning and every evening and use the spray bottle or gently pour in water with a cup, taking care not to uncover the seeds.

How long to wait?  Most seeds germinat (sproutP) within 7 to 10 days. Artichokes are a notable exception and can take 2 or 3 weeks!


Vegetable or Fruit
rates (%)
Days to Germinate
Asparagus 60 10
Bean, Lima 70 6
Bean, Snap 75 7
Beets 65 4
Broccoli 75 4
Brussels Sprouts 70 4
Cabbage 75 4
Carrot 55 6
Cauliflower 75 5
Celeriac 55 11
Celery 55 7
Chicory 65 6
Chinese Cabbage 75 4
Cucumber 80 3
Eggplant 60 6
Endive 70 6
Kale 75 4
Kohlrabi 75 4
Leek 60 7
Lettuce 80 3
Muskmelon 75 4
New Zealand Spinach 40 6
Okra 50 6
Onion 70 6
Parsley 60 13
Parsnip 60 14
Pea 80 6
Pepper 55 8
Pumpkin 75 4
Radish 75 4
Rutabaga 75 4
Salsify 75 6
Spinach 60 5
Squash 75 4
Sweetcorn 75 3
Swiss Chard 65 4
Tomato 75 6
Turnip 80 3
Watermelon 80 4

Punch a hole in each cupStep 9 - Punch a hole in the cup

With a sharp knife or one side of a pair of sizzors, I punch a hole about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in each cup, NOT in the bottom, but rather about 1/3 up from the bottom, on the side, as shown in the photo.  Why? This keeps the seeds from becoming waterlogged by overwatering (or a heavy rain), yet retains enough water to allow it to be asborbed by the entire container.  I've been doing this for many years and found this placement works best.

Step 10 - Watering, Sun and Thinning

Keep the the soil moist but not soggy. Don't let them dry out. If you see mold or fungus growing on the plants or soil, you are overwatering.  Keep the plants in the sun.  When they reach about 3 inches tall, thin them by using your sizzors to carefully cut off the stems of all but one or 2 plants per cup.  Then when they reach 4 or 5 inches tall, thin agin to 1 plant per container.  Always leave the strogest looking plants.


Planting out - Transplanting into the GardenSeedlings ready to plant

When the weather conditions in your garden are right and the plants are sturdy enough (usually 5 inches tall or higher), you are ready to plamnt them by simply gently sliding them out of the cups!  That's it!




  1. STARTING PLANTS FROM SEEDS, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE & LIFE SCIENCES, Erv Evans, Extension Associate, Horticultural Science, Frank A. Blazich, Professor, Horticultural Science, see Table 1. Germination information for selected plants: approximate time to seed before last frost, days for
    germination, optimum temperature for germination, and light requirements

  2. Handbook for Vegetable Growers. 1960. Knott, J.E. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  3. Seeds, The Yearbook of Agriculture. 1961. Stefferud, A., Editor. The United States Government Printing Office

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