My New Seed Starting Method (2023)


Starting seedlings inside is a common trend amongst gardeners. It doesn’t require much but time, pots, seed starting mix, and grow lights. Starting seeds indoors is beneficial for new gardeners especially. It allows you to have greater amounts of control over the success and germination rates of seeds you wish to have in your garden plan. Not only does it make your plants more developed and hardy, it also reduces the amount of time it takes for you to receive a harvest. Sometimes starting seeds outside directly sown is more time/energy efficient than starting indoors if growing things like root vegetables or early cold hardy plants such as certain lettuce, bean, and pea varieties.  There are many methods to starting your own seedlings indoors and everyone seems to do theirs slightly different. This includes variations to the trays/pots, the soil they use, types of lights, distance from lights to plants, size pots, etc. To help reduce the clickbait and the noise I will go into describing how I have been going about starting seeds indoors and what I am switching to for this growing season.

1. My Previous Method (Plastic Trays)

Previously, I used the cheap seed starting trays that you can pick up at Lowe’s, Walmart, or any big chain wholesale/hardware and garden store. These trays are only convenient for those who don’t plan on doing serious gardening and don’t want to invest in better methods/resources upfront.

 At first glance these trays are great, they typically cost below $10 and contain 72+ cells for seedlings as well as a humidity lid as well as another tray with no cell to allow for bottom watering. Some of these kits will even include peat moss pots to start seeds in, but I wouldn’t recommend them as in my experience they are prone to molding. This alone is enough to prevent me from using them as it isn’t great to breathe in if keeping indoors and can cause fungal issues with seedlings. My issues with these cheap plastic trays are that they are flimsy. Once you add all your soil mix, seeds, and water it becomes challenging to even carry these trays without feeling as though one wrong move and they might crack or spill over. 

My next issue is that when removing seedlings to be transplanted into either a bigger pot/cell it can be difficult to remove the seedling. Many people including myself have had to use a spoon or popsicle stick to try and pry the seedling(s) from the sides of the cell, otherwise you will either have to risk pulling on the fragile stem of the seedling or cutting out the cell from the tray. One benefit to this method is that it retains water well as the plastic walls prevent moisture from escaping, so you won’t really have to worry about your seedlings drying out too fast while indoors.

2. Soil Mix/Methods

Most of my experience starting seeds are based around using store bought seed starting mix. Typically in the past I would buy the miracle-gro seed starting mix. This mix isn’t organic, but it works. I will be moving away from this method as I am trying my best to uses more sustainable, organic materials. There are many other brands that sell organic seed starting mix, the best ones seem to be sold online, but I don’t have any personal recommendations for any brands/types. There are also a lot of people who tend to make their own seed starting mixes. These mixes are a ratio of compost, vermiculite, coconut coir (or peat moss), and perlite. Some people urge you to avoid peat moss as peat moss is not sustainably harvested in some cases which can permanently alter ecosystems in other parts of the world. Typically people who make their own mix run larger operations and it saves them a little more money and control over what ratios they want for various plants. This year I am most likely going to buy an organic brand online or mix my own. I will be sure to document what I end up using for seed starting mix this year and describing what I liked/disliked.

3. My New Method

My new seed starting method doesn’t involve buying any new seedling cell trays this year or relying on a series of peat pots. This year I am using a tool called a soil blocker. This tool is made from metal, it has a spring loaded handle on the top and it has four separate cells to create soil blocks. To use it, you prepare your seedling mix in a tub or bucket and add enough water that you can mold it into a ball, but it is not dripping water if you lightly squeeze it. Then you use the soil blocker and apply pressure until the dirt is pressed into the metal cells in a compressed state. Once you have it compressed into the blocks you then move the tool into whatever tray you want to use to hold the soil blocks. Lastly press down on the handle and now you have four, two inch soil blocks with depressions in the middle for seeds. All you have to do is repeat the process until your needs are met and continue to keep the blocks watered. I chose to switch to this method as I liked not having to worry about buying seed trays and the ease of transplanting plants. A con to this method is that sometimes roots matt at the bottom and sides with other roots from other blocks, which can make it more difficult to break apart before transplanting. A way to avoid this is to use a “grate” like tray to air prune the roots or you can just keep the blocks further apart from each other to prevent dreading together.

4. Why I Chose This Method Over Air Trays

Another method of starting seeds is using air pruning trays. Air pruning trays are similar to the regular seed starting trays as the seeds cells are imbedded in them, but they allow for roots to be exposed on the bottom, preventing them form growing out and matting together due to exposure to the air. This method is another good choice as it allows for easier access to push the seedlings out from the bottom, as well as keeping the simplicity of having all your seedlings in one individual tray. Adding soil to these trays is also easy as all you have to do is either pack it on top of the tray or push the tray on top of the soil. These trays are also durable and reusable plastic and should last for many seasons. The reason I didn’t go with this route was that I didn’t want to invest in more trays as it was more expensive to go that route rather than buy the soil blocking tool. Depending on the brand and cell size you buy, each air pruning tray ranges from about $20 to close to $100. Though my soil blocking method is slightly more time consuming it is saving me money (costs $40 on amazon) and is reusable, it also allows me to have more control when starting seedlings.

5. The Cons of My New Method

As I briefly mentioned above, there are a few cons to using the soil blocking method. The first and biggest con to the entire method in my opinion is that it does take a little bit of time to fill trays out if you buy the four blocks, two inch tool. The company does make larger/smaller tools, but the price difference jumps from the tens to the hundreds if buying the larger tool. If you are working on your own farm or run a business selling crops or seedlings I would advise you to maybe consider the air pruning trays, or investing in the more expensive soil block tool as to be more time efficient. Another con, depending on your holding trays for the soil blocks is that if you do not have an open grate tray underneath, you may have issues with the roots growing together and matting. This is a pain when trying to transplant and minimize the amount of root damage as it can make transplanting take longer and increase their chance of going into shock. If you choose the correct grate or tray this is not an issue though.


Overall, I hope to gain more time, money, and control over my seed starting method using my new soil blocker tool. I hope to observe healthier, stronger seedlings that receive less transplant shock than the more conventional methods. I plan to update you all on my experience after this growing season and will be sure to share what I like about it and what I don’t. There are many options to go about your seed starting, but I think that you should consider trying this method out if you are serious about gardening and want to save a bit of money and time. If you are tired of transplants wilting after being transplanted, this method is for you! I hope you all learned something and will consider diversifying your seed starting method.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *