Gardening Secrets for Starting Seeds

Get ready for a gorgeous garden with these simple tips.

iStockphoto/ThinkstockAluminum Foil

To give plants grown from seeds a healthy head start, line a shoe box with aluminum foil, shiny side up, allowing about two inches of foil to extend out over the sides. Poke several drainage holes in the bottom — penetrating the foil — then fill the box slightly more than halfway with potting soil, and plant the seeds. The foil inside the box will absorb heat to keep the seeds warm as they germinate, while the foil outside the box will reflect light onto the young sprouts. Place the box near a sunny window, keep the soil moist, and watch ’em grow!

Cardboard Tubes

Don’t go to the garden supply store to buy biodegradable starting pots for seedlings. Just use the cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper. Use scissors to cut each toilet paper tube into two pots, or each paper towel tube into four. Fill a tray with the cut cylinders packed against each other so they won’t tip when you water the seedlings. This will also prevent them from drying out too quickly. Now fill each pot with seed-starting mix, gently pack it down, and sow your seeds. When you plant the seedlings, make sure to break down the side of the roll and make sure all the cardboard is completely buried.

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Egg Cartons

An egg carton can become the perfect nursery for your seeds. Use a cardboard egg carton, not a polystyrene one. Fill each cell in the carton with soil and plant a few seeds in each one. Once the seeds have sprouted, divide the carton into individual cells and plant, cardboard cells and all.


Eggshells are a great addition to your compost because they are rich in calcium — a nutrient that helps plants. Crushing them before you put them in your compost heap will help them break down faster.

Margarine Tubs

Starting your seeds indoors is supposed to save you money, so don’t spend your savings on lots of big seed trays. Take a margarine tub, poke a few holes in the bottom, add moistened seed-starting mix, and sow your seeds following packet instructions. Use permanent marker on the side of the tub to help you remember what you’ve sown, and use the tub’s lid as a drip saucer. Small tubs are space savers as well, especially if you want to start only one or two of each type of plant.

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Milk Cartons

Milk cartons are the perfect size to use for seed starters. Simply cut off the top half of a carton, punch holes in the bottom, fill with potting mix, and sow the seeds according to instructions on the packet.

Paper Towels

You’ve just found a packet of watermelon seeds dated from two springs back. To find out if they can still be planted, dampen two paper towels and lay down a few seeds. Cover with two more dampened paper towels. Over the next two weeks, keep the towels damp and keep checking on the seeds. If most of the seeds sprout, then plant the rest of the batch in the garden.

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You can get woody seeds, such as moonflower, passionflower, morning glory, and gourds, off to a healthier start by scarifying them-that is, lightly rubbing them between a couple of sheets of fine sandpaper-and soaking them overnight in a solution of 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 pint (half liter) warm water. Next morning, remove the seeds from the solution, rinse them off, and plant them. You can also use the solution (minus the sandpaper treatment) to start many herb and vegetable seeds.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest