Containers for Starting Seeds

There are many different options for containers that can be used to start seedlings. 

Plastic Seed Starting Trays  |  Peat Pots  |  Recycled Food Containers  |  Cardboard Tubes & Egg Cartons  |  Origami Paper Pots  |  Other  |  More Information

Plastic Seed Starting Trays

Stores and garden centers have several different types of containers made specifically for germinating and growing annual and vegetable seeds in late winter/early spring.   These options include plastic trays specifically designed for seed starting, such as row seedling flats or open flats where you sow seeds in individual rows. These trays can hold several types of seeds in their own little rows, utilizing very little space. Once the true leaves form on the seedlings, they can be separated and transplanted into their own separate containers.  Some gardeners prefer to start their seeds in individual containers like cell packs or plug trays.  All these containers can be reused as long as they are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before each use.

Types of Commercially Available Seed Starting Containers

Row seedling tray
Row Seedling Tray
Cell packs for seed starting
Cell Packs
Plug tray for seed starting
Plug Tray
peat pots for seed starting
Peat Pots


Peat Pots

Biodegradable pots in various sizes can also be used.  Peat pots are made from compressed peat moss.  Occasionally, compressed paper or cardboard pots look much like peat pots and are used in the same way. Peat pots are plantable.  While you can peel the pot off the root ball before planting, it is not required as it will break down in the soil.  Be sure to remove the top portion or bury the entire container, as any part that sticks above ground after planting can cause the soil around the young plant to dry out quickly.

Recycled Food Containers

Clear plastic fruit trays in which strawberries and other fruits are packaged at the grocery store can be used for germinating seeds. These containers already have holes in both the top and bottom for drainage and air exchange. Eight one-quart containers will fit into a flat for easy transport. Once seeds have germinated, open the top until the seedlings are big enough to transplant to individual containers or cell packs.

Any smaller plastic or styrofoam container can be recycled and used as a container for starting seeds. Make sure to poke drainage holes in the bottom to prevent over-watering.  Some recycled containers to consider include:

  • yogurt containers
  • plastic or foam drinking cups
  • soda bottles with the top cut off
  • plastic dessert or sundae containers
  • plastic clam-shell containers used for restaurant leftovers, salads, or bakery items
  • styrofoam take-out containers
  • plastic corsage boxes
  • milk jug cut in half
  • any plastic container that can hold germination mix about 3 inches deep

Cardboard Tubes and Egg Cartons

The cardboard roll found inside paper towels and toilet tissue is another possibility. Cut the rolls into 2 or 3-inch sections, fill with potting soil, and sow one seed per container. The rolls can be planted just like peat pots without disturbing the plant's root ball. Make sure all portions of the cardboard are planted below the soil surface. Any exposed edges will act like a wick and dry out the transplant, even if planted in moist ground.

Cardboard egg cartons work much the same way and are easy to use for germinating and growing seeds. Styrofoam egg cartons can also be used; however, remove the plant from the styrofoam carton before transplanting because it does not break down in the soil.

Origami Paper Pots

Folded Paper Pots for Seed Starting
Origami Paper Pots

Newspaper or other paper can be folded to create a small container perfect for starting seeds.  These containers can be used much like peat pots.  Once seedlings are hardened off, they can be planted, paper and all, as the paper will decompose.  Find directions on creating these folded paper pots in this article from the University of Maine: Newspaper Pots for Seedlings or this video: Newspaper Pots for Seed Starting.

Be Creative!

Seeds will germinate in just about anything as long as it holds soil and provides adequate drainage. Once seeds germinate, the seedlings will require adequate light, water, fertilizer and space for adequate growth. Using everyday items from around the home is a great way to recycle items that would otherwise be thrown away. Even eggshells can be used to germinate seeds, and the shell can be planted along with the plant. However, you'll also need to save the carton to hold the eggshells while the plant grows.

More Information

Last reviewed:
December 2023