DIY Seed Starting from Your Window | Shifting Roots

DIY Seed Starting from Your Window

When I was a little girl my Grandmother started marigolds every winter in a little modified milk garden planter with her seeds from last year’s crop.  I loved those marigolds in her brick planters and still think of her every time I see a marigold.

You really don’t need a grow light or other expensive equipment to start seeds. Seed starting from your window is relatively easy, but there are some limitations.

South Facing Windows Are Best

First of all, you must have a South-facing window. East-facing ones can work too, but they must be larger and it also helps if the wall colour of the room is white or light.  

If you try to start seeds from other directions, they will get too stretched out or “leggy.”  Even better–a south facing corner window.  In our last home we had one (two?) that faced south and east.  You’ll also have to turn your plants everyday so they don’t lean too much in one direction.

Related: 20+ Seed Companies and Nurseries to order your seeds from

Don’t Start Too Early

I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on the Canadian Prairies. There simply isn’t enough daylight to sustain my seedlings until mid-February at the very earliest.

Wherever you live, don’t start your seeds until the Persephone days are over–the days generally between November and January when there is less than 10 hours of sunlight a day. The easiest way to figure out when your Persephone days end is to go to the the weather app on your phone and calculate how many hours there are from sunrise to sunset. When it reaches 10 hours of daylight, you’re good to plant!

Keep Your House Warm

Second, you must keep your house warm. This is not the time to be stingy with the thermostat!!  Many seeds require a temperature of around 21 degrees celsius to germinate.  (That’s why you’ll see lots of ads for seed mat warmers in gardening magazines.)

Maximize your window’s growing space by making this DIY seed starting shelf.

You’re not the Greenhouse. . . yet.

Finally, don’t expect your seedlings to be just like the ones at the greenhouse.  The gardeners at your local green house are using grow lights, fertilizing, and watering correctly.  That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, just manage your expectations.

Organize Your Seeds by Week Needed to Seed Start

To start, read the directions on the seed packet to see when you can start those seedlings.  Plants like artichokes, peppers, brussel sprouts and flowers can be started as early as February.  Tomatoes will need to be started late March or early April.

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Plants in our area typically go out on the May long weekend (around May 21st) as that is when the last frost has often past.  To figure out when to start your seeds, count the weeks backwards from that date.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a handy tool to find your average frost dates, as well as your hardiness zone.

Resist the temptation to start your seeds even earlier than recommended. It seems like such a good idea in February, but is a bad one in May when your seedlings have outgrown their containers and they’re difficult to harden off because they’re too big.

A south facing window, seeds, dirt, and a few common household items are all you need to start vegetables in your home!Click To Tweet

Then each week when it’s time to start a new batch of seeds, you won’t have to go searching for the right seeds, or worse yet, miss seed starting something altogether.

The Best Seed Starting Containers

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different containers to start my seeds. I’ve used egg cartons, reused the plastic containers seedlings come in from the store, jiffy pods, random found objects like plastic yogurt containers, milk jugs, and clear plastic bakery containers, and made my own biodegradable newsprint containers.

Each type of container has its pros and cons.

Egg Cartons

Egg cartons are super cute and Pinterest-worthy, but they’re actually my least favourite method to seed start. (If you’ve come here from a pin with pictures of me starting seeds in egg cartons–I’m sorry!!)

They are not ideal to start seeds that require 6-8 weeks indoors.  You’ll have to transplant your starters to larger containers as the roots become too long and start to grow into the egg carton itself.  Only start vegetables that require 2-3 weeks indoors.

Learn how to start vegetable and flower seeds right from your window! I've compiled some easy seed starting tips for the beginner gardener to have you growing plants in your home using DIY containers. No need for fancy equipment! #gardening #seedstarting #seeds #vegetable #flower #fromyourwindow #diy #beginnergardener #easy

Jiffy Pods

Jiffy pods are so easy and fun to use–I love them! I also love that you can buy kits that are specifically made for windowsills. Save the plastic parts for reuse, and fill them with new Jiffy Pods each season.

Once the roots grow through the Jiffy pod (as pictured below), transfer to a larger container with more soil.

Repurposed Objects

You do not have to buy special flats to start your seeds!  Use milk cartons and jugs or deeper plastic lids and plant away. You will either need to add drainage holes, or be careful not to overwater your seedlings. I’ve made a list of 10 common household objects you can start saving in January and February so you’ll have lots of containers in March and April.

I also save the black plastic containers my annual flowers come in, so I can start my own annual flowers year after year in those same containers.

Check out this video for more details on how to use common household items:

Biodegradable Newspaper Containers

This is my new favourite way to seed start. Follow this guide on how to make the containers, and start your seeds. If you need to move your seedlings, make sure that the containers have dried out–otherwise they will fall apart if you try to move them when wet.

The question I get asked most often about these containers is–do they really biodegrade? I’ll let this picture speak for itself. . .

Fun fact: apparently artichokes should be started 10-12 weeks before you intend to put them out in the garden.  It’s a good thing I ordered my seeds so early.  (New gardeners: most seeds require you to start them 8 weeks at the earliest, and more commonly 3-6 weeks.)

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Related: 6 Truths New Gardeners Should Know

Hints for Beginner Vegetable and Flower Gardeners

If you’ve never started seeds before, here are a few things to remember:

  • Plants need time to germinate.  This means your seeds won’t sprout for at least a week, sometimes more.
  • Water when the soil feels dry to the touch.  If the ground is pulling away from the edges, you’ve waited too long.
    Watering from the bottom of the tray, not the top of the plant, is best. 
  • The ground won’t look wet at first, but it will once the water has a chance to soak up.
  • If you’re worried about overwatering or washing out your seeds, use a spray instead.
  • Do all the fertilizer directions on the seed packet sound confusing? Water with a fertilizer formulated for seed starting (it will be labeled as such) once every two weeks to give your plants an extra boost.  You can follow the exact fertilizer directions once you gain more confidence as a gardener.
  • Start with new seeds.  Some seeds can be viable for up to 10 years or more, but your germination rates decrease.  
  • Stick to seed starting two or three types of plants the first year.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Want to learn more about seed starting without grow lights? Here’s everything you need to know all in one place!

Seed Starting Results

I think it’s important for you to see what kind of results you can get from seed starting for your window. Here are my peppers from spring 2019 which were started from seed in front of my south facing window. If you look closely, you can see that my seven-year-old son is crouched and hiding behind them–that’s how big they are!

I don’t know if you can notice, but these plants are so big that my 7 year old is curled up behind them, hiding.

It took me about 5 years to perfect my pepper growing process, but you can grab all my secrets here and get your peppers looking like this a lot faster.

So that’s all you need to know about seed starting from your window in a nutshell. If you have any questions about the process, I’d love to hear from you on Facebook or Instagram.

I love gardening stories!  Let me know what you’re planting this year or any tricks and tips you have about seed starting without spending a fortune.

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!