Gardening with Gardner: Seed Starting – Set Up a Station

Gardening with Gardner: Seed Starting – Set Up a Station

After I update my seed starting calendar, I get my space ready. I use shelving with grow lights in a room with easy access to outside. Learn more about my “seed station” components below.


If you’ve made your list of seeds and find you have a lot to sow (more than will fit on a nice sunny windowsill), you might want to set up some shelving for them. I use the metal wire shelves that you can assemble and place the shelves at any height. I like the 5-shelf option. I’m able to loop the chain for my lights right through the shelves – easy! I put seedlings on the 4 lower shelves, then keep supplies on top. You could also use the top shelf for seeds that don’t need light to germinate. My shelving unit is 72” high, 48” wide, and 18” deep. This is super efficient for using seed trays. They are 10” x 20”, so I can easily set 4 of them side by side on a shelf, for a total of 16 trays under lights — that’s a lot of seedlings!


As we know, plants need soil, water, and light to grow. If you don’t have a sunny window, or just want to make sure your seedlings get consistent light, it’s best to place a light directly over them. You can easily become overwhelmed looking at “grow lights” online – LED vs fluorescent, what size bulb, what color spectrum, etc. I decided to follow the advice of seasoned growers, and I just use 4’ long shop LED lights with daylight/full spectrum bulbs. You can pick these up at your local hardware store or order online. They don’t get hot and the 4’ length is great for me; it’s the same width as my shelving. The ones I got are linkable, so I can plug one into its neighbor and have them connected to one another, leaving just one cord taking up an outlet.

The lights I purchased have two bulbs per light fixture, and I use two per shelf.  They come with hooks and lightweight chain so it’s easy to adjust the height as the seedlings grow. If plants don’t get enough light, they stretch and search for it, resulting in tall, leggy (often weak) plants. I try to keep the lights about 1.5-2” above the top of the seedlings. I recommend plugging them into a timer. Seedlings need a lot of light (16 hours per day), so keep those timers from your holiday lights handy. I set mine to be on from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm (similar to peak summer daylight).

Heat Mats

Some seedlings need warmth (a bit above average room temperature) to germinate, and soil is typically a few degrees cooler than the surrounding air. I have a few of these heat mats to provide the proper temperature. Not all seeds will need them, and they typically only need warmth until they germinate, not the whole time they’re growing. You can get a variety of sizes, from a mat that fits under one tray to a mat that could cover a whole seed-starting table. You can also get mats that have thermostats built in, but I’ve had no issues using the mats that don’t. I find the best prices are usually online.


Where are you going to put all of this? Choose a place with convenient outlets that’s easy to bring water to. I set up my shelves in my “porch room,” just off of my kitchen. It has two big (nearly floor to ceiling) windows that face northwest. As the seedlings grow, they’ll be exposed to nice bright light in addition to the overhead lighting. Having window exposure isn’t necessary; the grow lights will do the trick. After all, you’re not trying to grow these plants until maturity, just until it’s warm enough for them to get outside and in the ground. Many people start seeds in their basement or heated garage, but neither of mine is easily accessible. The room I use is just off my screened porch, so it’s convenient when it comes time to harden off the seedlings, rather than a long trek in and out with tray after tray. Air circulation is also important, and this room has a ceiling fan I can turn on low to keep air gently moving throughout the space.

Once your “station” is set, you can start to gather the materials you’ll need for seed starting.