Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light

Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light |

Have you ever compared the price of a lone tomato plant from the nursery with a packet of tomato seeds? 

The difference is a bit shocking. Or maybe I should say the LACK of difference is shocking. Especially if you want organic or heirloom tomato plants! An entire pack of seeds usually runs about the same as a decent size tomato plant, which is actually fairly understandable since it does take a bit of time and energy to grow seedlings. 

This is true for most types of plants, not just tomatoes. 

So, because I grow such a large amount of vegetables, I prefer to sprout my own seeds indoors, instead of buying pre-sprouted seedlings.

I also start seeds indoors because I save most of my seeds myself instead of buying new packets each year. 

A lot of online posts and tutorials on starting seeds indoors are full of grow light diagrams and the best distances from the light for different types of seeds.

While those methods that involve using grow lights can be very effective, they tend to make seed starting sound overwhelming.

Growing seedlings with a grow light can also be a bit pricey when you are getting started.

Work With Me!

Personally, I prefer a more simplistic and old fashioned method of starting seeds indoors. 

You will need: 

  • Seed starting soil mix.
  • Your desired seed varieties.
  • Container to hold the soil and the seeds. There are many different types of containers you can use for this. From old egg cartons and toilet paper holders, to old flats from nursery grown plants. I personally have saved up a collection of flats, and I re-use them every spring. 
  • Spray bottle for watering.
  • *Optional tray to set the flats on to water from below. (I usually don’t do this, but I have heard that others have great success with watering this way)
  • A few sunny window sills or a large sunny window or door.
  • Old table that you don’t mind getting water and dirt all over. 

There are a few basic steps to get started.

  1. Select your seeds you want to start indoors, and find the planting time-frame. You can usually find this information on the back of your seed packets. It will tell you how many weeks they need to grow indoors before planting them outside. For example- Cabbage and Broccoli are supposed to be started 6-8 weeks before you want to plant them outside. In my zone 7, I plant broccoli and cabbage in mid March, so I start the seedlings in mid-late January.Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light |
  2. Once you have calculated the dates for each type of seeds you want to start indoors, gather your supplies and be prepared to plant when each start date rolls around. I like to keep a little chart that I made for my zone, and use it to make sure I don’t forget to get things started at the right time. 
  3. Fill your seed containers about 3/4 of the way with damp seed starting mixture, and plant your seeds!  The general guidelines for starting seeds indoors are to plant them about 2 times as deep in the soil as the size of the seed. Most seeds you start indoors are pretty tiny, so drop the seeds onto the soil, then sprinkle a small amount of soil over top of them. 
  4. A key to successfully starting seeds indoors is to not overcrowd the seedlings together. One way to help avoid over crowding is to carefully calculate how many plants you want to end up with, and plant only a little more seeds than the amount you want to end up with. This will help you avoid the common mistake of simply sprinkling a bunch of broccoli seeds in a flat, and ending up with a bunch of sickly sets. It is better to have 5 healthy seedlings, than 30 unhealthy and crowded ones!  If you are using divided containers or flats, it is pretty easy to just plant one seed per section, and avoid crowding that way. However, with a large open container, you will have to pay a bit more attention, and not sow the seeds too closely together.  
  5. Give your newly planted seeds a good gentle misting with a water bottle. If you want, you can cover your seed trays or flats with plastic wrap, or some sort of covering to retain moisture until they sprout.
  6. Once the seeds have sprouted, remove the covering, and place in front of a sunny window or glass door. I use an old card table in front of my sliding glass door.Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light |
  7. Keep an eye on the seedlings, and make sure they stay nice and moist. You can do this by simply misting with a spray bottle, or by misting and watering with a tray underneath the seedlings. Either way works just fine!
  8.  Occasionally turn the seedlings so that they are exposed to the sunlight on all sides, and don’t only grow leaning in one direction. 
  9. A week and a half before you want to plant the seedlings outside, you will need to harden them off. Hardening off is a gardening term for getting the seedlings acclimated to the elements. Begin by placing the seedlings outside in the shade for a couple of hours each day. After a couple days, increase the amount of time they are outdoors by a few hours, but make sure you bring them back inside at night. After two days of being out in the shade almost all day, introduce a couple hours of morning sunlight. Keep increasing the amount of sun for the next few days until the plants can tolerate a whole day of sun, and your planting date has arrived. Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light |
  10. Plant your seedlings in your garden!

I love growing my seeds indoors without the use of electricity!

*Note- If you choose to start your seedlings a good bit in advance of their outside planting date, you may need to transfer them to a larger pot mid-way through their indoor growth. I sometimes do this with my tomato plants, but not always. 

Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light |

Someday I will have a greenhouse, and grow everything in there, but until then, this works beautifully for me.

Now if I can just keep the baby from yanking the flats of the card table! 🙂

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24 responses to “Starting Seeds Indoors Without A Grow Light”

  1. Amiee says:

    Thanks for the great tips on starting seeds indoors without a grow light. I can’t wait to try it out! I think this would be a great way to start growing annual flowers instead of buying them this year 🙂

    • Angi says:

      Yes! This works exactly the same with annual flower seeds Amiee. Great idea!

      • Krati says:

        The issue with starting seed indoor without a grow light is that on cloudy days, if you have seeds that are just sprouting, they dont get enough light through window sills. I sow my first arugula seeds indoors last week. Everyday I put my seeds on window sill where it could get sunlight. After a week, the seeds have sprunted only about an inch and for some reason, they are all bent in one direction. It snowed here in west New Jersey where I live today and has been cloudy since last couple of days. I am worried my arugula will die. I water the pot (in which I had sown 10-15 arugula seeds) every other day. I don’t want to invest in a grow light as I feel it is too artificial a medium to grow seeds. If there isnt enough sunlight outside then I shouldnt be growing anything at all. I am already using a store brought potting mix when I rather prefer to sow seeds directly in soil.

  2. Margy says:

    Sounds simple, I like simple. – Margy

  3. Naomi says:

    Every spring I have such great dreams of what I will plant. These last two years I’ve been limited to a balcony, although hopefully that will change soon!

  4. Gentle Joy says:

    Thank you for explaining all of this… I have done it… had some success, but rarely do it due to time, space… and being a city gardener, I am not buying as much as someone with a lot of land would be. 🙂 I may have to try it again. Thank you.

  5. Monica says:

    I’m so happy to have found this post! I just got my seeds started this morning. In years past I’ve used fluorescent lighting, but we moved, and don’t have access to a fixture anymore. I thought about putting one up, but have been unsure about the hassle/money. I think I’ll try forgo extra light and see how we do! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Rhonda Crank says:

    Angi, I am so glad you shared this article. I don’t use a grow light either. I thought about adding one this year, but they just seem complicated and expensive. I have always had success with sprouting my seeds very similarly to you (I make my own potting soil) and I do use some trays to water from the bottom – but I don’t buy new ones. When the old ones crack, I just go on without them. 🙂 Thanks for another wonderful article!

    • Angi says:

      Thanks Rhonda!! I need to figure out a good tray system so I can water from below better.

      • linda robertson says:

        When I try to seed my own plants, they seem to get all leggy….nothing like what you see in a nursery. What am I doing wrong?

        • Angi says:

          Well, without a greenhouse or a grow light, there can be a bit of leggy tendencies, but if yours are getting super leggy, but you probably need a location with more light. You can transplant them into a deeper container to fix the leggy problem though 🙂

  7. cindi p says:

    So, Angi, you don’t expose them to sunlight until they peek through the soil? Thanks for sharing this!


    • Angi says:

      It’s ok if they have sunlight while germinating, but it isn’t necessary either Cindi. So I just do whatever is easiest at the moment. 🙂

  8. We don’t use grow lights either, I really just don’t have a place to set them up. Wish I had helpful advice for the baby, mine used to do that, too. I actually kind of miss those days. Thanks for sharing at Simple Lives Thursday; hope to see you again this week.

  9. Sarah says:

    Hi! You mention that it’s best not to plant too many seeds in one pod so they don’t get overcrowded. What would you recommend to do if I already planted 3-4 seeds (oops!) and in some pods, they are ALL sprouting?? thanks in advance! i really liked this article, it is very helpful for a newbie like me 🙂

    • Angi says:

      Hi Sarah! You can let the seedlings grow until they get more than two leaves, then transplant the extra seedlings into other pots.

  10. Melanie Gallie says:

    I came across this post as I was looking for affirmation that it is not necessary to have grow lights. I’ve been starting plants from seed for years but this year I’m starting to sell plants and almost felt like my methods weren’t good enough. Thank-you for the confirmation and I love your blog. And I do like what you mentioned above, all my tomato and pepper plants are repotted at the bottom of the pot and covered with soil when then are about 8″ tall. They grow a whole new roots system and creates a thick sturdy stem.

  11. Ruby Waite says:

    Great post! Found some great ideas for my seed starters here, and also, surely recommend your post to my sister. She just began with the seeds starting and she’ll be very glad she will not have to install additional lamps about all this. Thank you for sharing and happy gardening!

  12. Katie Davis says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was feeling overwhelmed by all the posts about grow lights!

  13. Rod says:

    One of the drawbacks of germinating indoors is low light levels.
    This is most readily expressed by overtly tall or ‘leggy’ seedlings.
    A sunny northern or southern (depending on which hemisphere you live in), window ledge is a good solution allowing sun to stream inside during the shorter winter days. As you move towards the solstice the sun will climb higher and you will be able to move seedlings outdoors, perhaps with a simple cover to lock in some of the suns warmth, but still allowing enough ventilation.
    I have found perlite + vermiculite mixed 50/50 can be watered well from below and the water is wicked up well by capillary action. You will need a complete hydroponic fertilizer however to get best results. Water for a week and then half strength thereafter. Many of my seedlings are never been directly watered, I keep a shallow wet bottom, yet grow exceptionally well to transplant size overting all the diseases that plague growing in organic matter and damping off diseases.

  14. DJ says:

    I have tried growing seeds in front of the window, but they get very leggy and thin. I was told it’s because the light is not close enough to them, so they stretch to get more. Doesn’t this happen to you?

  15. Micah says:

    I have young children starting seeds indoors would be a mess. I was wondering if its possible i can start my seeds in our heated garage? Theres plenty of light but how warm does it need to be in the garage for the seeds to grow?

    • Angi says:

      It needs to be at least in the 60’s for the tomato and pepper plants to do much, but more cold hardy veggies like cabbage and broccoli could do with cooler temps.

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