Shopping for Seed Starting Gear at the Dollar Store

While I will always promote gleaning your gardening gear from the recycling bin or second-hand via garage sales and thrift stores, there are times when buying new is required. A lot of gardeners looking to save money have been turning to the dollar store over the past few years, especially since many chains have been expanding their gardening aisles and selection has grown. For that reason I have put together a guide to products that I have purchased in my local stores and have found to be useful and of decent quality. Oddly enough, much of the best garden gear is not found in the actual gardening aisle so it helps to think outside the box and look around the entire store for objects in the housewares, craft, and stationary aisles that might suit your needs.

Recommended Products

  1. Plastic Dish Pan Basin: These bins are fantastic for a variety of purposes and I keep a few on hand. I use them to mix up and moisten seed starting soil (and other potting soils, too) and as a working surface for filling pots. They can also be used for bottom watering delicate plants and as a wash basin for soaking and cleaning used pots. Brand new cat litter pans also work well for this purpose, although the dish pans tend to be deeper.
  2. Tomato Motif Gardening Gloves: While these pretty gloves serve no real purpose when it comes to seed starting, they do feature tiny tomatoes. A small indulgence to get you in the spirit.
  3. Permanent Markers: Perfect for recording plant names, cultivars, and sowing dates on tags and pots.
  4. Plastic Boot Tray: As previously mentioned, I use boot trays as a protective layer underneath heating mats to keep the mats off of the metal shelves of my seed starting station. I look for trays that have ridges on the bottom as they serve double-duty as a raised mat to keep mature plant pots raised above the water that runs out from drainage holes. This is especially useful when growing plants that will not tolerate soggy soil.
  5. Plant Mister/Spray Bottle: Great for wetting soil or mixing up a chamomile tea remedy to help fight damping off. Check the seams carefully before purchase as I have brought home more than a few with cracks that leaked. If you require a better quality sprayer that sprays upside-down then I’d head to a hardware store or garden shop, although those will run you a few more bucks.
  6. Portable Plastic Seed Storage Bin: I found this one in the household organization section. It’s is both wide and tall enough to hold a row of standard-sized seed envelopes either upright or sideways. I bought these in a variety of colours for easy identification and I store all of my direct sown seeds in them since it is easy to carry outdoors. I keep tomatoes in this bin since I tend to take them with me for trading.
  7. Disposable Drinking Cups With so many freebee options available, there are few reasons why you should ever need to buy new seed starting pots. That said, I really like these deep drinking cups for growing tomato seedlings. They accommodate the plants’ deep roots well, and I find that they save me work as I only need to transplant the largest, fastest-growing varieties to larger pots. You can see from the photo that I make several holes in the bottom for drainage using a large nail. Washed and stored for the season, these cups have seen a lot of mileage. Many are on their forth and fifth use with more life left in them yet.
  8. Wooden Coffee Stirrers: While there are lots of items in the recycling bin that can be fashioned into passable plant tags, these thin sticks make decent tags in a pinch. At 150 for $1 the value is good and you can stretch your dollar further by cutting them in half or thirds.
  9. Large T-Shaped Plant Tags: You probably won’t need these through the seed-starting process as they are too tall to fit underneath lights. I break them out at transplanting time and use them in the place of smaller tags that tend to disappear in the growing garden as the season progresses. I certainly don’t use these for all of my plants, but they are excellent for quickly identifying tomato varieties or locating herbs at a glance. Whats more, you can confidently send friends and dinner guests out into the garden with instruction to clip foliage or flowers from a specific type of basil or herb, knowing that they will come back with the right plant. They’re educational, too!
  1. Plastic Food Serving Tray: The stairwell leading down to the basement in this old house is hardly wide enough to accommodate an adult human being let alone a wide, seed-starting tray so I use these smaller trays to transport seedlings to and fro. They are also made of rigid, hard plastic and don’t bend and buckle as seed starting trays often do.

What Not to Buy

While there are a few exceptions, I find that the gardening aisle is the last place you will find decent gear at an affordable price.

  • Seeds: They’re often of unknown origin and suspect quality. When it comes to seeds I find that the general rule is that you get what you pay for.
  • Potting Soil: While I can’t speak to the selection in all dollar stores everywhere, every brand I have ever encountered in local stores was pretty much garbage and it wasn’t actually cheaper than a good quality brand from a reputable source. You can also save your money and mix up your own.
  • Plastic Planting Mat: Newspaper works just as well. So does the plastic dish pan (above), which serves multiple purposes and is therefore a better dollar spent.
  • Peat Pellet Greenhouse: They dry out quickly and plants with large root systems such as tomatoes and peppers tend to outgrow them in the blink of an eye. You’re better off starting your seeds in a larger, seed starting pot where they will not be subjected to stress.
  • Small Seed Starting Greenhouse: The one they sold at my local store had holes in the bottom. These are okay when starting seeds outdoors where it is fine if they drip, but can be a hazard indoors, especially if you are using an electric warming mat. For a dollar or so more you can get a good-sized tray with a dome top at your local hardware store.
  • Pruners: You won’t need these for seed starting, but I wanted to mention them because they’ve been showing up in stores and someone is buying them. These are absolute junk and while I do not think that everyone needs an expensive pair of Felco pruners (I certainly don’t own one), you’re better off using a pair of craft scissors or sawing with a butter knife than hacking away with these things!
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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14 thoughts on “Shopping for Seed Starting Gear at the Dollar Store

  1. Great tips! Especially don’t buy the seeds at Dollarama that are 3/$1, they are a smaller company owned by Monsanto!

  2. Our seed bin is a metal tin from an anniversary edition of a board game that I found at Goodwill. A large metal cookie box (like you see tons of at Christmas) is pretty much the same thing.

    Also – I try to save seeds from my plants year to year. In case I didn’t get them dry enough, I put a handful of the silica gel packs from our medication bottles in the seed box.

  3. I haven’t found those misters at the dollar store to work very well.
    I reuse those clear plastic lidded containers that organic greens come in for makeshift greenhouse starters. I puncture holes in the lid and bottom and set them on trays. The only downside is getting the label off the lid!

  4. I’ve bought seeds from the dollar store in previous years but will probably avoid it from now on. I’m trying winter sowing this year with some of my flowers and vegetables… will set some plastic bottles outside as soon as I shovel a path to my backyard…

  5. Love the coffee stirrer idea. And thanks for the tip on damping off and chamomile tea, I have that problem every year. While I rarely venture into a dollar store, we have a similar type of grocery chain locally that has closeouts from many major retailers and a regular rotation of seasonal merchandise. The one thing I did buy there this year was a $4 stack of freezer plastic casserole dishes that stack to start seeds in. Each tray is about 2 1/2″ tall which is perfect for holding small cups of dirt. It’s been a week since sowing and I’ve already got my first sprout peeking through the soil.

  6. Great Post.

    I highly suggest that if you use the wooden coffee stirrers soak them in a bleach solution first then dry and use.

    When i’ve used them in the past they seem to attract mold and can effect the seedlings.

    I got some nice plant looking trays work great

    great looking site

  7. Ah, thanks for this great advice! I always need help with simple organization tips like these! When you start tomato seedlings in those plastic cups, do you water from the base or do you spray from the top?

  8. By the way I also found these tiny plastic ziploc bags at the dollar store one year, and I use them for my saved seeds. Not sure if paper envelopes are better for some reason but this seemed to work for me.

  9. Not from a dollar store, but I have bought cheap seeds (they go on sale for 4/1.00 or sometimes 10/1.00 with a coupon) from Walgreens. They have been great seeds. In fact, I had much better success with their lettuce than an expensive blend I ordered from a seed company!

    My dollar stores don’t have a big garden section. Big Lots does though.

  10. I love your site and spirit. facts and fun. love all of your books too.
    will you be selling some of your special tomato seed this year? I want everything I see in the catalogs. The photos are too beautiful. I am not sure if you can do this yet, but how about asparagus and sweet potatoes. Will you talk about them and sources for the best at some point?
    Thanks for your inspiration.

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