A Tour Of The Indoor Seed Starting Rack

My seed-starting set-up is pretty well equipped, which makes it a lot easier to manage the fairly aggressive seed-starting schedule I keep.

When we moved into our current home, I commandeered a corner of the garage as my indoor garden and seed-starting area. Having a dedicated area to grow out seedlings is a luxury, but one I would sacrifice quite a few other luxuries to maintain.

Seed Starting Rack

The rack that holds my seed lights is a standard industrial post-and wire chrome shelving rack.  I swear by these racks, and we have them wall-to-wall in the garage. I bought this one at Costco for about $70. It’s 48″ wide, which makes it the perfect width for hanging 4-foot shop lights.

The rack has two layers of industrial shop lights fixtures (cheap) fitted with full-spectrum florescent light tubes (not cheap, but very long lasting).

Each shelf of lights is three-fixtures (or six tube lights) deep and holds two standard seed trays placed lengthwise with plenty of room and light, or 4 seed trays placed widthwise with some crowding and less light than is ideal towards the edges of the seed trays.The light fixtures come with a chain, and this chain is simply hung from the wire shelf above the lights.

The lights are on automatic timers, but can be unplugged separately so I can run only one bank of lights at a time when seed-starting is just ramping up.


The lights are not conveniently adjustable, so I have a low-height light shelf and a high-height light shelf and I place risers (empty pots, seed trays, etc.) under and seeds I need to lift closer to the lights.

I believe strongly in keeping air-flow over and around my seedlings, and I have a small soft-bladed fan that I keep on constantly.

When I have seeds I am germinating, I cover their pots or trays with clear plastic bags (the ones from the dry cleaner are great) or propagation domes. The little trays with matching propagation domes on the right were originally take out containers from a local Mexican restaurant. The size and depth is perfect for geminating lettuce seeds. You gotta love repurposing like that.

I have two seedling heat mats. I use them to get tomatoes, peppers, squash and other heat lovers up and going. After strong germination I tend to move my seedlings off the mat because I prefer they grow harder, even if it means growing slower. The last thing I want to raise is a pepper that thinks it should expect 78-degree soil all the time!

Under the seed-starting area, I have a few shelves that hold extra seed trays and the collection of cheap terracotta pots I never use but can’t bring myself to part with.

Potting Bench

Cater-corner to the seed starting rack is my potting bench. We bought this post-and-wire rack from an organization store when we lived in our old home, and then it was the best kitchen storage we had. When we moved to our current home there wasn’t a place for it, until it I had a Potting Bench Ah-Hah! moment.

I use mini terracotta pots to contain seed labels, sharpies, small scissors for thinning seedlings and other random flotsam of gardening. Can I mention how much I love huge binder clips? I use them everywhere: to hold gloves together, to keep plastic low-tunnels secured to pvc-hoops in the garden, to hold string to trellises when I’m one-handed with a baby-on-my-hip and can’t reliably knot something, and so on. Since the potting bench gets dirty every time I use it, I added a little mini-duster-thing to the collection of tools I keep on hand. This makes it much easier to sweep spilled potting mix back into the potting mix bin.

Under the bench area is a big shelf with my potting mix tub and all my commonly used pots stacked up. Beneath that  I store Reemay and whatever random bags of seed mix, bone meal or whatever needs a place to live.

The potting mix tub gets refilled as needed. Right now, it needs it.

The best $50 I ever spent was paying a plumber to tap a hose bib into the wall between my seed starting rack and my potting bench. I keep a short hose fitted with a gentle spray head attached to the hose bib and hang it from my potting bench.

Watering seedlings is as simple as turning on the hose bib and either filling the seed-tray for bottom-watering (my preferred method) or pulling seedlings off the rack and giving them a gentle sprinkle. Since the floor of the garage is concrete and the excess water runs out the garage door, I don’t worry about overspray or dripping.

Speaking of dripping, I’ve had a lot of people ask if having the plants on the upper level drip into the lights directly below them is a problem. All I can say is, I am not particularly careful, water does drip, and it has never been a problem for me.

I love my little seed starting corner of the garage. Do you have a dedicated place to raise seedlings and perform your indoor gardening tasks? If you have a photo of your set-up, leave a link in the comments so we can all see how different gardeners organize their growing space.


  1. says

    Oooooh Fancy! Rack mounted lights and a kitty corner potting bench. Envy, Envy Erica. I’m not proud.

    My starts are currently living on a basement dining room table, which originally looked something like this and is now considerably more crowded and out of room.

    Perhaps someday I’ll have a real set-up. I’ll save that for when the starts are actually thriving. ;)

  2. says

    Ooo….I LOVE the seed starting rack! I need a better/more permanent solution for this and you have a lot of great ideas. I wonder if my husband will give me a corner of the garage…

  3. says

    Jealous! My seed starting “setup” is currently scattered all over my dining room sideboard and includes a DIY seed warmer, a single light that I have to move every twelve hours to keep two sets of seedlings going, and some cups of water I leave sitting out (to let the chlorine evaporate). This is my first year really starting seeds indoors though, so I’m hoping for a better setup next year.

  4. says

    I have a corner of my dining room, next the the sliding glass doors that would be perfect for a phone table or cookbook nook, but it’s reserved for the four months in late winter-early spring when a card table houses a incubator, grow light and four rotating trays of seeds. My husband dragged the incubator home from the lab, and it makes starting seeds lightening quick – perfect temp, perfect humidity and voila – sprouts!

  5. says

    I am totally coveting your setup! We don’t have the space or ability to start seeds indoors (the joys of having cats that will eat ANYTHING). So that leaves us with outdoors. My potting bench is whatever flat space I have at hand (usually two sawhorses with a door on top) and then the warm season stuff goes in my old mini greenhouse and the cool season stuff goes on top of the chicken coop to keep the squirrels, chickens and turkeys out of it.

    • Lindsey says

      We solved the cat eating seedlings problem by making a sort of door on both sides of the lighting table. Made of wire, it covers everything but can be easily unlatched and opened so that I can play with my seedlings.

      • says

        Oh, it would be easy if it was just the seedlings. When I say they eat anything I mean it. It doesn’t actually have to edible for them to eat it, or at least chew it into little bits. I can’t even keep paper in the printer or one in particular eats all of it. Another one chews on all things plastic. My cats are why I can’t have nice things. :)

        • Amber says

          Super late reply, but I happened to be looking at seed starting setups… about your cats, maybe you could train them to use chew-toys? Flavored nylabones are OK to ingest, and they come in small sizes too. I don’t have cats, but it’s just a thought!

  6. says

    What an amazing setup! I am super jealous. What kind of fixtures are you using for your lights? Are they 6-bulb fixtures or did you link several together?

    We’re currently reorganizing our basement and I would love to get something like this set up–I especially love the idea of putting a hose right next to the plants!

  7. says

    Beautiful set-up! Tidy, organized, my little OCD brain loves it! The use of the binder clips is an idea I’m going to have to steal! I do not yet have a dedicated area. This year is my first foray into starting seeds. I purchased 2 high domed propagators and so far, everything but the peppers have started. I only have the plants near a window for sunlight and I am thinking about how to add a fan.

  8. says

    Great setup. Mine is currently squeezed into the laundry room. I had thought about using my garage, but was afraid that it would be too cold in there. Do you do anything other than the heat mats for starting seeds to regulate the temperature in your garage? Thanks.

  9. Ein Middlebrooks says

    Thank you so much for this posting Erica. You have answered every question I had about seed starting.

  10. says

    gosh I am so impressed! Since I live in the tropics I generally have to wait until it cools down a bit to start seeds, and then find a shady spot. I have an old table under the eaves where I put seedlings. I did discover that even here they like the sauna aspect of a plastic cover. I guess I need some takeaway?
    I wish my area was as neat and tidy as yours is though!

  11. says

    Lovely little set-up you’ve got there – compact but functional. I have a shed in the garden that I use and then I commandeer the conservatory every year for my seed growing space – there are some pics of it in my latest post.

    And luorescent lamps in the garage? That might mean a knock on the door from the Po-lice here! They do aerial heat sensing censors in the UK looking for anyone illicitly growing the ganja ;) Am not sure if they do the same in the States?

  12. Tanaya Ropp says

    It’s fabulous, I have those shelves left over from a triple bunk I made when all three boys shared a room. As for your terra cotta, they are great for painting and giving as a gift with gardening supplies in. My kids have paint several over the years. Their little hand prints makes the cutes flowers.

  13. Linda McHenry says

    Just started my tomato and pepper seeds this morning. It’s still freezing here and too cold to work in the garage, or basement. The dirty work is done on the kitchen counter and the germination area is on my dining room table. I lay a plastic table cloth down to protect it from dirt and water. My heat mat is a $5 electric blanket I picked up from Goodwill. The light set up is just shop lights hung from a simple frame made of 2×2’s……the lights are attached to chains so its easy to raise and lower.

  14. says

    I have an area very similar to that, but it’s in my sewing room, so no indoor hose-bib (though that is a brilliant idea for a garage that doesn’t freeze).

  15. B.E. Ward says

    Hey Erica,

    Do you (or does anyone you know) have any experience with the pre-made grow light systems that Swansons and some of the seed vendors carry? We’re pretty limited in space (and ingenuity), so a ‘turnkey’ type of solution that still gives us the flexibility of raising/lowering the light is very appealing, but I see mixed reviews of them on Amazon.

  16. April says

    Very impressive. You never cease to amaze and educate…even those of us that are clueless! Thanks for sharing the information and always love the photography!! Daylight savings around the corner and spring please come real soon!!

  17. says

    Probably going to do basement workbench for now. The plant is to stock up on old rimmed baking sheets to upwater with, because most of my “pots” are up-cycled plastics like strawberry, juice, or other packages. The berry packages already have drain holes, but for the other ones I use a hacksaw to cut them down to my desired height, then a power drill to put a few 1/4″ holes in the bottom.

  18. Courtney says

    I’m wondering if there’s a stand-alone grow light you would recommend those of us with small spaces and slightly lower ambition :)


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