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How to Use Shoe Boxes for Plant Propagation

By Jenny Harrington ; Updated September 21, 2017

Seed starting allows you to propagate vegetables and annual flowers for your garden for just a fraction of the cost of purchasing seedlings from nurseries. There is no need for expensive seed starting systems or growing pots. Use what you have on hand to grow the seeds in. Shoe boxes are optimally sized to grow several seedlings as well as being a good fit under grow lights or on windowsills. They are readily available and can be composted afterward if torn into small pieces.

Line a shoe box with a plastic bag. Place 2 inches of coarse sand in the bottom of the box to aid drainage, then fill the rest of the box with a soil-less potting mixture.

Water the potting mix until it is moist but not soggy. Sow seeds in rows on the surface of the soil then cover with 1/8 to ½ inch of potting mix.

Cover the top of the box with plastic wrap. Set in a warm (65- to 72-degree F) room to germinate. Germination takes between 7 and 21 days depending on plant type.

Remove the plastic once seedlings appear. Place in a sunny window or under grow lights and keep the soil moist at all times.

Transplant seedlings to individual pots or to the garden once they develop their second set of leaves. Gently lift each plant out of the shoe box, holding it by the leaves, and plant it to the same depth in its new container or bed.


Things You Will Need

  • Shoe box
  • Plastic bag
  • Sand
  • Potting mix
  • Plastic wrap
  • Grow lights


  • Transplant most seedling outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in spring. Check the seed envelope to be sure of planting and transplanting times.
  • Place the shoe box on a plastic or metal plate to catch any moisture that may get between the plastic and cardboard then later leak out.


  • Some shoe boxes are too deep for plant starting. If the sides are more than 5 inches tall, cut the sides of the box down.

About the Author


Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.