Are you a frugal gardener? I grew up with a father who lived through the Great Depression. In our house, nothing went to waste. Anything that could be repurposed was, and very little was thrown away. Growing up I didn’t always appreciate my dad’s frugality. But, those lessons definitely stuck with me. I try to limit the amount of waste I produce, and I reuse and repurpose when possible.
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As gardeners, I think we naturally try to reduce, reuse and recycle. Think about how we make compost. If you don’t already know how to make compost, take a look at this post. It just goes to show that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
What about planting seeds? What do you plant yours in? You could probably spend hundreds of dollars a year on seed starting. Or you could spend almost nothing. You might fall somewhere in the middle.
I personally don’t spend hundreds on seed starting pots and trays. I am also not a complete Do-it-your-selfer. I like to reuse when possible, but I also like the convenience and consistency of store-bought pots.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it never hurts to have more funds to buy fun seeds to try. I love to buy seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds here in Missouri. They have some interesting varieties and sell all heirloom seeds. To learn more about the different types of seeds (heirloom, hybrid, GMO, etc.), take a look over here.
Now onto some ideas for DIY pots for your seedlings. Just like with everything else in gardening, it’s best to experiment to see what works for you. You may try some of these seed starting containers and love them. Or, you may not have any luck. Since these can all be made from things around the house, think about testing out multiple types of containers when starting seeds. If you’re new to starting seeds, take a look at my step by step guide to starting seeds.
I personally don’t have a newspaper delivered to my house, but I know plenty of people who do. I have them save their newspapers for me. They come in handy for all sorts of uses. If you want to use them for seed starting, you can make your own newspaper pots. There are a couple of ways to do this.
The first way is to buy a newspaper pot maker. This is the one I have. The less expensive way is to use a small can or other small cylindrical object. A tomato paste can works well.
Cut or tear your newspaper in strips about 3 to 4 inches wide and 10 inches long. Wrap the strip around the can or pot maker. Leave about ½ to 1 inch hanging off the bottom.
After rolling the strip of newspaper around the can or pot maker, fold the bottom ½ to 1 inch that’s hanging off into the end.
With the pot maker, there is a bottom piece that you push your pot into to give it a solid bottom foundation. If you are using the can, fold the bottom pieces in and press them down.
Gently pull the newspaper pot off the can or pot maker.
If it doesn’t seem like the bottom is secure, you can always add a little piece of tape at the bottom. The pot should be sturdy enough to sit up by itself.
Fill the pots with seed starting mix. Place them in a container or box to hold them. Plant your seeds per the package instructions. To learn more about how to read a seed packet, take a look at this post. Water and patiently wait for your seedlings to emerge.
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When the seedlings are ready for transplant into the garden, you can plant the pots directly in the ground. You also have the option to compost the newspaper pots if you decide not to plant them.
Make sure you read my safety precautions below.
Plastic Clamshell Boxes:
You know those plastic clamshell boxes that your lettuce and greens come in? Those are amazing for seed starting.
Just poke four to six holes in the bottom with a sharp tool. You can use something like a nail, an awl or a screwdriver. Be really careful to not stab yourself when poking holes! I like to use a toilet paper roll underneath to give it stability as I am poking holes.
Then fill the box about halfway with seed starting mix. Wet the mix. Add your seeds of choice and plant per the package instructions.
Make sure the soil is moist. Close the lid and watch the magic happen. The lid creates a tiny greenhouse effect, keeping in heat and moisture. Once your seeds start to germinate, open the lid to allow air in. Transplant the seedlings once they have formed at least one set of true leaves. These salad boxes are reusable year after year.
Toilet Paper Rolls or Paper Towel Rolls:
Cardboard rolls can be used to start seeds quickly and easily. Paper towel rolls can be cut down. Toilet paper rolls can be left whole. You can just line them up in a tray. Fill them with seed starting mix. Place one or two seeds in each tube, and plant according to the seed package instructions.
Make sure to water thoroughly. You will not be able to move these around much throughout the germination process. When you are ready to transplant, rip away the cardboard and place the seedling into the ground or new container. The cardboard can be composted. I personally wouldn’t plant the cardboard rolls in the ground because they are so thick. Again, check my safety considerations below.
Plastic Cups or Containers:
12 ounce or 16 ounce plastic drinking cups can be used for seed starting or transplanting. Or, you can find any plastic cups that food came in. Examples include containers from yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit or sour cream. The larger cups and containers are great to transplant your seedlings into once you have started them in a smaller pot or tray.
Punch holes in the bottoms of the cups. Use a screwdriver, nail or awl to punch about three or four holes in the bottom. Use a toilet paper roll underneath to give yourself stability while punching the holes.
Put the cups in a tray. Fill them with seed starting mix. Place your seeds or seedlings in the soil. If planting seeds, make sure to plant according to the seed package instructions. Make sure to water thoroughly. If you are germinating seeds in the cups, cover them with plastic wrap or a plastic cover to keep in the heat and moisture. If using the cups to transplant seedlings, there’s no need to cover them.
I prefer egg cartons made of paper or cardboard, but any kind can be used. You can cut off the cover of the egg carton and use it as a tray or fill it with soil for more planting space.
Punch holes in the bottoms of each slot of the egg carton.
Fill each cell of the carton with seed starting mix. Place your seeds in each slot, and plant according to the package instructions. Water thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap until seeds germinate.
These make for small seed starters, so they probably wouldn’t work very well for larger seedlings. I would not grow tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers in egg cartons.
Any seedlings you start in egg cartons will have to be transplanted as they get their true leaves and outgrow the egg carton. If you are planting the seedlings directly in the garden from the egg carton, just pull the egg carton apart and plant it directly in the ground. Alternatively, you can put the cardboard or paper egg carton into the compost.
Egg shells are a pretty and unique seed starting vessel. If you have chickens or eat a lot of eggs, they are easy to come by. As long as you have at least half an egg shell, it can work for seed starting. Make sure to wash out the shell before using it for starting seeds.
Fill the clean egg shell with seed starting mix. Place a seed or two in each shell. Plant according to the seed package instructions, and gently water. Since egg shells don’t stand well on their own, use an egg carton to hold them. You can also try leaning them up against something or pack them tightly into a small space.
Cover with plastic for germination. Transplant as soon as the seedlings get true leaves and outgrow the eggshells. If transplanting directly in the garden, crack the egg shell off the seedling. The egg shell can be placed in the ground or in the compost pile.
What Else Can you Use for Seed Starting:
There are endless other possibilities of what you can use for seed starting. The main things to consider when searching out containers for seed starting are:
Does the vessel have drainage holes? Can you poke drainage holes into it? If you don’t poke drainage holes, make sure that you do not overwater. Things made of paper, plastic and cardboard work best.
Size can vary. You can plant however many seeds will fit into the container you have. Seedlings can be grouped together. You will have to transplant once they get bigger if you plant in groups or in small containers. Don’t let the size of the container deter you. Use what you have available.
Will your planting medium break down? If you use something like paper or cardboard, you can either plant the pot directly in the ground or put it in your compost pile. Plastic can be reused, but you will not be able to plant it directly in the ground.
When considering planting vessels made of repurposed materials, there is always a risk involved. If you use cardboard, make sure that there is no coating on it. Double check your sources to make sure there aren’t any chemicals that could leach into the soil. Same thing applies to newspaper. Don’t use magazines or glossy newspapers. If you can find out what kind of ink was used, determine if it’s safe and if it fits your standards.