Potential seedling containers are all around you! From yoghurt pots to empty toilet rolls, there are opportunities to create recycled seedling pots that will save you money whilst also saving the environment.
Seedling containers are easy to make, all you need to know is what to look for and how to make use of them.
In this article, I’ll discuss why recycling normal, everyday containers for seedling growth is beneficial. I’ll also provide you with 10 ideas on how to create recycled seedling containers from common household items.
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Why Use Recycled Seedling Pots
There are so many reasons why creating your own recycled seedling containers is the best approach to germinating and growing seeds.
Firstly, it’s extremely cost-effective. Many of the items used to create these custom containers are already in your household. Therefore, you do not have to spend extra money on purchasing new containers and pots.
It’s also very environmentally friendly. As gardening aims to assist the ecosystem, it’s important to try and reduce our environmental impact in any way we can.
I assure you that everything you need to make these DIY seedling pots is very easily found in your home right now. The best part is, there are ways to customise these containers to optimise germination and growth!
10 Recycled Seedling Pot Ideas
While seedlings can grow in just about anything, some methods work better than others. There are also a few tips and tricks for DIY recycled seed containers that helps encourage the seeds to germinate and flourish.
Without any further ado, let me get into the 10 best types of recycled seedling pots.
1. Egg Cartons
I should start by mentioning that egg cartons are recommended for small or fast growing seedlings only due to their lack of depth. Seedlings should be transplanted into the garden or a larger container as soon as they’ve sprouted and grown long roots. This will give them a better chance of growing into strong and healthy plants.
Tips for Starting Seeds in Egg Cartons
- Start by choosing a paper-based egg carton.
- Poke a few holes in the bottom of each egg cup so that any excess water can drain away.
- The lid can be cut off and placed underneath the egg box to create a makeshift drip tray!
- Fill each cup halfway with fresh potting soil and create a small hole in the soil with your finger (approximately half an inch deep). Plant your seed and cover with more soil. Aim to plant one seed per segment.
What’s nice about cardboard egg cartons is that the egg cartons are degradable. This means that once the seedling is ready to be planted in the ground, you can plant the entire cup in the ground. With time it will decompose and you will be left with a strong, healthy plant and zero waste!
Best Seeds to Start in Egg Cartons
As mentioned earlier, you’ll want to select fast growing plants or small seedlings with short roots due to the lack of depth in an egg cup. Some of the best seeds to start in egg cartons include lettuce, arugula, kale, and basil.
Growing microgreens in egg cartons is also a fantastic idea.
Second, on my list of recycled seedling pot ideas are eggshells.
Of course, your eggshells can be added to a compost bin. However, if your compost heap is already happy and thriving, you can use them to germinate your seeds.
Tips for Starting Seeds in Eggshells
- Ensure that the eggshell half being used is deep enough to sprout a seed in the first place.
- It is also important to poke a few holes in the bottom of the eggshell for drainage.
- You’ll need to find a way to stand the eggshell up straight. Of course, you can use an egg carton for this.
Then it’s time to plant! Your seedlings should flourish as eggshells themselves contain a variety of nutrients and have a neutral PH balance!
When it comes to the best seeds for planting in eggshells, I have found that growing herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme do very well.
3. Newspaper Pots
Paper pots are a great way of reusing old newspaper that you might have lying around the house. These can be slightly tricky to make without the right tools, and can fall apart if they get too wet.
To solve these problems I recommend investing in a newspaper pot maker. Buy once and you’ll be making recycled seedling pots for many years to come!
Due to the fact that these pots are made from paper, it’s important not to drench your seedling containers unless you want a sopping paper mess! Instead, water lightly and allow to dry out a bit between watering cycles.
In my experience, it is also wiser to plant fast-growing seeds in newspaper. These would be plants such as lettuce and zucchini/courgette.
4. Toilet Paper and Paper Towel Tubes
It might be surprising, but toilet paper rolls work exceptionally well as seedling starter containers! You might be wondering how to make toilet paper roll seed starter pots. It’s easy, I promise!
- Cut a long paper towel roll into one to two-inch pieces.
- Leave the bottom open and simply pack them tightly together in a tray to remain upright.
- Take a toilet roll.
- Cut four one-inch slits around the bottom.
- Weave the slitted pieces together to form a bottom.
- Sit upright and fill with soil and seed.
When watering, try to only water the top of the roll. They can decompose and fall apart if they stay too wet for too long.
5. Berry Containers
Berry containers make perfect mini greenhouses! They even come with drainage holes already!
Not only is this container more reliable than other paper-based options, but they are also typically a bit deeper than the likes of an eggshell. This extra depth can take the pressure off knowing when to plant, and increase the chances of your seedling growing healthy and strong.
Simply add soil and seed, close the lid and remember to water regularly. Once seedling are nearing the roof of the container, leave the lid open.
Once seedlings have been transplanted, your plastic berry containers can be used again and again.
Now I must admit, I love soil blocks! They are the ultimate when it comes to zero waste, and they eliminate the chance of disturbing the plants roots when transplanting.
To create soil blocks you’ll need a tool but it is well worth the investment. You can choose from a variety of soil blockers on Amazon.
A soil block maker is a tool that compacts soil into a block form. Basically, what you do is pack soil into the block compartments then press down with the lever on a tray to compress the soil. Out pops four perfectly shaped blocks of soil that you can plant seeds directly into.
The most notable benefits of this method are that it promotes strong root growth and reduces the amount of transplanting shock that the seedling could experience when being moved. This is because the soil block can be planted directly into the ground once the seedling is strong enough.
Soil blocks are one of my favourite seedling starters because they grow strong, healthy, and luscious seedlings. All without having to use a plastic or other container. This is great if you live a plastic-free lifestyle.
If after using a soil blocker you find that your soil block is crumbling (which they can do), then you are probably using the wrong soil. Try using a potting mix that contains coconut coir or peat moss, as these will condense nicely.
Soil blocks are great for most plants, but are especially successful for squash, melons, and cucumber.
7. Yoghurt Containers
Yes, yoghurt containers can also be used to germinate and grow seeds. You can use the containers of the little yoghurts that often come in packs of six for smaller plants/seedlings. The larger containers can be also be used for plants/seedlings that will grow bigger.
As with all containers that are completely sealed, you’ll need to create some holes in the bottom of these seedling containers for drainage purposes.
The nice thing about yoghurt cups is that they are truly reusable. Once you have transplanted your seedlings, you can simply wash them out and use them for the next batch of seeds.
8. Takeaway Coffee Cups
While we all know that takeaway coffee cups aren’t the best thing for the environment… now you can curb your guilt by reusing them!
Takeaway coffee cups provide great depth for your seedlings which is a definite bonus.
Like other cardboard seedling pots, they can get soggy if over watered. Instead, water lightly and allow to dry out slightly between watering cycles.
But the major benefit of cardboard is that it can be directly planted in the ground as it’s fully biodegradable!
Added bonus of a takeaway cup seedling pot…you can use the lid as a drip tray!
Peat pots and cow pots are also great seedling containers to use for planting seeds. Although technically not recycled from around the home, they do use 100% naturally recycled components (organic paper peat and cow manure) and are therefore fully degradable.
Once the seedlings are big enough, they can be planted directly in the ground and the pot will decompose. As mentioned earlier, the main benefit of planting the whole container is to avoid disturbing the plants roots and thereby reducing the chance of transplant shock.
The even come with drainage holes already so they’re ready to use.
10. Plastic Bottles or Milk Jugs
Plastic bottles and milk jugs round out my list of 10 ideas for recycled seedling containers.
All you have to do is cut them down to size (a few inches or so). As always, be sure to create an opportunity for drainage at the bottom of the bottle or jug.
Plastic bottles do work very well for germinating and growing seedlings, and because they are plastic can be used again and again.
How to Know When Seedlings Are Ready to Be Transplanted
Knowing when to transplant your seedlings outside doesn’t need to be complicated – there’s no set 24hr window that if you miss, your seedlings will be doomed! However, there are a few things you can look out for.
If you started growing seedlings in early spring, it’s important to wait until the cold dissipates and the frosts are over before transplanting. However, if you’re using a Garden Tower 2 and growing your plants indoors, you won’t need to worry about this.
We once had a freak frost one night late spring, and it happened to be the day after I’d planted all my seedlings! I woke to all my new seedlings withered and brown. It really demonstrated how detrimental frost can be for young plants.
Once you know the weather is right, there are two tell tale signs that your seedlings are ready to be transplanted.
- Check to see if the roots of the seedling have reached the bottom of your recycled seedling pots. This means that the seedling is starting to outgrow it’s container and strong enough to grow and flourish in the garden or vegetable patch. If the roots have started growing in a circle around the inside of your recycled seedling pots, this is called being ‘root bound’ and you’ll want to transplant them quickly.
- The second thing to look for is whether your seedlings have developed their ‘true leaves’ yet. When a seed first germinates, these leaves are the plant’s ‘baby leaves’ which will eventually fall off after its next leaves, the ‘true leaves’ form. So, the key here is to ensure your seedlings have at least 4 established leaves before you consider repotting.
You can read more on on this topic in my article on the Best Way to Move Seedlings Outside
If the roots of your new seedling are reaching the bottom of the seedling container but are still too small to transplant, simply repot into a bigger seedling container until they’re strong enough.
How to ‘Harden Off” Seedlings
The last thing we should touch on when it comes to transplanting your seedlings is how to ‘harden off’ your seedlings.
This process should be done over 7 – 10 days. For your summer garden, harden off your seedlings once you’re sure the last frosts have passed and the evenings are warmer (above 50°F/10°C at night).
Begin by moving seedlings into a shady spot outdoors for a couple of hours a day, then bring them back inside. Repeat this process over the next few days, increasing the amount of time they spend outdoors by an hour each day.
After 4 or 5 days, choose a partially shaded spot or a place that gets the morning sun and leave them outside all day. Remember to move them back into the shade in the heat of the day to prevent leaves from being scorched.
After 7-10 days your babies should be ready to be planted outside!
How to Transplant Seedlings Outdoors
When transplanting seedlings, be sure to wet them first (but not drench). This will make it easier to gently lift them from their container. This is when using compostable recycling pots come in handy as they can be planted straight in the ground!
Gently poke your finger down the side of the container and lift up to retrieve your seedling. It’s important that you try not to damage the roots when doing this. If the roots are damaged it can affect the plants growth.
After this, place the seedling in the hole you’ve created for them, carefully covering the roots with soil, and water them.
When planting compostable seedling pots in the ground, just be sure to open the base so that roots are able to grow down!
Final Words on Recycled Seedling Pots
There are many potential seedling containers when you look around your home! The thing to remember is to create drainage holes so that plants don’t become water logged and rot the roots. Also be mindful of shallow containers and the types of seeds you choose to plant in them.
Starting your seeds in egg cartons is a great way to start your recycled seedling pot journey. Starting seeds in eggshells is also just as beneficial as they provide an extra source of nutrients. Just be sure to use the best seeds to start in egg cartons when trying this method!
All in all, you don’t need to spend a lot of money buying specially made seedling pots to successfully germinate seeds and grow healthy plants. You can make your own, recycled and environmentally friendly versions, or select a one-off investment like a soil blocker that you can use for many years to come.
About the Author
Elle Reed is a passionate gardener and advocate for teaching beginner gardeners how to grow their own food. Elle’s mission is to inspire and empower people to get back to basics, grow their own produce, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle. “Whether it’s a few herb pots in an apartment, a potager or a full garden plot, we can all ‘start somewhere’ to grow our own food, and in doing so, provide healthier food for ourselves and those we love”.