Starting plants from seeds is one of the easiest ways to save money gardening. Seeds, soil, and containers are a fraction of the cost of buying plants from a nursery. Plus, starting seeds indoors gives you a chance to extend the gardening season before spring weather has arrived. You can save even more money by using recycled “containers” to start your seeds in. These are some of our favorite DIY containers for starting seeds, many of which you probably already have around your house.
1. Toilet Paper Rolls
Toilet paper tubes are plentiful in most households and these cardboard tubes are perfect to recycle for seed starting. There’s many different strategies to use them. You can cut them in half and put them on a tray or other container to form the “bottom” and fill each of the tubes with soil. If you want to make a bottom on your container, use a pair of scissors to cut four flaps 1/3 of the way up the roll. Fold them in like the bottom of a box.
Cardboard is compostable and biodegradable, so you can technically bury them directly in the garden when it’s time to transplant your seedlings. In our experience, we’ve found that usually the cardboard doesn’t break down as quickly unless it’s already degrading when you plant it. You don’t want the cardboard to restrict root growth, so we usually remove the cardboard and toss it in the compost pile.
If you eat a lot of eggs, you can reuse the eggshells as a biodegradable seed starting container. This does require a little bit of skill when you’re cracking your eggs–try to crack them towards the top so the majority of the shell is intact for holding soil. Rinse out the eggshells and let them dry.
Keep your egg carton to hold your eggs. When you’re ready to start seeds, fill them with a seed starting soil and plant your seeds. Because eggshells are going to create pots that are on the smaller side, it’s best for starting seeds that won’t need a lot of root space initially, so it’s probably not great for vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, or squash. Eggshells are perfect for starting herb seeds and some flowers.
When it’s time to transplant your seedlings to the garden, you can directly plant the eggshells in the soil because they are compostable. We do recommend gently crushing the shell with your hand so the roots can work their way through into the soil since eggshells take a while to break down.
This one might be a head-scratcher if you’ve never used newspaper to start seeds before. What you’ll do is take the newspaper to “build” a pot to start your seeds in. The nice thing about this technique is you can make any size seeding starting pot you want. Read the full instructions. The short version: you will want to use a container that is the size of the pot you want to create. This can be a juice glass, can, jar, or another food container. Cut the newspaper into four pieces and then use one of the quarters to fold. Take the folded piece and wrap it around the food container. Fold down the overlap on the bottom and secure it will tape.
Because the newspaper is a little flimsy and will leach out water freely, you’ll want to use a tray to contain your seed starting pots.
I really like newspaper because it breaks down a lot faster than cardboard or eggshells, so you can really just plant the seed starts directly in the soil.
4. Cardboard Egg Cartons
If your eggs come in cardboard cartons, that’s another great option for a recyclable, biodegradable seed starting pot. There’s not much to DIY here, just fill the carton with soil and plant your seeds. Because egg cartons tend to be shallow, it’s better for starting herbs and similar seeds. Since the cardboard isn’t watertight, I do recommend using some type of track underneath to catch extra water.
When it’s time to transplant your seeds, simply break or cut the egg carton up. Since the pots are cardboard, you can plant them directly in the garden. In our experience they don’t always break down quickly, so we usually plant the seedlings and toss the cardboard in the compost pile.
5. Winter Sowing in Milk Jugs
This is not only a way to recycle a container as a seed starting pot, but also a complete technique for starting seeds. This technique is great for gardeners who don’t have a lot of space indoors for starting seeds or don’t want to invest in a seed-starting setup with lights and trays. Save your milk jugs, soda bottles, and other plastic containers year round and you’ll be able to start all your seeds during the winter.
The way this works is the milk jug becomes a mini-greenhouse that will help your seeds germinate and grow even during winter weather. Check out the full instructions. You will need to punch drainage holes in the bottom of the jug and partially cut the top so it hinges open to put soil and seeds inside.
6. Reuse Nursery Containers
Unless this is your first time gardening, you’ve probably amassed a good amount of the plastic containers that plants come in when you buy from the nursery. Rather than throw them away, these small pots are perfect for starting seeds in. There’s not too much to DIY with this one–they are usually ready to go. Some gardeners like to sterilize the pots before using again to prevent the transfer of diseases and other problems.
7. Recycled Yogurt Cups
If you buy a lot of single serving yogurt containers, they are perfectly sized for starting seeds in. All you need to do is clean the containers and punch holes in the bottom for drainage. You can use the same containers year after year or recycle them after you transplant your seedlings in the spring.
8. Plastic Takeout Containers
I hate the amount of waste that comes with ordering takeout or delivery, but some of the containers are absolutely perfect for starting seeds! If your dinner comes in a plastic container with a clear lid, you basically have a whole seed starting set up. Use the base to fill with soil and plant your seeds. The lid will serve as a humidity dome to help with the germination of the seeds.
9. Produce Containers
Once you start analyzing your garbage, it’s easy to find containers that work well for starting seeds. A lot of produce, like berries or grape tomatoes, come in plastic clamshells with lids. These often already have drainage holes in them and the lids make a great humidity dome. Just fill with soil and add your seeds.
10. Recycled K-Cups
Using a Keurig can create a lot of waste, but you can recycle the plastic k-cups to start seeds in. When you’re done brewing your coffee, empty out the k-cup and wash it. When it’s time to plant, you will need to punch some holes in the bottom for drainage.
Now that you have ideas of recycled containers to use to start your seeds, learn how to grow herbs from seeds.
Save more money in your garden by making a DIY watering can from a recycled milk jug and making a DIY rain gauge from a recycled soda bottle.