Recycled Seed-Starter Containers

Recycled Seed-Starter Containers

  • By Cleve Campbell
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  • January 2018 - Vol. 4 No. 1
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The seed catalogs have been rolling in over the past several weeks,  packed full of perfect pictures of vegetables, and to the gardener this means indoor seed starting season is just around the corner.  And that means it’s time to start collecting seed-starting containers. Some of my gardening friends are ingenious at transforming ordinary used packages into seed-starting containers. Naturally, you can purchase seed starter kits, plastic trays, peat and plastic starter pots from any big box store, nursery, or online gardening retailer. But some of my frugal and ecological-minded gardening friends take that ole saying “a penny saved is a penny earned ” to a higher, even a professional level. And it makes sense — why send a container to the landfill or the recycling center when it can be reused. Here are a few container tips that I have picked up over the years.

  • Tin cans have been recycled into seed-starting containers for many years. Simply punch a few holes in the bottom and fill with a soilless or peat-lite mix and they become an instant seed-starter container.
  • Yogurt cups, paper coffee cups, styrofoam cups, plastic cups, and plastic glasses are just a few common household items that end up in the trash bin that can be recycled into seed-starter containers. Just punch a few holes in the bottom, add your soil mix, seeds, and water, and you’re all set.
  • Need a mini-greenhouse? Those “to go” containers often used to package salads and pastries make perfect miniature green houses. Fill the bottom portion with soil, plant your seeds, and just pop the lid closed in between watering. These throw away containers create a warm, safe and humid environment for your little seedlings to flourish.
  • Egg containers made of Styrofoam and paper-mâché are old favorites. Punch a hole in the bottom of each egg socket. The lid can be removed and placed under the starter container to catch excess water.
  • Cut the bottom 2 to 3 inches from a plastic milk jug or a 1-liter plastic beverage bottle. Don’t to forget to punch holes in the bottom for drainage. The remaining part of the jug or bottle can be used as a funnel or placed over tender plants to protect them from the cold, or cut into strips and used for plant markers
  • If you have old newspapers lying around, they can become one of the most eco-friendly starter pots imaginable: newspapers can be found pretty much everywhere, and a few simple folds are all that’s needed to create perfect little pockets for nurturing your seeds. Once folded, fill the “pots” with soil, pop in your seed(s), water, and place in a sunny spot.
  • Another method for making biodegradable pots is to cut strips of heavy paper, such as grocery bags to match the height and diameter of the pot you want. For example, a 2-inch-square pot would require a strip 2 inches wide and 8 inches long. Add approximately 1 inch to the length for overlap. Glue the strips in circles to form bottomless pots. Fit these paper pots into a wooden or plastic flat with sides high enough to give good support before filling them with potting soil.
  • Cut paper towels, bathroom tissue, or gift paper rolls into 3-inch lengths. Set vertically in a tray for bottomless seed containers.
  • Make a mini-greenhouse from a milk carton, a plastic bag, and a wire coat hanger or other stout wire. Staple the carton shut and cut away one side. Fill with potting media, plant seeds, and add water. Cut the wire into 8-inch lengths and bend into arches. Place three or four wire arches in the carton so as the seedlings grow, they will not touch the plastic. Place the carton in the plastic bag and seal. Avoid using dry cleaning bags as they cling easily and can be dangerous to small children. Keep the mini-greenhouse in a warm, bright location out of direct light. Open the bag daily to check on seedlings. Add water when necessary.


Regardless of the type of container chosen, fill it three-fourths full with seed-starting mixture and sow the seeds. Cover to the specified depth and water the mix. If your home is dry, it may help to cover the containers with plastic wrap to maintain a steadier moisture level. Seeds and seedlings are extremely sensitive to drying out. They should not be kept soaking wet, however, since this condition is conducive to “damping-off,” a fungal disease deadly to seedlings. Damping-off can be prevented or diminished by sprinkling milled sphagnum moss, which contains a natural fungicide, on top of the soil.


Seed-Starting season is still a month or two away, but what better way to get a jump on the gardening season than to begin to collect containers headed to the land fill or recycling center that can be recycled into a seed-starting container? It not only saves a little money, it’s the ecofriendly thing to do.


Thanks for dropping by The Garden Shed. We hope to see you again next month.



“Recycle to Start Seed Indoors,” by Diane Relf, Extension Specialist, Consumer Horticulture, Department of Horticulture, Virginia Tech, in The Virginia Gardener Newsletter, Volume 11, Number 2.)


“How to make Origami Newspaper Seeding Pots,”




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