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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pot Shots

pot • pour • ri, noun.
1. a mixture of dried flower petals and spices, kept in a jar for their fragrance.
2. a medley or any collection of miscellaneous things.
(source: Webster)

In a way, the first definition of this word can be considered as using nature’s castoffs.

For this post, which focuses on the second definition, I present ways to turn your own household castoffs into perfectly suitable containers for starting seeds indoors. From garbage to garden, you might say.

Not to overlook those great plastic cell packs that you can buy at garden stores, but these ideas are all free. They also impart that extra smidgen of warm feelings you get from knowing you’re doing something – anything – to make a difference. Think of it as cultivating a greener green thumb.

In anticipation of sharing ideas for this post, I
began to look at every item on its way to the garbage
with a critical eye. Wait! Could this hold dirt?
How about this – could it be a tray to hold several

My potpourri of repurposed trash. It’s just a sampling of what you can devise with a little imagination.

Egg cartons, and yogurt and pudding cups make fine pots, as do paper cups and small milk cartons. With plastic containers, poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage. You can then use them in trays, or simply nest in an intact cup to corral water.

The size and depth of egg cartons won’t allow it to harbor a plant for the long haul, but the carton is perfect for starting seeds that you plant in a group and then transplant to individual pots once sprouted. This is the method for particularly tiny seeds like petunias, which are the size of pepper grains. Sprinkle on top of your growing medium, then transplant into larger pots when the seedlings have grown two sets of leaves.

Toilet paper and paper towel tubes can be cut into cuffs for bottomless pots placed in a watertight tray. But won’t all the dirt fall out, you ask? If inside a tray, you won’t be lifting the pots until it’s time to transplant. By then the plant’s root structure helps hold the dirt. Best of all, there’s no need to remove the seedling from this type of pot – bury the whole thing.

Use old cookie sheets, aluminum cake pans, even a cookie package. The segmented cookie trays are just the right size for holding the cardboard tube pots. Such trays assist in watering, because you can water
your seedlings from below, forcing them to develop strong roots.

Another type of tray comes from a cereal box. Although not a good tray choice for bottom watering, it still can be a great way to keep your pots
together. To make one, I cut out the front of the box and use it inside for extra support. I cut the liner bag down the middle to use for a moisture barrier. For extra water resistance you also could put those ever-present plastic grocery sacks to good use. Wrap one around the cereal box, put the cardboard front back in to weigh down the sack, and put the liner bag on top.

Two functions of full-size greenhouses are to provide consistent moisture levels and temperature. You can mimic this somewhat by placing your pots inside clear plastic bags. Aluminum pans with plastic clear lids are also ideal for this. Start with moist soil, and you shouldn’t have to water your pots at all during the germination process. If excessive condensation builds up, open the bag or lid for a short time. Once sprouted, remove covers from seedlings so they get the best airflow.

A milk jug is another idea for a greenhouse. Simply cut off the bottom for your tray, and then nest inside the top. Children especially enjoy using these.

Plant markers
Further use milk jugs by cutting into strips for labeling your seedlings. Write on them with ballpoint pen or permanent marker. Popsicle sticks can work, too, but the wood tends to wick moisture and ruin your writing.

Newspaper Pots
OK, so what was the newspaper in the picture for? I
saved my favorite green recycling method for last.

This pot comes from a single strip of newspaper. You can find specialized tools in seed catalogs to make these, but I came up with this easy way using a jar from my cupboard. Select a glass or jar the same width you’d like your pot to be. Mine is two-inch wide jar that once held bouillon cubes. It’s larger than a typical spice jar, but not as wide as a pint-canning jar.

Cut a newspaper sheet lengthwise into three pieces. Place the open end of your jar on the strip so about two inches of paper extend beyond it. Roll. Push the two-inch edges back into the jar all around. Take the pot off the jar and, using your fingers, scrunch down the newspaper from the inside to form the bottom. No need to be precise. That’s it!

I’ve made these the past two years and they are my pot
of choice for squash and tomato starts. For a single
strip of newspaper they are surprisingly strong. Like
the cardboard tubes you can plant the entire thing. I
often rip off the bottom at planting time, that is, if
my plant’s roots haven’t already penetrated through
the paper.

It’s best to use black and white newspaper sheets, as
some colored inks may contain metals. One drawback to
these pots is that they can dry out quickly, so they
are best used in a watertight tray where you can help
them stay moist. Pack them tight in trays to help the
pots retain their shape. Also be sure to bury
completely when planting in the garden – paper still
poking out can draw away moisture.

The possibilities are endless when recycling for the
growing cycle. Have fun giving back to nature as you
get a jump-start on it through seeds.

SEED WATCH: I started petunias and violas this week
indoors, and columbines in pots outside. What have
you planted?



m. said...

this post is amazing. such good information!

Anonymous said...

This post is almost a year old so you probably aren't checking comments on it but I love this post. I find it extremely useful and will start saving my garbage for getting things planted in a couple of months. Thanks.

Unknown said...

We do still check our comments. Thanks for commenting!

Gina B said...

I just happened upon your blog, I love it because it is exactly how I do things in my garden. I use everything I already have or that is headed for the trash my husband sometimes thinks I am nuts but when he only has to take out the garbage every two weeks and its only one bin he realizes how well we are doing to keep too much going into the landfill.

thanks for all the advice