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Tips for the Student Gardener: DIY Seed-Starting Containers

Starting seeds in small containers helps you save space, resources, and time while setting your plants up for future success. While there are many seed-starting containers available on the market, you can also make your own with supplies otherwise destined for the recycling bin or trash.

DIY Container #1: Cardboard Tubes

Cardboard Tube Seed Starter

To make these containers, you will need:

  • Scissors
  • A cardboard tube from paper towels or toilet paper
  • A ruler (optional)

Once you have your supplies, you can get started.

  1. First, mark the cardboard tube every 2 inches lengthwise and make your cuts. You should end up with 2 to 5 pieces, depending on what type of tube you used.
  2. Make 4 half-inch cuts into one side of the tube. Try to make these evenly distributed and around the same size.
  3. With the cuts facing upwards, begin to fold the cut sections inwards. Start with the section closest to you and work clockwise until the last section. Tuck half of the last section under the first, folding the container like a box.
  4. Turn the container over and push down with your palm until the bottom is flat. Cut any excess material from the edges and fill with seed-starting soil.
DIY Container #2: Magazine or Newspaper

Magazine Seed Starter

To make these containers, you will need:

  • Scissors
  • Magazine or newspaper
  • A can (for shaping)
  • Tape

Once you have your supplies, you can get started.

  1. First, place the magazine flat on a table with the shortest side facing you. Place the can on the edge furthest from you, as centered as possible.
  2. Fold the left and right sides of the paper upwards, creating a slight crease. Remove the can and fold both sides inward, creating 2 strong creases in the paper.
  3. Unfold the paper and replace the can on the furthest edge. Slowly start to roll the can toward you, wrapping the paper around it. Continuously fold the excess paper to the right of the can into itself, forming the base of the container.
  4. Place a small piece of tape on the bottom of the container and another on the side of the container. Stand the can up with the new bottom of the container on the table.
  5. If the excess material is minimal or messy, simply cut it off and gently remove the can. If there is plenty of excess material and it is straight, cut 4-6 lines in the paper down to the top of the can. Gently remove the can and fold each section inwards, using the previous crease as a guide.

DIY Seed-Starting Containers: Make Your Own

There are nearly limitless opportunities to create seed-starting containers of your own. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking at potential upcycling opportunities:

  • Start small. Little seedlings do not require much water, and having containers that are too large can make water management difficult, especially for beginners. Aim for containers under 16 ounces, or pay extra attention to your watering habits.
  • Drainage or aeration are important. If you do overwater, it is important to have adequate drainage or aeration to help your soil dry out again. Make sure to poke a few holes into your container if you use plastic, metal, Styrofoam, or other non-porous materials.
  • Flexibility helps. Eventually, your seedling will need to move to a larger container or your yard.  To do this, you will need a seed-starting container that degrades over time or a container that will release the seedling. Having a container with flexible sides, like a plastic cup, will allow you to gently squeeze the roots while removing the plant.