Country Living Series

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Seed pots from toilet paper tubes

Here's a nifty idea for recycling: making starter seed pots from toilet paper tubes.

It's far too early to plant anything in the garden, but here in north Idaho a lot of seeds need to get started indoors in order to give them enough time to mature before the frost hits. In the past I've used plastic trays that have small individual planting cups, but I always seem to damage the fragile roots as I scoop the baby plants out when it comes time to transplant. I wanted something biodegradable, something I could place right in the ground without disturbing the roots.

So a couple weeks ago when I caught a little tutorial on The Harried Homemaker on making starter seed pots from toilet paper tubes, it seemed like an excellent idea. I asked neighbors to keep their toilet paper tubes for me, and we also saved our own. It didn't take long for me to collect several dozen tubes.

Here's how to make a seed pot. Start by removing any clinging remains of toilet paper. Then flatten the tube...

...and flatten it again at opposite sides.

This "squares" the tube.

Now mark the flattened tube in half with lines down the middle, and a half-inch from each end.

Cut the tube in half.

Along each corner, make a cut up to the marked line.

Fold each flap inward, then tuck them so they stay in place. Voila, a seed pot.

I decided to time myself to see how long it took to make two seed pots out of one tube. It took me about 2 1/2 minutes.

After a little practice, I got it down to about two minutes.

Then I employed the girls to remove the shreds of toilet paper and flatten the tubes...

...and started marking and cutting the tubes assembly-line fashion...

...and after that things went much faster.

All this was preparation to get some seeds planted. For example, in north Idaho we need to grow long-day onions...

...which require a long period of indoor growing to get them started.

I also wanted to get some peppers started. Cascabellas (a favorite of Younger Daughter)...

...some Zavory (I've never tried these but they sounded good)...

...and for the heck of it, some red bell peppers taken from a store-bought pepper. I have no idea if these will grow but we thought we'd give them a try.

I also planted cumin. I tried this last year but planted way too late, so nothing came of it.

Anyway, to get all these seeds started, I scooped up some composted manure...

...and added some sand.

Then I chopped and mixed until I had some nice potting soil.

Then I started filling tubes. I used a spoon at first but soon switched to fingers, as it was easier to pluck out pieces that were too big.

I found an occasional small worm.

When the cups were full, I poked a hole with a chopstick...

...and added a seed.

The base of these little cups isn't very stable, so sometimes they tipped.

I planted everything but the onions (ran out of cups).

I gave everything a watering...

...and set them where they'd get some sun. It's a start!

I'll collect enough tubes to get the onions planted next.


  1. I will be doing this as well - except it is time to start planting soon here in Chattanooga, Tn. My seeds do better if I start them outside - every time I have used seedlings or other plants (bought) they die. I will be starting my garden this week. So excited!

  2. Oh now aren't those cute! I had saved the TP rolls for pellet stove starters --eh they were okay....

    But this! Ha!

  3. What a great idea. I will definitely have to try this. I just threw out all my tubes though :-?

  4. I'm actually past the time to get any cool weather crops planted and rapidly running out of time to get the rest of the garden established before the summer heat hits. Seedlings just don't survive once our summer gets started. I'm planting some tomatillo seed from store-bought produce today to get the last bit of the garden planted.

    I'm in Phoenix, AZ. I need to start building a garden shade for my peppers. :)

  5. Just a heads up. Some toilet paper tubes as well as cardboard egg cartons contain certain chemicals in them that can cause your seedlings to not grow or will kill them when they are small. It's something I've encountered in the past and I know many other people who have had difficulties in the past because of this. Only seems to be certain brands. But something to keep in mind if some of your seedlings don't survive, that could be the culprit.

  6. I appreciate this tip and the work that goes into using what is at hand. My husband discovered Pot Makers a few years ago and we have been making our seedling pots from newspaper since then. This website has them for $14.95 - I have made hundreds of pots and they work great.

  7. I use toilet rolls too but in a much less labour intensive way. I just cut them in half and squish them all into a tray.

  8. I use them as well as paper towel rolls (we save them at work & each person takes what they need). I have our print shop cut them for me in about 2" pieces. And, I don't cut & crimp bottoms. I just pack the bottom tightly w/soil & then add looser soil to plant the seed in. I have found that they stay straighter w/o the bottoms crimped. Only problem I have had is mold if I add too much water.

  9. I'm glad this worked for you! Just one thing to be aware of - these pots dry out much more quickly than plastic and you may have to transplant them up to a larger size pot fairly soon.

    Any chance of getting your thoughts about about the ideal homesteader's barn like we discussed via email? ;)

  10. Fabulous idea! Will start saving toilet rolls now (since we are heading into Autumn here) and will be all good to go by the start of spring!

  11. I can save them up for next year.
    I only just learned about 'long day' and 'short day' onions, and I have no clue what type I've got in my seed box. I need to figure it out, I guess. Ha!
    At least the onion sets are growing.
    Good luck and have a blessed Sunday! ♥

  12. That is much less intensive than a method I would use. I have to remember this. I place my seeds in the car to germinate. My seeds germinate very quickly in the car.

  13. Gardens from old tires. Weed control from vinyl billboard signs. Seed pod holders from old toilet paper tubes. What's next? An 8 row cotton picker made from discarded hair curlers?


  14. Don't know if you knew this, but keep your peppers *warm*, around 80 degrees, or they won't germinate, or will germinate *very* slowly.

    Ask me how I know this...

  15. Oh, I will have to save my toilet paper and paper towel rolls!

  16. I started using TP tubes last year, but Just cut them in half and use in the round. Instead of cutting and crimping the bottoms I cover them with a piece of foil with a few small holes poked in it. The foil goes about half way up the sides of the tube and cuts down on the water wicking away as quickly. When you are ready to plant you just remoce the foil and save it for the next years starter pots. By the way, as much as I'd like to I can't take credit for this method. I read about it somewhere.

    Love all the other ideas that you post. They make a lot of sense and save time and money.