Making seedling pots from toilet roll inners

Filed in Blog, Videos by on January 16, 2009 25 Comments
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seedling tray made from non recyclable plasticOk, we admit it, there’s a bit of a toilet roll theme going on at the moment. Following on from Sarah’s guest post yesterday on planting carrots in cardboard toilet roll inners, I just had to get my oar in too.

Since the middle of November, I’ve been avidly saving toilet roll tubes, kitchen towel inners and even the cardboard inners from brown paper rolls for making seedling pots.

I’ve got my eye on one of Sarah’s gorgeous paper potters to turn all our newspapers into a veritable array of pots, but in the meantime I’ve been doing what I can with cardboard. Each year I buy thin plastic seed trays from the garden centre and every year I throw them away after use. I’ve not yet found a way to get the seedlings out of these trays without breaking the plastic. I guess they are designed that way – there’s not much money to be made from a reusable item.

Last year I paid a Kings ransom for some biodegradable pots and realised I’d been, as they say in the trade, taken for a ride. I mean, come on – biodegradable pots; that’s just a toilet roll inner, right? There’s no faffing around trying to get the seedling out of the pot, you just chuck the whole lot in the ground and the cardboard disintegrates, keeping the seedling happy and snug in the meantime. Horrah!

And if you’re anything like me; anything that helps me find the seedling, as opposed to all the weeds in the garden, can only be a big cause for celebration.

It’s not rocket science and the end product’s not exactly pretty, but if you want to know how we make our very own biodegradable pots then sit down with a cuppa for two minutes and feast your eyes on my moment of creativity:


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (25)

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  1. Sarah says:

    That’s fabulous if you want a bottom on your pot but you might want to pull the bottom part open when you plant out your baby plants. I do that with the pots made with the paper potter, unless the roots are already coming through. Anything in the way of the roots – layers or paper or card – restricts their growth to an extent while it’s rotting down.

    I bet the loo roll pots will rot down faster than the supposedly compostable pots you get in the garden centres – some of which I find bits of in the soil the following year! I couldn’t find my carrot loo rolls by autumn last year, they’d completely gone!

    We are all going to grow such wonderful things this year!

  2. Layla says:

    This looks pretty exciting! (My Mum’s had her eyes on ‘reusable’ styrofoam ones /instead of thin plastic/ which would be good for being reusable but still ultimately, hmm.. styrofoam? & I’ve been wondering what to do this year..?)

    Still, it would be nice to get the ‘thumbs up’ from chemical-analysis of the toilet rolls.. hmm.. not sure exactly how to find out lol.. maybe by writing to the toilet paper companies and asking? (excatly which procedures and chemicals had been used and if it would be safe to use this way.. hmm..?)
    /been allergic to artificial additives & preservatives in foods as a kiddie already so I’m a bit careful & cautious with da chemicals…)

    It’s still a really great idea & I hope it works!!

  3. Yay – love it. That’s brilliant 😀 x

  4. Gorgeous! Brilliant. I admit I can’t bear to toss those foolish seedling trays and salvage the cups I can for reuse but going forward, I expect to be doing most seeding here so these will be brilliant.

    What’s the next step; where do you put them or what do you put them on? I have my seedlings on a styrofoam (polystyrene?) take out box that I cut in half so I can overwater and easily move it around to catch the sun.

  5. Di Hickman says:

    hehehehe I did this last year for my seedlings, definitely works! Also once you use these, you can’t go to newspaper pots so be warned! Lol. Newspaper pots just aren’t the same. I started my tomato, corn, basil, and lots of other plants this way! 🙂

  6. Di Hickman says:

    Thinking woman: I put mine on the foil trays for cooking, just snagged spares from friends and filled that sucker up with TP roll pots. Totally moveable, plus if you’re lucky they’ll have clear plastic lids for a complete propagation “unit”.

    Oh and if you soak the pots in a little water once cut they fold easier 🙂

    Be aware in CA sun these dry out quickly though!

  7. Oh, how neat. I will have to start saving them instead of recycling them.

    And I just love your accent. 🙂

  8. Layla says:

    Hey Di Hickman! can you post a photo? 🙂 /here or on your blog?)
    I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about – I think I know which foil trays you mean – like stuff you’d get take-outs in?
    I suppose any really reusable tray would do..? My Mum puts her little tomato plants and such in ex-yogurt-plastic-containers into a reusable plastic tray..
    Dad puts extra wooden planks to the window so they have enough room.. (doesn’t look very stylish but it’s very handy & plants love it!)

  9. Mrs Green says:

    Thanks Sarah – top tip about removing the bottom before planting – thank you!

    Hi Layla, yes, if you’re chemically sensitive then it would be a good idea to find out what is in them before using them. As for me, well, I’m just going to take a chance 😉 Let us know what your Mum decides.

    Hi TW – I’ve still got some old plastic trays, so I shall be using these, In the future, I’m not sure…..

    Good to hear these have been successful Di and interesting about the newspaper pots! I’m intrigued

  10. jen says:

    Great Idea! I’m going to give it a go this year as I have plans to get my garden started early indoors.

  11. ClaraP says:

    Grrrreat video, esp for those of us who can’t bear learning something by reading about it … darn it I need to SEE it being done … so THANKS!

    By the way, does anyone here have an opinion on the whys and wherefores of growing butternut squashes?

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Good luck with the early gardening Jen; I look forward to reading about it on your blog.

    You’re welcome Clara. I should do more vids really as I can waffle on for hours in the written word, but I appreciate seeing is often better.
    I’ve never grown butternut squashes – but I think you can even put them in a compost heap to grow. 🙂

  13. Sarah says:

    I fancy a go at butternuts, I’ll let you know how I get on if I do give them a try.

  14. Ruby says:

    That’s a great idea Mrs Green. I shall certainly start collecting loo rolls for seed pots now. I bought some of the compostable ones last year, but found they didn’t decompose at all and my seedlings became rootbound!

    I’ve just put my name down for an allotment here in York as we only have a small back yard outside the house. Fingers crossed I’ll get one before the growing season begins!

  15. Mrs Green says:

    Hey Ruby, good to see you! It was lovely to read your words over on Mrs A’s celebration this week. I hope you get an allotment; that would be wonderful and enjoy making your pots!

  16. karen says:

    I live in South Africa and have just started growing my own veg, just loved your idea of making seedling pots out of loo roll holders, going to start saving and get family and friends to help me out, really enjoyed reading through your pages, shall definitely be back to read more, cheers, Karen

  17. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Karen – lovely to see you from South Africa. Thank you for taking time to leave a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the video; it’s been wildly popular! Have fun making your pots and getting your family and friends involved.

  18. Leslie says:

    So I did this already but on one website it said I can leave the openining at the bottom anyway….But I will see how well I can grow peppers like this hehe thanks though I will do it this way.

  19. Sarah says:

    @Leslie: The advantage of leaving the bottom open is that deeper rooted plant or those with a tap root can grow down with nothing to block them. Roots are surprisingly delicate and something in the way will make them grow sideways, make carrots fork etc. The disadvantages are that the compost tends to fall out when you move the tubes for transplanting.

    For me, what I do depends on what I’m planting – small seeds with no tap root get pots made by my paper potter, larger seeds or those who will grow a tap root get a loo roll tube – bottom open because I forget to fold it!

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Leslie: Hi Leslie, welcome to the site and thanks for your comment. I think Sarah, our resident gardening expert has summed it up beautifully. Why not try both and let us know how you get on?

    Enjoy your gardening; I love using these pots because biodegradable pots can be really expensive to buy AND they come shrink wrapped in plastic at our local centre which defeats the object really!

  21. Ashley says:

    Hi, I love this about toilet paper rolls, thank you. I was thinking about the problem of the folded bottoms and whether the roots would do better in the long run if the bottoms were open and I thought of something. I know it’s hard to visualize written directions, so I numbered each step.

    1. Cut loo rolls in half or thirds and do not fold the bottom.
    2. Place the rolls snugly together in whatever tray you are using, but leave an area open in one of the
    corners about 3″ x 3″, you’ll see why later. Fill with potting mix and seeds and water as needed.
    3. When seedlings are ready to be planted, dig holes in your garden slightly bigger than the rolls.
    4. Cut a square piece of thin chipboard (cereal box chipboard is perfect for this) a bit larger than the base of the rolls. Anything thin and strong will work here, use your imagination!
    5. Starting in the open area in your tray, gently press on the top edge of a roll to hold it in place and carefully slide the square piece under the bottom.
    6. Continue to press gently on the top edge of the roll, hold the square snug to the bottom of the roll, and lift it out of the tray.
    7. Place it in the ground while holding the bottom piece snugly against the pot. When in position, lightly hold the pot in place by the top edge and pull one the corners of the square bottom piece and it slips right out of the hole, ready to use on the next pot.

    Voila, no bottoms to block root growth and it should only add a few minutes! Hope this helps.


  22. Poppy says:

    I did have a go at this toilet roll pot idea last year, but found that the cardboard sucked all the moisture out of the soil, faster than I could replace it.

    We may try again this year, but I need to get a new cover for my mini greenhouse first as that was one of the casualties in my back door battles!

  23. Mrs Green says:

    @Ashley: Hi Ashley, great idea – thank you! You could be right about stunting rot growth in some plants; especially more fragile ones, so your solution is excellent.

    @Poppy: Hi poppy; how weird about the cardboard soaking up all the water. I found they worked really well for us. Have a go again this year and see how you get on – good luck with the greenhouse

  24. Excellent! What a brilliant little pot. We tried it with them open at the bottom and the roots were able to spread farther I noticed. Don’t know if that will make much difference once they’re in the ground. We shall see…
    I just love this.

  25. Mrs Green says:

    @Jennifer Ward-Pelar: Glad you enjoyed it; I loved your posts this week. Yep ended can work really well too – like you, I’m not sure about advantages once the pot is in the ground. I guess it might depend on soil type; we have clay so everything stays pretty wet and would allow the pot to disintegrate quickly…

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