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Zero-Waste DIY: How to Grow Seedlings Using Newsprint

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Zero-Waste DIY: How to Grow Seedlings Using Newsprint

April 23, 2020

If you’re just learning to garden, you may be intimidated with the idea of growing plants from seeds. I know I was. I figured that by planting store-bought seedlings instead of seeds, I was in effect jump-starting the process and skipping over what must be a difficult step.

Thing is, starting from seed is easier than you think and the gratification of growing something from almost nothing is unparalleled. Besides, seeds are cheaper to buy than seedlings, and when you sprout seeds indoors first (when it’s still too cold outside to start planting), you can can get a head start on the gardening season.

So, how do you grow from seeds indoors? We’ve written about it before, but yesterday, we saw a great comprehensive tutorial on starting seeds in DIY newspaper pots over on Fresh American Style, the blog of Dash & Albert and Pine Cone Hill founder Annie Selke: “Not only are these DIY paper seedling pots economical and earth-friendly, you can simply plant the whole thing in the ground when the seedling is ready to be transplanted because newspaper decomposes quickly.”

Below, Annie’s step-by-step directions on how to grow seedlings in newsprint pots. Be sure to head over to her blog for a helpful video and more photos.

Photography courtesy of Annie Selke.

Step 1

Measure and cut newsprint strips that are about twice the height of the pot maker base. If you don&#8
Above: Measure and cut newsprint strips that are about twice the height of the pot maker base. If you don’t have a wood seed pot maker, use a 10.75 oz. condensed soup can or a 14 to 16 oz. can of beans.

Cut your newspaper into strips. Use newsprint, not magazine pages, since it will biodegrade more quickly and is less likely to have any residual chemicals from printing (you should also avoid heavily printed newspaper advertisement pages). The strips should measure approximately 1 ½ to 2x the height of the pot maker base (or the can) and approximately 18-inches long.

Step 2

How to choose the seeds? Consider buying seeds for vegetables or flowers that you love but are hard to find at the store or farmer&#8
Above: How to choose the seeds? Consider buying seeds for vegetables or flowers that you love but are hard to find at the store or farmer’s market.

Lay a strip flat on the table and align the pot maker (or can), so that one edge of the paper hangs out over the end. Roll the cylinder towards you, using your fingers to keep the newsprint tight against the form (as shown).

Optional: Adults working with a pot maker can hold the paper in place and execute Step 3, but if you’re working with a can or if kids are helping, you might place a tiny piece of masking tape on at this point to hold the paper in its roll.

Step 3

Fold and press the overhanging paper against the bottom of your pot form. Pro tip: A few drops of water will help relax the paper and make the pot bottom sit flatter on your work surface.

Step 4

Twist the pot over the base to set the shape.
Above: Twist the pot over the base to set the shape.

If you are working with a pot maker, twist the pot form over the base to secure the shape. Remove the pot maker or can.

Step 5

Repeat Steps 1 to 4 for as many pots as you need.

Step 6

You can purchase a potting mix specifically designed for starting seeds.
Above: You can purchase a potting mix specifically designed for starting seeds.

Arrange the pots in a shallow tray or a baking sheet (you need at least a short lip to catch any excess water). Scoop the seed starting mix into each paper pot, leaving a little space at the top. This is a great task for little hands; try giving your child a small measuring cup, like a ½ or ⅓ cup for maximum fine-motor control.

Step 7

Follow the instructions on your seed packet for planting your seeds; you’ll want to put a few seeds (usually 3 to 4) in each pot. (Later you’ll pick which is the hardiest to transplant.) Be sure to get the kids to help with this step, since there is truly a little magic in seeing a seed you planted grow—whether you are five or fifty-five! As a general rule, the larger the seed, the deeper it needs to go into the potting mix. Don’t forget to label the pots: You’ll never remember which is which and even seasoned gardeners can’t ID seedlings accurately.

Step 8

A repurposed dish soap bottle works great for watering the tiny pots.
Above: A repurposed dish soap bottle works great for watering the tiny pots.

Water the pots so that the soil is uniformly damp, but not sopping wet. Kids can help with this, but demo the amount of water first, so they don’t drown your seeds. Pro tip: A cleaned out squirt bottle like a dish soap bottle or a ketchup bottle will give you excellent control of the pour.

Step 9

Place the tray in a sunny, but not directly sunny spot. Keep the seedlings well watered, checking them at least daily to make sure they don’t dry out. When the sprouts emerge, transfer the tray to the best direct sunlight you can find in your home. You may need to rig something up in a funny location, but it’s only for a few weeks. Note: If your home does not get good sun, you might consider buying an inexpensive grow light.

Step 10

After a few weeks, you’ll take the seedlings outside to get used to the harsher outdoor conditions during the day, but you’ll bring them in at night when temperatures drop. Follow the specific directions on your seed packet for the hardening and transplanting the seedlings.

For the complete how-to, including videos and more photos, head over to Fresh American Style.

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