The DTE Notebook for the Urban Organic Vegetable, Herb and Flower Gardener.

Do-it-yourself:  Paper Seedling Pots 

Article and photos by Rob Danforth

These “Paper Seedling Pots”  are like wrapping your soil in wood!  We will make a medium size pot, but, once you understand the technique, you can make paper pots of any size, to suit your needs.

If making paper pots for your seedlings does not excite you, the technique can be used in an emergency to replace a broken seed pot, to provide an extra pot for a division or seedling rescue from another crowded pot, or to remedy a short fall in the number of seed pots available.  Noteall cm measurements have been rounded off for convenience. 

  • Choose an empty standard size soup or vegetable can (i.e., for this exercise, tomato paste can too small; diced tomato can too large) with the closed end down. Alternatively, you could use an empty small glass jar with straight sides or an hard plastic bottle if the dimensions approximate those of a soup can.  If the container has a lid or top on it and it is shorter than 6 inches [15 cm] tall, put a masking or handyman tape pull tab on the lid. For this practice pot, the diameter of the form should be roughly 3 in [8 cm] across, and the height of the form should be 3 inches [8 cm] or more.  
  • Measure and cut a strip of paper 6 inches [15 cm] wide by 18 inches [46 cm] long – enough to wrap around the form twice, plus 3 inches [8 cm] more paper than the height of the pot you will be making.
  • Wrap the form leaving 2 inches [5 cm] past the bottom of the form.  Caution: if you use a can, wrap the can loosely, as a tightly wrapped can will be difficult to pull out of the paper sleeve because of the metal lips on the top and bottom rims of the can. 
  • Fold in the 2 inches of paper dangling at the bottom of the paper sleeve across the closed end of the form to make the bottom of the paper pot – as if you were wrapping the bottom end of a gift of a jar of jam, but without tape or glue. Start with the loose end of the wrap and fold it in first 

  • With the form still inside the paper sleeve, wet the paper at the bottom of the pot and press the wet folded paper against a hard surface to shape and flatten the paper bottom until it stands up straight on its own – no adhesive is wanted or needed.

  • Reach into the open top or use the pull tab to gently pull the form out the top of the paper sleeve. A slight turning or twisting of the form will help with its removal. 
  • Fold down about 1 inch [3 cm] of the top of the sleeve into the interior of the pot, to make the top rim of the pot thicker and to trap the loose end of the wrap.

  • Tip: once you have the measurements for the strip of paper needed for your favourite pot form (you have made one successful pot to be sure!), make a template to cut more sheets.
  • Place the paper pot in a tray, fill the pot with moist organic potting mix that contains some compost, (the mix will trap the loose end of top rim paper), plant seeds or a wet paper towel seedling (see article “Do-it-yourself – Seed Viability Test”), and then water from the top to start the syphoning process.  Bottom watering will work hereafter

  • These pots will last about 30-40 days. Make sure there is good air circulation or a mould will develop on the outside of the paper pots – the paper is bio-degrading naturally.  Move wet pots carefully or your finger may poke a hole, and if the pot begins to disintegrate before you are ready, place the paper pot into a new paper pot – the original pot can be gently squeezed to fit. 

This technique lets you make paper germination seed pots of a size that suits your needs.  However, larger seed pots may need more thickness (e.g., wrap the paper around 3 times).  There is a practical limit to the size – I do not know what it is as I stop at 4-inch [10 cm] diameter pots x 3 inches [8 cm] tall.  You can experiment!  Tip:  Strips cut from brown paper bags (e.g., grocery, pharmacy, LCBO) make more durable pots than newsprint. 

Wooden forms of various sizes could be purchased to make these DIY paper pots, but they are really not essential. 

We do have 4 sizes of wood forms, all of which make good pots; nevertheless, for most of the pots featured in this article, I used a variety of items from the recycle bin.

Come Spring, the seedlings with their pots can be transplanted outdoors in-ground or in containers; the paper will decompose and contribute helpful carbon to the organic garden soil or potting mix.  You can tear the pot open for transplanting – for peace of mind – but it isn’t essential. 

These pots will reduce the use of plastic, recycle waste paper, add carbon to the soil, save you money, make an interesting addition to your gardening practices, offer a new craft for the young gardeners in your family, and come as a locally renewable/sustainable resource with a small environmental footprint.  Happy Gardening!