Techniques for Making Your Own Biodegradable Seedling Pots

Those of us who practice permaculture take our mission seriously, and we are doing our best to minimize our use of factory production methods (and the petroleum-dependence, pollution, and inefficiencies that go along with it) and take advantage of all of the resources around us. This is commonly observed in things like repurposing pallets, compost piles, bio-digesters, and passive solar heating. In other words, any time we can find ways to take waste and make something useful, which is just about always, that’s a good thing.

Biodegradable pots for seedlings can be made from all sorts of materials: newspapers, toilet rolls, boxes, fruit rinds, and who knows what else. The other good news is that biodegradable pots are a positive for our plants as well. Young seedlings can be planted—pots and all—directly in the garden, leaving their roots undisturbed. The pots are also likely to attract beneficial critters, like earthworms, while providing some protection from others.

Another thing us permies like to do is stack functions. Making our own biodegradable seedling pots lessens our reliance on factory production, makes good use of trash, helps our plants get a safe start, preserves their roots from damage, and provides a little subterranean magic. Plus, it gives us an easy but rewarding task to do on rainy afternoons or possibly when an abundance of volunteers is around. In other words, the following techniques are really worth considering.

The Classic Newspaper Pot

While most folks use old newspapers for these, old documents, notebook paper, and the like can work fine as well. Just pay a little mind to how thick the paper is and make sure not to use glossy stuff. Some folks also worry about the ink in newspapers, which could be investigated, but for the most part these days, the ink is safe to use in gardens. What’s more, even if we don’t buy them, old newspapers are readily available from coffee shops and various other places.

We can quickly make biodegradable plant pots with just some scissors, paper, and an old beer bottle (or tin can or wine bottle—any cylinder). Cut the paper into 10-12 cm strips (about two to three times as long) and use the beer bottle to roll those into cylinders. Fold the end of the cylinder to make a bottom, pull the pot off the bottle, fill it with soil, and plant away.

Folded-Bottomed Toilet Roll

While newspapers are not nearly in the abundance they once were, we’ve yet to find an internet version of toilet paper. Real die hard eco-warriors might have switched to something like comfrey leaves for toilet time necessities, but by and large, most of us are dealing in toilet paper. As long as we are doing that, we are producing toilet paper rolls. Now, these could be tossed down the composting toilet, or they could be saved to make seedling pots.

Toilet roll seedling pots are easy to make. This time all that’s required are scissors and toilet paper rolls. Cut the toilet paper roll into quarters, with each cut going about halfway up the roll. Fold each flap inwards so that it gives the roll a closed and flat bottom. Then, it’s back to the soil and seeds.

Sliced & Diced Egg Cartons

Truth be known, egg cartons, especially for those farms producing a lot of eggs, likely have a better use than being seed pots, i.e. being reused for holding eggs. However, egg cartons can sometimes have a bit of damage or reach levels of overabundance, and at this time, they make excellent, easy-to-come-by biodegradable seed pots. The lids even make great holding trays for the little pots.

Again, this really just requires scissors and soil. Separate the bottom of the carton from the top, and then cut the bottom—with the divots for eggs to sit in—into individual cups. The individual cups can then be filled with soil and planted out. While waiting for the right time to plant the seedlings out, the lid can be used as a carrying tray for the plant pots.

Multi-Sourced Paper Pulp Seed Pots

Paper pulp seed pots take a bit longer to make; however, the beautiful part of them is that many different forms of paper and cardboard waste can be used to create them. Ripped boxes are great. Shredded documents are wonderful. Old egg cartoons, books, and you get the point: It would be easy to collect enough of these items to make quite a few pots.

These are made by ripping the paper into shreds, soaking them in some water, and blending it all—with a little bit of flour—into a pulp. Drain the paper pulp through a cheesecloth, and then put about a spoonful of the moist mixture in the muffin tin, using the tin to form the pulp into a pot mold. Either let them dry in the sun or stick them if a very low heat oven.

Fruit Rinds & Egg Shells

For those with plenty of fruit and eggs around, being used all at once, fruit rinds and eggs shells can work as seed pots as well. Obviously, egg shells can be quite dainty, but it’s also no secret that they are good for the soil. Fruit rinds—such as citrus and avocado—are just the right size and on certain farms or under certain conditions—making jam or juice or guacamole for twelve—are available in abundance regularly.

Either crack the egg carefully so that the shell can be reused, or be sure to cut the fruit in half and spoon out the fruit rather than peel it. Then, this can be filled with soil and seeds can be planted in them. Obviously, in this case, as with each case above, when the time comes, the entire thing can be planted in the ground.

The Solution with Biodegradable Pots

Some people aren’t great fans of biodegradable pots because the pots can sometimes be stubborn about breaking down, especially in drier environments. In this case, though the seedlings have been planted in the ground, the pot, which hasn’t decomposed, binds the root of the plant as it gets older and needs more space.

While this might sometimes be a problem, it’s certainly not one that is insurmountable. In fact, just soak the pot in some water before burying it. Then, once the pot is in the hole, give it a few rips, or for really firm pots, poke of some holes in the sides and bottom. This should eliminate any issues with slow-acting biodegradable pots, allowing the roots avenues to spread as they need to.

Biodegradable pots are good for many types of seeds, but they are especially convenient for starting early seedlings for plants that don’t necessarily enjoy being transplanted, such as beans, squashes, and corn. Rather than having to disturb their roots, we can transition them slowly outside and plant them as is.

And, that’s one more way we can be a little more sustainable and self-sufficient.

Header: (Courtesy of tamadhanaval)

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.


  1. I’m not sure why the toilet paper roll pots are not featured first (in particular as the main image) – they are far superior to all other pots!! In particular for propagation (cuttings). Love em!!

    1. I have an asiatic Lily. 5” around pot. I want to plant it in the ground. Can I take toilet paper rolls, cut them lengthwise, fit them around the soil in the pot and then put them in the ground.

  2. Hi
    Soaking the paper to be used in making paper pots in a teas from,compost , plants ,animal manure ,urine will hasten its break down in the soil by providing energy to soil borne organisms such as bacteria . The thus treated paper is dried an made into paper pots . A real permaculture approach base on natural patterns . I used this method while I was the nurseryman at Zaytuna Farm .

  3. Many years ago I attempted to use toilet rolls for propogation for school groups coming to undertake environmental education programs, the local council said no ‘ they are a risk’. So much for teaching sustainability.

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