Starting Seeds On The Cheap

One of my goals this year was to start more plants from seed. Under normal circumstances my existing cache of seed starters would suffice, but I have a long range plan to redo my entire front yard so starting new plants would be a massive undertaking.

This is the first year I've ever bought those plastic 6-cell seedling trays. Those little plastic cells only last so many seasons even when you're careful. they're flimsy and meant to wear apart. It was time to buy new ones.

My favorite seed starters are peat pots, but they can be pricey if you garden madly like I do. The nice thing about peat pots is that you can bury the whole thing without disturbing the seedling which is a huge plus especially with more delicate plants.

But if you're not a deranged gardener like me, you can start seedlings for next to nothing.

These are my favorite ways to start seedlings if I'm only going to plant a few.

Toilet paper tubes: I did a Cheap Trick post on this one. If you can remember to hold on to your toilet paper tubes, they make easy and free containers that can be buried whole.

Tin cans: Every sauce can you throw away can be recycled into a substantial pot. Some people go all out and decorate theirs, but I'm an expedient gardener. I'm fine with them naked.

Yogurt cups, butter tubs, milk cartons, and icing tubs all make very nice containers--though I tend to reuse the bigger ones to hold leftovers and homemade soup.

Eggshells: People are always recommending eggshells, but I won't do that without a caveat. They're best for shallow rooted vegetables that can be transplanted (very) quickly. Cucumbers and squash would work okay. Tomatoes would benefit from the calcium, but their roots are too long. Tip: crush eggshells around tomato plants. Not only do the shells provide nutrients, they deter slugs because they don't like to rub against sharp edges.

Clam shell containers: If you buy your fruit in those plastic clam shell containers, they make fine seedling starters.

Nurseries: I'm friends with someone who works at a nursery. Every so often I go in and ask for their little plastic 3 inch pots. They don't have many because they sell their plants in those pots, but she usually has a few to spare. Also try Lowe's or Home Depot. They seem to always have a cart full of spent plants. They're usually glad to get rid of the pots, but policies may vary by location.

Restaurants: Check out their dumpster. They toss a lot of large plastic food grade tubs. Or ask. They're happy to get rid of them.

Craigslist: I watch their Free section from time to time to see if anyone is giving away pots. Try Freecycle too. It's been my experience that it's harder to find pots during the spring. Come fall though, people are glad for the extra room if they discover they have no green thumb.

Drive-bys: I swear I find the nicest pots in the trash. Mostly they're homes of people that are moving, or after garage sales.

Garage sales: Speaking of the devil. For nicer, larger planters, nothing beats a garage sale. I've bought giant planters that cost well over a hundred dollars for as little as 10 bucks.

As with all recycled materials, wash and sterilize your pots before using them. What I do is wash them in hot water and then spritz them with hydrogen peroxide. You don't want to introduce foreign bacteria and fungus to your new plants.

Are there any other containers you can think of that we throw away? Do you prefer to grow from seed or buy already started plants?


Angela Brown said…
I've seen the plasting seeding trays. Peat pots are new to me. I'll have to check with my daughter's Un-Included Club to see if they are using them.

Thank you for the helpful tips.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: Peat pots are my very favorite way to start seedlings. They're sturdy, yet totally compostable in the garden or pot.

They're great for plants that don't transplant well. You just drop them into the soil.
Lisa Lynn said…
I used to buy the peat pots until I read that peat bogs are in danger due to peat harvesting for the landscaping industry. I re-use the seedling trays until they fall apart too, and I also scavenge for used styrofoam cups, or make newspaper pots that biodegrade.

Thanks for sharing!
Maria Zannini said…
Lisa: That debate has been around for decades. Peat moss has to be somewhat sustainable otherwise they wouldn't be able to sell it without running out.

I found this link that gives a good explanation.
lynnviehl said…
I remember my grandmother using small brown paper bags to start seedlings (like the lunch bags we used to carry to school.) She'd fold/roll down the sides of the bag about halfway, and kept them all on a baking rack on her back porch. When they were ready to plant she'd tear away the paper, which by then was already pretty soggy on the bottom.
Maria Zannini said…
Lynn: My mother used to that when we were very little! It was more to show us how to do it since there wasn't much sunshine on our 4 story walk-up.

When we hit school age, a teacher used to give us each a Dixie cup and we'd grow one pinto bean in it. Beans are one of the fasted to sprout which is good since kids have a short attention span. :)
Jenny Schwartz said…
Growing from seed is so satisfying.

I think there's a coconut-based alternative to peat.
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: I used coir for a short time, but I found out it was dangerous if dogs ingested it. It expands in their intestines and causes blockage. Very dangerous. Iko is a grazer too so I didn't want to chance it.
lv2trnscrb said…
There are so many options out there for growing seeds. Hadn't even thought of half the things you mentioned!

Maria Zannini said…
Betty: If it can hold dirt and I can drill holes in it, I'll consider it. :)
Michael Keyton said…
crush eggshells around tomato plants. Not only do the shells provide nutrients, they deter slugs because they don’t like to rub against sharp edges.--> Thank you for that ! :)
Robin said…
I live near a peat processing plant. When managed properly peat is much more responsible for me than coir and other materials that aren't local. This is a lot like the arguments that say farmed salmon meat is dyed (no, it's not) or chemicals are dumped into the ocean (the fish are removed, treated and returned), etc. We learn how to do better and then we do it. Management is key.
Robin said…
This is not an idea everyone will find acceptable but it works for me. I pick up pots and six packs at the local cemeteries after Memorial Day. They're going to be taken to the trash if they aren't picked up, and I'm happy to have them. I rinse and dry them in the sun. The sun will do a lot to kill disease, and I've never had a problem.
Maria Zannini said…
Robin: That's what I figured. Thank you.
Maria Zannini said…
Robin: I never thought of that, but why not? If it's going in the trash anyway, it might as well be given a chance to be recycled. Good thinking.