Roll your own biodegradable seedling pots from strips of newspaper

Toronto-based manufacturer Richters produces a "PotMaker" that uses two chunks of maple-wood to turn strips of newspaper into biodegradable seedling pots. Fill them with soil, plant your seedlings, and transfer them to the garden when you're ready to plant. The newspaper disintegrates shortly after planting.

Potmaker Step-by-Step Instructions (via Make)


  1. Of course you could. But if you can’t find the materials at hand (something to fit into something else), or don’t want to turn a matching set (like those provided by Richters, or by Lee Valley, or probably others), these work just fine.

    You can also hand mould them, but they wouldn’t be as pretty.


  2. Clever! I think I will try this this Spring (I’ll have to find something to use as my own roller).

    My only question is the length of time to disintegrate. The article says “Pots will disintegrate over the course of a few months in garden soil.” A few months sounds like quite some time, when the growing season is only a few months long.

  3. Don’t do that for any vegetable seeds. Papers are bleached, and those bleaches break down into dioxins- REALLY nasty stuff (Viktor Yushchenko!). Just because it’s biodegradable doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

  4. I did this using a juice glass and old newspapers. Fold the newspaper in thirds the long way, put the juice glass at one end, and roll it up in a cylinder. Cram the longer side down inside the juice glass, pressing it so that it holds the shape and has a bottom. Pull out the juice glass. Voila.

    Occasionally I had to hold the newspaper roll together with a tiny piece of paper tape.

    Worked beautifully as seedling pots too. Here’s a photo I took of a green bean seedling in one, just before I planted it in the ground.

  5. Or you know, you could use an empty bottle and just roll them.

    I did this last year:

    It worked, it wasn’t pretty, but after a while the paper got moldy and in the end when I finally did get to planting them outside I just discarded the newspaper.

    Also, some of the more “rooty” seedlings had roots that went straight through the paper and into their neighbour, that was a bit funny.

  6. My grandfather used a little jelly jar the size of a juice glass to do this, no special equipment needed. He discarded the newspaper when replanting.

  7. This is nothing new at all. We have been using newspapers for potting since the late 60’s. All they have done is to make a gadget to make them uniform. I have been rolling them around D- cell batteries for many herbs, and find that a Red Bull can makes a good size as well, but it all depends on what you are planting. Some seeds need more space than others, so sizes should vary. You can also use the cardboard type egg crate as a potting starter. WHen the seedlings are ready for transplant, break off individual egg cups from the bunch for each seedling. They biodegrade nicely.

  8. My wife cuts toilet paper tubes into thirds and uses them to start seeds. I believe the toilet paper industry is in no danger of loosing ground to any online startups.

  9. What they don’t tell you is that the compost reacts with the printing ink in the newspaper, turning into a cyanide salt that’s then absorbed by the plant and ends up in the fruit/seeds

  10. I got all excited when I read the words “seedling pot” until I realized what the article was really about.

    Damn you Boing Boing teasers.

  11. I have used this pot-making device off and on for a couple of years. They are nicely turned pieces of wood, and it works as advertised.

    I have grown tomato seedling in them, and if the “pot” is kept sufficiently moist the roots will work their way through. However, I do tend to peel the newspaper off when transplanting the seedlings into the soil (so as to not hinder root growth) and then add the removed newspaper to my compost bin.

  12. Use the cheaper kind of advertising flyers – the glossy color ones probably are a bad idea due to all the ink, but the uncoated type that continue to get stuffed in my front door by the POUND every week despite all my best efforts would be good for this.

    I wouldn’t need to put out a paper recycling box more than once a month, if it weren’t for all these damn flyers.

  13. I’ve used one of these for years (but from a UK vendor) and must say they are great. Sitting down and making a huge batch is quite a hypnotic task.

    With reference to post #9, when I plant mine out I tear the bottom open on purpose to help those roots get through.

  14. My grandmother used to use empty eggshells to sprout beans. Before planting she softly squeezed the shells so they broke. The calcium completely dissolved in the soil.
    During the non-beansprouting season she fed the shells back to the chicken.

  15. I was trying to find the site with the instructions of how to make origami ones to post but it seems to have died, so I drew some basic instructions here in light of general public knowledge sharing and similar. I hope it’s ok to post the link as it’s relevant (apologies if not):

    The origami ones are nice because they’re therapeutic to make, and there’s a certain pleasingness to not having to use tape (I found the round ones fell apart without it). Also, cubes FTW!

    Hope people might find it useful.

    The other thing I remember reading was that if you use newspaper pots and then plant them, the trick is to cover the whole pot with earth when you plant it, so it rots down. If any of the newspaper sticks up above the soil acts as a wick and dries out.

  16. Richter’s [and Lee Valley] sell wonderful stuff, and their customer service is superb, but Richter’s isn’t ‘Toronto based.’ They’re in Goodwood, Ontario, a farming village about 30 miles from Toronto.

  17. We’ve had really good luck with the origami version. I can’t find the original post, I think the fellow who posted it pulled it down. The only thing to keep in mind is that the newspaper will wick moisture, so make sure that all the paper is under mulch or soil when you’re planting the seedlings.

  18. I’d like to offer three more second-use recipes for old newspapers. In my homeland we use old newspaper for baking, smoking and personal hygiene, too.
    1. Baking – wrap a huge herring in a newspaper and shove it in Your fireplace on red coals. When it’s done in about 20 minutes, the newspaper will open like a prehistoric bible uncovering a steamy herring inside.
    2. Smoking – design Your own cigarette roll-up paper. For gluing use five times more saliva as you would normally. Bad taste? Helps You quit.
    3. Personal hygiene – rub newspaper vigorously between your hands until it becomes as soft as one needs for one’s toilet tissue. Just be careful, don’t brake the paper while making it soft.

  19. The toxicity of newspaper ink (in the USA anyway)is zero. Newspaper ink has been made from vegetable oil for 20-30 years. Some plants are sensitive to the colored pigments in colored inks, but the plain black pigment is harmless, you can eat it if you’re starving to death, keep ya alive for another day or two. Really! I used to mix colors for a printing shop, they’re ALL vegetable oil based.

  20. I’ve had bad luck with newspaper pots in my dry (Los Angeles) climate. John Jeavons suggests making seedling flats out of scrap lumber, and I’ve had much better results following this method. You have to pick out the individual seedlings, but the larger mass of soil keeps everything more moist. Jeavons has you plant the seeds close together and once they form leaves this also helps retain moisture by shading the soil. Making lots of newspaper pots can also be labor intensive if you’re planting a lot of seeds.

    1. Does Jeavons keep the plants close together once they’ve started growing larger? Like, close than the recommendations in the square-foot gardening method?

  21. I recycle toilet paper tubes for this since I don’t have newspaper. It’s faster too. Just flatten the tube in half, open & flatten again the other way to create a square tube. Cut 1″ flaps at each fold & fold flaps in to create the bottom. The planting steps are all the same.

  22. To the commenters that were looking for the original origami seedpots site: it was hosted on Geocities so has now disappeared.

    However Laura’s hand drawn instructions above are much prettier and get the same result.

  23. Thank you kindly, all. I hereby unreserevdly offer my services for drawing instructions for dead web pages in the future.

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