I’ve been growing dwarf sunflowers for years. I’ve also been using toilet paper and paper towel rolls to start seedlings in for just about that same amount of time. After all, we always have a ton of them on hand. What can I say? My family is full of crap. Then a few weeks ago, I saw a Goodful video on cheap, biodegradable seed pots that solved a minor problem I had with my own experiments. It also inspired me to write this article to help clear the air on how to start seeds with toilet paper rolls.
The trouble is of course that I lost the link to this useful information in the deep, dark abyss that is my Facebook feed. This left me with only rudimentary knowledge of that process. However, I remember that the method in question used a series of cuts to the bottom of the toilet paper roll to get it to fold together neatly. The alternative was leaving the bottom portion open so that the soil falls out, which is messy and can cause lots of problems when the paper starts to disintegrate.
How to Start Seeds with Toilet Paper Rolls – Your Supplies
Toilet Paper Rolls, or, Paper Towel Rolls
You’re looking for the cardboard rolls that you’re left with after using up a thing of paper towels or toilet paper. It makes sense to start saving them for a week or two beforehand. But, if you’re not squeamish, digging around in the bathroom trash bin is another option. Just don’t forget to wash your hands with strong antibacterial soap afterwards. We told you this would be glamorous!
Sunflower Seeds (Or Other Seeds)
I’ve grown Short Stuff sunflowers for several years. They’re ideal because they grow only a few feet high, which makes them great for container gardens. These sunflowers also have edible seeds and self-sow themselves if you’re not careful. But Baker Creek was sold out of them this year. I only had a few leftovers from a package that my sister brought back from Monticello.
I ultimately went with Dwarf Sunspots from Livingstone Seeds. It may not have the large, edible seeds that many sunflowers do but it still has large yellow blooms. The company’s products also have had very good germination rates in the past. Hence, my purchase.
A good medium-quality potting soil is ideal for this project. I like Miracle Grow but it’s usually not organic. You’ll need to adjust your plans accordingly if it doesn’t suit your gardening principals. A small bag is all you need for this project and it’ll run you about $5.
Use this to hold all your homemade containers until you’re ready to plant them. This helps prevent water damage to floors, furniture, or patios. Cheap plastic ones work great. If you’re working indoors, don’t use terracotta saucers. Moisture seeps through them, which can mess up both furniture and relationships if you’re not careful.
You need these for cutting slits in the sides of the toilet paper rolls and for cutting paper towel rolls down to size.
How to Start Seeds with Toilet Paper Rolls – Step by Step
1. Gather together your supplies.
2. If using them, cut paper towel rolls into smaller pieces that are about the same size as toilet paper rolls.
3. Snip four slits in the lower portion of the rolls on alternating sides.
4. Fold the flaps one over the other so that they form a loose base.
5. Set these upright in the plastic saucer and fill them with dirt.
6. Plant seeds in the rolls at appropriate depths.
7. Water each until the liquid comes out of the bottom. Carefully drain off any excess liquid so they aren’t sitting in it. Likewise, cover up any seeds that become exposed with more dirt.
8. Place the plastic saucer in a sunny spot that’s out the way of hungry squirrels or birds. Don’t forget to water the seedlings on a regular basis if it doesn’t rain or they are somewhere the rain won’t reach them (like inside your house)!
9. Once they have achieved some size, you can transplant them to their designated location. You can free up the bottom portion by unfolding it or snipping it with scissors. Or you can leave it as is, since it is biodegradable and should decompose enough to let the roots go free. I personally have always gone with the first option. But the choice is yours.
Seed Starting Notes
I’m featuring sunflowers (and cucumbers) here because I have the most experience with them. They were also the seeds I had on hand. But you can also use this method for anything that doesn’t like having its roots disturbed and traditionally doesn’t work well as a transplant. Other seedlings such as melons, beans, and squash will benefit from this method, which allows you to go and start plants as soon as you get the seeds. After all, who among us hasn’t forgotten to start a plant or two until it was far too late? Total project cost on this is roughly $2.50 to $8, depending on which supplies you have on hand, where you live, and how much toilet paper you go through!