Purging the Plastics: 2019 Edition

Last year Monty Don and a whole slew of other folks started talking more seriously about finding ways to purge (or at least minimize) the plastics in our garden. This of course got me thinking about it as well.

Almost all of my seed starting gear is heavy duty plastic that is reusable. The hold-outs are flimsy 4 pack pots (I reuse these until they crack or fall apart, usually 2-3 years) and the 4″ square pots that you get veg and small perennials in. I have boatloads of those and do reuse them as well (they last much longer, I’m on year 5 with many). They are perfect for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, melons, and larger seedlings that I don’t like having to pot-on over and over.

One of the recommendations Monty had last year was to save and reuse toilet paper rolls for smaller seedlings like greens, annual flowers, and beans. It isn’t a new idea, but Monty got me thinking about actually doing it. Obviously this is dead easy to do and is 100% free- so I set out a decent looking reusable bag that was sturdy enough to stay upright and I kept it under the open section of countertop in our bathroom. Empty roll? Into the bag. It was shocking to see how quickly they accumulate and I started this growing season with well over 70 tubes without being terribly diligent about it. I also saved paper towel tubes when I thought of it.


I did a tiny bit of research to see if there was anything else I was supposed to do other than chuck some dirt and seeds into the tube and get on with it. Short answer? No. Long answer? Well, some folks online cut slits in the bottom of the tube to fold the ends inward to make a bottom. I really don’t think this is necessary and haven’t chosen to do it. I used some of my heavy duty trays to hold the tubes and each was able to hold 12 tubes.


My immediate reaction is that this method is actually so easy, smart, and phenomenally cheap. You can use a Sharpie to write directly on the tube (I LOVE this- easily my favorite thing about this technique). The dimensions of the tubes are pretty similar (perhaps a bit wider and a hair shorter) to the 38 cell deep plug trays. This means there’s plenty of room for growing roots and not a massive need to pot things on.


They wick up moisture quite readily and seem to retain it well. Only one has partially unraveled on me (not enough to cause an issue), so they are holding up well. I’m equally excited that these can just get popped into the dirt. I’ve read that scoring the paper with a sharp blade before planting helps, and that makes good horticultural sense. The other thing I learned last year from the biodegradable pots is that it is KEY to be sure the top edge of these containers/pots are under the soil line. If they sit proud of the dirt they seem to dry out faster and cause issues for the roots below.

I’m still planning to use the 4″ pots for seeds that will need to grow into bigger plants before potting out (tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons), but I’ve already started saving next year’s batch of rolls.

Have any of you ever tried using these? What are your pros and/or cons? What other clever upcycling and recycling ideas have you implemented into your seed starting routines?






1 thought on “Purging the Plastics: 2019 Edition”

  1. I love this idea – I’ve also seen it before, but since you are having success with it, I’ll try it too. I reuse my tiny tray inserts til they crack but they are so small and it’s not like I’ll be buying more. And cowpots etc are nice but expensive, as I use a lot to start plants for our synagogue garden. Toilet paper rolls will be a great recycling lesson that I can show everyone. Thanks again.


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