There may still be snow on the ground and frost in the air, but planting season is rapidly approaching, and if you have a sunny window, you can get some of your veggies started indoors right now. The sooner you start your seeds, the bigger the plants will be when it's time to put them in the soil, and the quicker you'll be able to begin harvesting food from your garden.
Most garden centers sell plastic trays and pots, soil blocks, or peat pots to use for starting seeds indoors, but if you'd like to start your seeds without having to go purchase a bunch of new stuff, there are a bunch of inventive DIY seed pots that can be made from items you probably have in your recycle bin right now.
1. Newspaper pots:
Small seedling pots can be made by rolling doubled-up sheets of newspaper around a small jar (or using a tool like this), then gluing the bottom together with wheat paste, or by folding the paper into a square pot and stapling the edges together. The entire pot can be planted in the ground once the soil is warm and the seedling is mature enough to be put in the ground.
2. Egg cartons:
Cardboard egg cartons can be used to start a dozen seedlings, and then cut apart to plant each one when it's time to plant them in the garden. As with newspaper seedling pots, there's no need to remove the plants from the pots before planting, as the cardboard will break down in the soil as the plant grows.
3. Egg shells:
If you've got egg cartons, you probably have egg shells as well, and while they can be crushed to make a great soil or compost pile additive, egg shell halves can be used as seedling pots as well, and naturally, they fit perfectly inside an egg carton tray. A small hole will need to be punched in the bottom of each shell for drainage.
4. Paper towel or toilet paper tubes:
Not everyone uses paper towels, but pretty much everybody buys toilet paper, and the paperboard tubes in the center of both of these items can be cut to form small seedling pots. There are two different methods of making pots from these paper tubes, one of which is to just leave the bottom open and fit the tubes tightly together in a tray (easiest), and the other is to cut several vertical slits in the bottoms of the tubes and to fold the resulting flaps to form the bottom of the pots (takes more time, but the soil won't come spilling out the bottom if you pick these up).
5. Yogurt cups:
If you're going to indulge in single-serving packaged foods such as yogurt cups, at the very least you can give them a second life by making the plastic containers into small seedling pots. The larger yogurt containers will work as well, but take up much more room, so in this case, the smaller yogurt cups offer more versatility. Cut a series of small holes around the bottom edge for drainage, and after planting the seedling into the garden, wash and dry the cups for use again and again.
6. Paper coffee cups:
If you regularly get coffee or tea in a paper to-go cup (because you keep forgetting your reusable mug, of course), or can raid the office trash or recycle bin for these, they make great seedling pots as well. Be sure to punch some small drainage holes in the bottom, and when you're ready to plant them in the garden, you can pull off the bottom of the cup and plant the rest, or remove it entirely and add the old cup to your compost pile.
7. To-go containers:
Clamshell containers, especially those with a clear lid, can make great planting trays for seedlings. Simply punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with soil, plant the seeds, and use the clear lid as a mini-greenhouse until the seedlings have emerged. Planting seeds into trays like this is best suited for starting a lot of plants that you can then repot into individual pots once they have their first true leaves, or for growing microgreens for the kitchen, such as sunflower sprouts, buckwheat "lettuce", or wheatgrass.
Seed pot trays:
You'll want to have trays to hold your DIY seedling pots and keep water and soil contained, which is another good use for the to-go containers. Cases of soda or canned goods come in conveniently sized trays for holding seedling pots, which can also be lined with a used plastic shopping bag to keep counters and windows tidy. If you have access to really thick cardboard boxes (such as the cases that bananas are shipped in), both the top and the bottom of the boxes can be trimmed down into trays, which are thick enough to stand up to being dampened frequently without coming apart. Old plastic Tupperware-type containers can often be found at thrift stores and garage sales, and also make great seedling trays.
Making your own homemade seedling pots is a great way to repurpose common household items and get a headstart on gardening season, without having to go out and spend a bunch of money at the garden center for new pots and trays. It's also a bit of an art to learn which pots are the most convenient for you to use, based on how easy they are to get or make, as well as which trays work the best for holding the most amount of pots in each sunny spot in your house.