How To Make Seed Starter Pots Using Toilet Paper Rolls

Posted on Mar 3 2010 - 5:31am by Mike Lieberman

An easy way to start your seeds indoors is to use toilet paper or paper towel rolls.

There are two advantages of using toilet paper rolls. The first is that they are free. It’s likely that you already have both items available in your apartment. Ain’t no better price than free. The other is that that they can be put directly into the soil when transplanted because the cardboard will biodegrade into the soil.

    What you’ll need to get your toilet paper roll seed starters made:

  • Toilet paper or paper towel roll
  • Razor
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
    How to make a seed starter pot using a toilet paper roll:

  • Cut the toilet paper roll in half using your razor and scissors.
  • Take one of the halves and cut four slits about 3/4″-1″ or so up the roll.
  • Fold the toilet paper roll into each other to form the bottom of the seed starter pot.
  • Use tape to secure the bottom.
  • To fill put your soil inside, followed by your seed and cover with more soil.

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After a few weeks, when the seed is ready to be transplanted into the soil, you can undo the bottom of the toilet paper roll and stick the whole thing into the soil. The toilet paper roll will biodegrade into the soil.


38 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. truecrimson March 3, 2010 at 5:59 pm -

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you're going to do with the toilet paper rolls. That's a new one to me.

    I've had good success with small cups, like the yogurt cups, but have noticed that they perform much better when covered or in something that acts as a greenhouse. I used a plastic food platter with a big clear lid that I scavenged after a lunch at work. I have heard that a little piece of plastic wrap on the top will do the same thing.

    I tried the egg carton thing, but I used the wrong kind of egg carton. Mine was the cardboard or paper type, and dried out too quickly. I think the kind you have will work much better.

    I've also tried the wet paper towel method that is popular in grade schools for garden projects. With bigger seeds it works OK, but with smaller seeds it doesn't seem to work as well. The sprouts are too small, and if you let them get bigger then they root into the paper towels. This method works better with a greenhouse too, and I've used old fast food containers and the trays they sell to put under plant pots to create greenhouses for them.

    The most succesful thing for me has been the commercial greenhouse seed starters with the expanding soil pellets. The sturdier ones are reuseable year after year. You just get new pellets.

  2. Mike Lieberman March 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm -

    We shall see what happens. Definitely like the greenhouse idea. I think and heard that the cardboard egg cartons work better bc they biodegrade into the soil when planted. It'll be both fun and interesting to do.

  3. Laury March 4, 2010 at 2:39 am -

    This is going to sound really cheesy, but I have been searching for a way to re-use toilet paper rolls! Can't wait to hear more…I am notorious for killing plants, so I need ALL the help I can get!

  4. Mike Lieberman March 4, 2010 at 3:14 am -

    Here's two other ways to reuse toilet paper rolls as well – store rubber bands and
    store plastic bags.

  5. saraheliza_devastateboredom March 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm -

    I planted my seeds in toilet paper roll starters like two days ago… can't wait to start seeing some life! 🙂 I used plastic wrap over mine, and am keeping my eyes open for a plastic container since that will probably be a somewhat more cat-proof mini greenhouse ha. Yay for container gardening!!

  6. Mike Lieberman March 5, 2010 at 4:51 pm -

    Good luck!

  7. Ryan (@HerbFella) March 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm -

    Toilet roll tubes are also good for putting around the soft stalks of seedlings to keep cutworms at bay. Works well when you have little tomato plants starting out. As for yogurt containers…Perfect seed starters.

  8. Mike Lieberman March 10, 2010 at 10:02 pm -

    Good stuff. So I might be on to something!

  9. lagreca March 18, 2010 at 8:15 pm -

    I just built a quick and easy egg carton greenhouse today:

    I just planted my Cherokee purple tomatoes in it, so we'll see how it turns out…

  10. Mike Lieberman March 18, 2010 at 8:33 pm -

    Awesome. Keep me updated.

  11. Sherry May 23, 2010 at 10:07 pm -

    I am from WNY… and have had success with each of your container items. Altho the toilet paper rolls are biodegradeable, it takes a long time for them to break down and allow for good root growth (if you transplant leaving the seedling IN the toilet paper roll). So, take the plant out of the toilet paper roll when transplating for better success. But, in my opinion, a better option for direct transplanting, is to use the newspaper option. (You can transplant with the newspaper with considerable results). On another note… the yogurt cups are wonderful! Especially if you have the lids to the containers.. as tomato plant seedlings thrive in warm, moist soil…light not neccessary for germination. (Remember to poke holes into the yogurt cups to allow drainage).. So, plant tomato seeds, put the lids on the yogurt cups (or cover with plastic wrap & rubberband), and store on a south-facing windowsill (to use the sunlight to *heat*).. or another warm place… and keep the soil moist. Once your seedling emerges from the soil, no longer put the lid (or plastic) back on.. allow it to grow. When you transplant, if you're limited on earth space to plant, I highly recommend using a sub-irrigated planter (or SIP).. as it feeds water directly to the roots and vegetable plants truly thrive!! Best of luck!!

  12. Mike Lieberman May 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm -

    Thanks for the input. Totally plan on transplanting in the toilet paper rolls. Will likely slice them and wet them down heavily first to help in breaking them down. Still gotta make the newspaper ones. Appreciate all of your input.

  13. Mike Lieberman January 3, 2012 at 10:57 am -

    Have seen those. Interesting.

  14. Fay_Fife January 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm -

    I did this too, but I cut each toilet roll into 3. Because I always have gum tape in the flat for craft purposes, I used this to stick a small piece of newspaper over the bottom of each one. It should biodegrade more easily than the folded ends of the toilet roll.

  15. Mike Lieberman January 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm -

    Good call on that.

  16. Susan Allen March 21, 2012 at 11:42 am -

    This is my second year for using toilet paper rolls for seed starting. I do not cut them in half. I do cut the bottoms to fold in. I transplant roll and all so I don’t disturb the roots of my little sproutlings any more than necessary. An earler comment said it inhibited root growth. I have not had that problem — the roots grow right through the paper roll. Another use for them is for extra growing room if the weather doesn’t cooperate to get your plants outside when they”re ready. I had to do this last year. Cut the roll in half, then cut the roll open and put around the stem of your seedling, tape the roll back together and add a bit of soil. You’re good for another couple of weeks til the weather warms up, dries out, etc.

  17. Mike Lieberman March 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm -


  18. Lori R March 29, 2012 at 4:13 am -

    After you are done with these, where do they need to set to grow. Outside on a porch, in a small dark laundry room.   Reason im asking is i live in a small condo and im moving in a month or two, too some land and wanna get these started. Im a first time gardener and just dont know if my dark laundry room would be ok to keep them in.

  19. Mike Lieberman March 29, 2012 at 9:08 am -

    They will need light to grow. A sunny windowsill would work well.

  20. Dallas shredding June 28, 2012 at 2:25 am -

    While most of just throw these paper towel tubes in the bin, you have found a way to make use of them which a very good thing. This goes to show that with the help of our creativity and practicality, paper wastage can be reduced and this also goes with paper documents, newspapers as well. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Tyler Williamson July 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm -

    Be careful with newspaper.. the paper will disolve, but unless the ink is vegetable based, the ink may not.  Even worse, the plant may suck up some lead, if the ink contains lead (which some still do).  This might be OK for potted plants, but for vegetables this would make me think a bit.

  22. Linda February 12, 2013 at 8:16 pm -

    I do not believe that plants can suck up lead. It is an issue in the soil though and transferring hand to mouth.
    You can call you local newspaper company and ask if they use soy inks. Most color papers are soy , now. The glossy pages and inserts are not, though. HTH.

  23. Linda February 12, 2013 at 8:20 pm -

    Lead info.

    Lead in Garden Soils and Plants

    The most serious source of exposure to soil lead is through direct ingestion (eating) of contaminated
    soil or dust. In general, plants do not absorb or accumulate lead. However,
    in soils testing high in lead, it is possible for some lead to be taken up.
    Studies have shown that lead does not readily accumulate in the fruiting parts
    of vegetable and fruit crops (e.g., corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, strawberries,
    apples). Higher concentrations are more likely to be found in leafy vegetables
    (e.g., lettuce) and on the surface of root crops (e.g., carrots).

    Since plants do not take up large quantities of soil lead, the lead levels in soil considered
    safe for plants will be much higher than soil lead levels where eating of soil
    is a concern (pica). Generally, it has been considered safe to use garden produce
    grown in soils with total lead levels less than 300 ppm. The risk of lead poisoning
    through the food chain increases as the soil lead level rises above this concentration.
    Even at soil levels above 300 ppm, most of the risk is from lead contaminated
    soil or dust deposits on the plants rather than from uptake of lead by the plant.

  24. Braylon February 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm -

    What is the best way to water these? Each individual holder or…what? I’d imagine you wouldn’t want the roll to be soaking wet.

  25. Rachel Conover February 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm -

    I followed the directions, but they are all growing mold after 3 days! What do I do to save my seeds?

  26. Elizabeth Schultz March 11, 2013 at 4:12 pm -

    Thank you for posting this idea and video. I’m attempting my first garden this year and I’m going to start my seeds this way. I’ve already got a bag full of paper towel and toilet paper rolls. I can’t wait to get started! I also appreciate your recommendations for where to source non-GMO seeds.

  27. Mommyof3LittleGirls April 11, 2013 at 6:41 am -

    This is my first time starting my seeds indoors, so this question may sound weird, but what do you put your toilet rolls on after you’ve planted the seeds? Should I just buy some cheap aluminum casserole pans from the store and place all of my toilet roll starters on there? What is the best thing to put them on so that when I water them, the water won’t leach out onto my countertop? Thanks for any help for this very novice gardener.

  28. Arwen ~*~ June 18, 2013 at 11:18 pm -

    It probably does look less cute, but when one folds the toilet paper roll in a square (or rectangle) in stead of keeping it circular, than the only thing which is needed are scissors to make some cuts. Also there will fit more pots in the same space this way. (however, one might want to give them some space to breathe?)
    After folding the roll in square one cuts the corners in for about half the length which is needed to cover the bottom. After this the four flaps can be fold together like the lids of a box. One might want to make a sharp fold in first, so that it will have an easy straight bottom (for example: you fold down the one at the left side, than the one on the upside followed by the one on the right side. When those are all down, pull them up a little all together so that you can braid the one at the bottom through the little opening which is left. You are than looking at a pretty much solid bottom which features four little squares)
    Of course one can use half rolls for this but it also possible to use a whole roll and fold the upside half back in. That way it will be stronger when it might need to last a little longer. And the layers of cardboard will unroll less easily too. But this may be less suitable for plant with less strong roots. One might keep one side a little longer to use as a label and/or grip.

  29. Priya January 3, 2014 at 3:30 am -

    It is also a good idea for seeds starter.
    Instead of this, we can use pure paper cup. It gives easy work for seeds.

  30. Faithful January 20, 2014 at 9:30 am -

    If in doubt – leave it out.

  31. Ginger Sadler February 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm -

    You can also instead of paper towels use egg shells in the bottom and just put the entire thing into your garden (plus the egg shells provide extra nutrients to the plants just be sure you wash the shell out first

  32. Luis Zenteno March 11, 2014 at 7:27 am -

    I set them all up in a small container with at least a 1/2 inch bottom. I fill the container with water and the cardboard rolls act as wicks to draw up water to the whole plant. works very well for me, i add a small fan to help prevent mold from forming. Just keep an eye on them and if the tubes look a little dry, water them. BOOYA!

  33. Luis Zenteno March 11, 2014 at 7:30 am -

    I set them all up in a small container with at least a 1/2 inch bottom. I fill the container with water and the cardboard rolls act as wicks to draw up water to the whole plant. works very well for me, i add a small fan to help prevent mold from forming. Just keep an eye on them and if the tubes look a little dry, water them.

  34. Anonymous March 15, 2014 at 12:43 pm -

    OMG do NOT use tape!

  35. Anonymous March 15, 2014 at 12:43 pm -

    You are overwatering

  36. Taylor Jenkins April 24, 2014 at 7:47 am -

    i love this guys accent!! Great idea & super fast!

  37. Luis Zenteno January 5, 2015 at 6:30 pm -

    update: I made about 45 starter cups, while this method worked okay i did have some issues with mold forming at the base of all the little paper cups. Also the bottoms of the cups would completely dissolve in a few weeks, which was a bad thing. I might stick red solo cups that i can reuse year after year and keep everything tidy.

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