Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Going a bit potty

There are numerous tips and tricks one can pick up from all the great Australian gardening blogs out there. One in particular is the wide rage of potting apparatus used to raise seedlings. But with so many option to choose from which one is right for me? So I thought I might go a bit potty and experiment with a few.

First I tried a pot on my head to see if it would make a formal hat. I think it does. What do you think?

Next a pot that is often blogged about is the newspaper pot. I think its popularity is due to it being organic, biodegradable, and making good use of those things kids on bikes just keep throwing on your door step. Its biodegradable quality is big plus as it means the pot can be planted along with the plant. Non of that tricky upside down stuff that risks infection and causes the plant to go into shock. Think of it from the plants point of view, becoming dislodged from your soil in the wild can only mean one thing... disaster. Carrots are one plant that is very sensitive to transplanting thus it is typically advised to sow them directly. Linda Woodrow however informed me that even carrots can be successfully raised using the paper pot technique. What I am unsure about is how well they last prior to planting out, and how quickly they break down when planted allowing the roots to escape.

The method we used was a quick and simple no fuss one, taught to us by Debbie at my gardening group.

1. Rip a page of newspaper horizontally in half. My first instinct was to tear it down the fold creating a right mess. The women in the group all knew to tear it across the page to get a perfectly straight rip. Did you know that?
2. Roll the paper around a cylindrical object like a drinking glass or jar.
3. Fold the bottom over to seal it. Once it is sitting in its tray it will hold closed.
4. Remove the glass and fold the top lip inwards to strengthen the rim. Done!

They held together well and stood up fine in the tray. They also squared off slightly when pushed together and filled with soil easily filling multiple at once. Next time I think I might use a slightly wider glass though.

Then we tried toilet roles. They are something a household produces in abundance and are ready to be used as is. Being bottom less they need to be in a tray or container with a solid bottom. I did think we could have used our normal seed tray and line it with newspaper. Put for this small experiment we used an ice cream container, with roles cut in the bottom of course. Being very thin and narrow we found the soil difficult to prevent from spilling into the container. I guess it will do no harm. I don’t think these pots will be good for all seedlings due to the width but they are definitely quick an easy. Even more so than the paper pots I question how quickly these will break down.

Finally, plastic 2 litter milk carton pots. Simply cut off the top and bottom to make bottom less pot. Like the toilet roles they require a solid based container or tray or one lined with paper. They appear large enough to accommodate any seedling and due to being square they fill easily. My only complaint, is if like Melanie and I you like things to look nice, it is really hard and time consuming to peal off the labels. Unless there is a trick to it?

So I will let you know how they go. BTW do you remember that pop band that wore pots on their heads? Watching this it will take you back...

Love to hear your great potting ideas.


  1. Hi Jason
    A timely post!
    I have already started some carrots in loo rolls and they are just emerging...will see how they go once the roots hit the bottom of the roll. That will be the time to get them out in the garden. My hope is that the tops will be big by then and able to withstand the evil earwigs!!!

    Haven't tried the newspaper yet. We seem to have more loo rolls than newspapers here ;)
    I read only yesterday to make them without the fold at the bottom. Yes you have to keep them in a tray of some sort but that isn't hard, they would need to stand in something.

    One thing to remember when planting is to bury the paper/looroll completely or the exposed paper will wick water up and allow it to evaporate. Not something I want to happen in my garden. In drier climates the paper and cardboard can take a while to break down too and I often remove the cardboard at planting time but that seems to defeat the whole purpose.

    I have used the milk container idea (from Linda Woodrow's book) for many years with great success but we don't buy milk in containers so sourcing those has become a problem. You can pull up those containers to shield the seedlings for a while as they grow.

    Another idea is soil blockers but I haven't looked into those much! They don't seem to be available in Australia anymore .

    Personally I don't have a problem removing plants from pots. I have found some very flexible, soft plastic (reusable and easy to wash) pots that enable very gentle removal without much disturbance at all. I haven't had a plant complain about it's treatment yet!!!

    Sorry for the long comment!!

  2. Hi Jason, I don't use the milk container idea (from Linda Woodrow's book) :) so much any more either, for the same reason - since my kids grew up we don't use so much milk. For a while I was getting them from the local takeaway, but I've moved on not to mostly paper pots (I'm lazy, I don't even fold up the bottom) or banana leaf pots or leaf pots. I'm totally sold on planting carrots as advanced seedlings these days. I have a really hard time direct sowing them in my climate and with my heavy soil.

  3. hi Jason, I love all the different ideas posted, will need to try a few out and let you know how I go. One I will probably have go give a miss, as I will need to fight the bunnies for the toilet rolls (I make enrichment puzzles for them out of these). But there are many other great ideas to choose from. Smashing out fit by the way. Take care and let's all go a bit "Potty" cheers, Yollie

  4. I quite like the paper pots... Although I have had them degrade in their box before I planted them out, and ended up with a pile of soil and lost seedlings!!! But think with enought layers of paper they work.
    The jiffy pots are great, I have found but are a bit expensive when using lots of them.

    Generally I just reuse the punnet pots or forestry tubes. the tubes are good because they are long but dry out quickly...

    I do prefer to grow things that say direct sow as a rule, but I think that's because I'm lazy.

    Great post! Im looking forward to seeing others ideas.

  5. Scarecrow that is important information re water wicking through any exposed paper, particularly here in SA. From my photos you may notice we only semi filled the pots with soil. Thought it might give a bit of protection to the seedling. However this is now going to be a problem as you describe. We are going to have to tear the top off once planted out.

    You have also answered my suspicion about toilet roles not breaking down quickly. With this kind of information I don't care how long your comments are. Thanks for contributing.

    Linda we mostly use soy, rice & almond milk that comes in rectangle containers, not very useful. We asked the neighbours and now we have so many we don't know where to store them.

    I like the paper pot technique you use, super simple. And the leaf pots, love them. I now know what to use if I move to a remote island. Oh and I could have a seedling table made out of bamboo.

    Following your carrot link also answered another question I had... do you plant just one or multiple carrots in a pot? multiple. Thanks for answering my question before I had even said it.

    Yollie good to see you are making comments at a reasonable hour this time. Enrichment puzzles for the bunnies, now you have got my really curious. Have you even posted about that?

  6. HI Jason
    I've been using the toilet rolls but have to admit I cut them in half and then fold the bottoms so they do have a bottom and then line a seed try with them. I've had some success, but then again, I'm new to this, but the seeds I planted in the toilet rolls seemed to do better than the ones I planted in the seedling trays you get from nurseries.

  7. Phoebe interesting about your experience of them breaking down too quickly. Is there a particular scenario that this happens i.e. over winter? I agree those jiffy pots are a bit expensive. Growing food requires a lot of seedlings. And if there is a way to recycle something for free I am all for it. Now that I have a heavily mulched garden direct sowing I find impossible. Even if I create bare areas the birds or the local cats just come and wreck it.

    Dirtandflowers the seedling punets from nurseries I find are just way too small. I reckon they are just trying to minimise their costs. The smaller the pot, the less soil, the cheaper it is. So it is great to hear you are having success with the toilet role technique. With the bottom folded over do you find the bottom breaks down quick enough to allow the roots to escape when planted out?

  8. ALL great ideas Jason. I recently visited Michael Mobbs in Sydney and noticed he was using reused toilet rolls for his seedlings. A neat idea.

  9. serendipity2000 there are so many gardeners out there thinking out side of the box. That is why I think it so important to engage with other gardeners as great ideas are everywhere.

    I initially went who is Michael Mobbs? But after a google I realised I know who he is, I own a copy of his book. Great book BTW.


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