Seedlings in repurposed containers
Garden of Eatin', Seeds & Seedlings

Seed Starting Containers You Already Have Around the House

I started my first seeds of the season last week — tomatoes, my favorite summer crop. I like to give them a head start by sowing the seeds indoors so that come March (if I’m lucky), I can harden them off and transplant them outside.

Right now I’m starting six varieties of tomatoes, a purple tomatillo, and a shishito pepper in 16 tiny seed starting pots recycled from years past. While 16 sounds like a reasonable number, it’s not uncommon for me to have upwards of 100 pots or more, of all sizes, once I’m in the thick of seed starting season. And, I rarely buy new pots.

I have a huge collection of containers in the yard, ranging from 1-inch seed starting flats to 1-gallon plastic pots. At one time or another I brought these home from various nurseries, and have rinsed and reused them season after season.

But with my garden growing every year, I often don’t have all the pots I need in spring, when hundreds of seeds await their new homes. That’s why I start gathering them now, and chances are, you can find just as many containers around your house and not spend a cent on “proper” seed starting pots.

Reuse pots year after year

If you’re the crafty type, you can easily make your own pots from newspapers and eggshells. Cranking out a season’s worth of newspaper pots is an especially well suited activity for a rainy day, movie night, or polar vortex week. (Try this with toilet paper tubes too.)

And while my eggshells now get crushed up and fed to my chickens as extra calcium, they still make great containers for starting just a few seeds on your windowsill.

DIY newspaper pots

Starting seeds in eggshells

Here we have a few things from my kitchen this week, which ordinarily would’ve been tossed in the recycling bin. But, they are perfect for seed starting!

Makeshift seed starting containers

I’ve saved a cardboard egg carton (which you can plant in the garden with your seedling, as the paper will decompose naturally), a tub that previously held a block of tofu, a carton that had feta in it, and a container that once had sour cream. You’ll need to poke a few holes in the plastic containers for drainage (a nail works well) and can set them on top of a baking sheet or other repurposed container to catch drips.

Seedlings in repurposed containers

Along the same lines, you can upcycle paper milk cartons, plastic juice jugs, plastic water bottles, and plastic soda bottles by cutting off the tops and leaving 2 to 4 inches on the bottoms for planting, depending on how wide your container is. When you’re done with them, you can wash and store until next season, or finally send them to recycling.

Take-out containers are useful too, and the aluminum ones are good for turning into drip trays as well as seed trays.

If you buy rotisserie chicken from the grocer, the container it comes in makes an ideal mini greenhouse. Warmth speeds up germination, and this provides a warm and cozy environment without the need for a heating mat. Simply poke some holes in the bottom tray, fill it with soil and seeds, and place the cover over it. The cover already has holes for ventilation, so your greenhouse is ready to go. In a couple of weeks, remove the cover to allow more air to flow between the seedlings.

What else makes a good greenhouse? Those plastic clamshell boxes that your salad greens and berries came in! This is truly coming full circle — using an old salad container to grow new salad. The containers are fairly deep, so fill them halfway with seed starting mix (here’s how to make your own), poke holes in the bottom, sow your seeds, and close. Once your seedlings have sprouted, you can leave them uncovered in a warm and sunny spot.

Unwanted kitchen tools, like ice cube trays, muffin tins, and baking dishes, are not only a nice size for starting seeds, they’re much more durable than flimsy plastic recyclables. You’ll need to drill holes into these denser materials, but they’ll last for many years even as you use and abuse them outside.

I hope some of these ideas will have you seeing your “trash” in new ways this growing season!

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  • Lisa

    Thank-you so much for all your info!! Beautiful site! I’ve learned so much.

  • Silly Little Sheep

    I grew all my bean, tomato and peas seedlings this year in yogurt pots. Awesome. I must poke some drainage holes in the bottom next time.Yay for reusing and upcycling!

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  • Erin

    Love all of these great ideas for items at home. Thanks for sharing you’ve helped me to cut costs and grow more food at one time.

    Erin @

  • Deesa

    How often are you supposed to water seedlings?

    • It depends on the environment (sunny/cloudy/warm/cool) and the size of the container, but in general, just keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. For seedlings, this could mean a light watering every day or every couple of days.

  • I’ve already started collecting mine. But, I have to hide it away. My husband keeps thinking it’s recycling and puts it back in the bin. This is even better though, repurpose, then recycle.

  • Jenny

    These are all really good ideas — I especially love the eggshell container! That’s clever. =) For eggshells, I imagine you don’t poke any holes in the bottom. From your picture, it looks like the water drains just fine because those seedlings look great.

    • I don’t have any drainage holes in the eggshells. Since they’re so small anyway, I only mist the surface of the soil with a spray bottle. If you have a heavy hand with watering, you can use a push pin to poke a few holes in the bottom.

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