A few years ago, I came across a gardening hack on Pinterest that showed seedlings inside of toilet paper tubes. I figured I’d be putting less trash into a landfill and the tubes would biodegrade as the plants grew, so I wouldn’t have to remove the seedlings when I transplanted them to the garden. I thought: great, I can garden and recycle at the same time, and it will save me money because I won’t have to buy those little peat pods.
Fast forward a few months, and after obsessively saving every toilet paper and paper towel tube I could, here’s what I found:
- Trying to save enough carboard tubes to start plants for a large garden that feeds a fairly large household is next to impossible. They took up a lot of space, but when it came down to actually using them, I was disappointed that there weren’t more saved.
- I spent about as much money on potting soil as I would have on the peat pods.
- It was uber time-consuming. First, I had to figure out a way to fold the bottoms to keep the dirt in. Then, I realized I was using too much soil and I was going to run out, so I began stuffing newspaper into the bottoms to take up space before adding the soil (Fun fact: as long as the newspaper’s not glossy, it’s pretty plant-friendly.). The process took days, rather than a few hours.
- Even though we had an almost 100% success rate for sprouts, they all quickly grew mold (some even grew small mushrooms!) and died. We ended up with barely a handful of plants that could be transplanted into the garden, and those died once in the ground.
Now, I don’t think it’s fair to say that the process was a complete bust. I was still pretty new to gardening, and even the most seasoned gardeners can have issues. Since this experiment, I have thought about all of the possible things that might have gone wrong. Here are my theories:
On not having enough tubes to plant with and not having enough soil: I used one toilet paper tube per seedling. With the paper towel tubes, I cut them in half. When I think about how small the peat pods are, even after hydrated, I probably could have cut the tubes into thirds (at least). This would have given me more material to work with and stretched the soil further per plant.
On growing mold and fungus: I put our seedlings in the basement under fluorescent tube lighting (which is really good for indoor plants, less expensive than specialized growing bulbs, and better than setting them in front of a window, since that doesn’t provide enough light for baby plants). Now, our basement is warmer than late-winter/early-spring temps outside, but it’s still a basement. At that time, we didn’t run a dehumidifier or a space heater to provide extra warmth. That led to a damp, chilly basement, perfect for growing molds and fungus.
On the few plants that died in the garden: It’s possible that using crumpled newspaper underneath the seedlings caused air pockets that led to rot in the roots. It’s possible that the plants themselves weren’t healthy enough to survive from the mold and fungus. And it’s also possible that we didn’t harden them off well enough before transplanting them (Hardening-off is the process of gradually moving indoor plants outside and into direct sunlight for longer periods of time so that they don’t die of shock.).
Now, those things are pretty big oversights on my part. I’m fairly sure this post could have been about all the ways to sabotage your garden, but I’d rather think of it as an opportunity to share things that beginning gardeners might not consider. That being said, even if I had taken all of these things into consideration, it would not have solved a couple other problems.
- It still takes up a lot of space storing the tubes until you’re ready to use them.
- It would still be time-consuming to get them ready and you’d have to figure out a way to keep the dirt from falling out of the bottom (which might be more difficult if you cut them shorter).
- While any one of the things I listed could have been the problem, there are other things to consider. The cardboard might still be too thick for the new roots to penetrate after transplanting into the garden. The tubes themselves could have been what caused the mold or mysterious mushrooms to grow. There might even be factors I haven’t thought of.
More than likely, the failure of my seedlings to thrive had everything to do with the mistakes I made, rather than some unknown culprit. The amount of time it took to plant the seeds compared to the time it takes to plant them in peat pods, however, was enough to dissuade me from trying the experiment again.
I wish I still had the original pin or a link to the site, but I don’t. If anyone has it, you can link it in the comments or e-mail it to me. I’d like to be able to share it.
What about any of you? Has anyone else ever tried this experiment? What were your successes/failures? Any tips or tricks you could share? I’d love to hear them.
Check out Five Things That Grapes Don’t Like for more gardening tips!