Post updated January 2014: After a few seasons of making newspaper pots, I’ve definitely learned a thing or two and have refined my method a bit. In order to keep this post as helpful as possible, I have made some minor updates to this post to reflect those lessons learned.
I have documented a few do it yourself projects over the past couple of years, but I’ve resisted the the step by step “how to” post for some reason. I’m not sure why, exactly; I can’t think of a good reason other than perhaps it’s because I enjoy telling the story of the project more than explaining the technical details that go into the project. Or maybe the perfectionist in me is just a little bit afraid that my instructions won’t be as clear as I would like them to be, or that someone will point out that I’m doing it wrong (I know, such first world problems, right?). But then this post sparked several emails asking for more details on how to make the newspaper starter pots, so I’ve decided to give it whirl. I’ve outlined the step by step instructions below, as well as a few additional tips you might find helpful. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad after all!
NEWSPAPER STARTER POTS
The materials you’ll need: newspaper, scissors, a small bowl of water (optional), starter soil mix, and something to use as a mold (I used a small can from my pantry, but just about anything you can wrap newspaper around will work: a bottle, building blocks, a juice glass…)
Start by cutting strips of newspaper that are wide enough to cover the sides of the can, as well as the bottom when folded over (hone in on those gift wrapping skills). The length of the strip should be long enough to wrap completely around the can at least 3-4 times (for my can, I just left it the length of the newspaper page itself). You can use as many strips as you would like for each pot, but I found that one worked best (it makes it easier to get a flat bottom).
Line up the can with the edge of the newspaper strip and roll the newspaper around the can. You will want to roll as tightly as you can while still being able to remove the mold from the newspaper roll easily.
Start folding the extra newspaper down to form the bottom of the pot and continue to work your way around the mold, folding the edges in and creasing them against the edges. The bottom may not feel very sturdy yet, but trust me, it’ll get there.
Turn the entire thing over so the pot is sitting upright. Twist it back and forth on a hard surface while applying firm pressure by pushing down on the can. This will really crease the folds and hold them in place.
At this point your newspaper pot is read to come off the mold and be filled with soil. I know, it doesn’t feel all that sturdy or “put together,” but trust me, once you add some soil and water, you will be amazed at how well it will hold together.
That said, if you’re not feeling completely confident in the stability of the newspaper pot just quite yet, or are struggling to work with it, you can continue on and add a little reinforcement:
With the newspaper still on the mold, turn it over again, this time with the bottom side up. Cut a narrow strip and wet it in a small bowl of water (the wet newspaper will stick and help hold things in place). Place this strip across the bottom of the can, from left to right. Press it down across the bottom of the pot, and smooth the extra length down the sides of the pot (one strip is usually enough to add a little more support and hold the bottom of the pot, but you can repeat the process with a second strip running up and down in the opposite direction if you’d like).
Wet another strip of newspaper as wide as the pot is tall, and long enough to wrap around the pot about one and a half times. Carefully wrap this around the entire pot, being careful to secure any loose edges from the previous step underneath this final layer. You are now ready to carefully remove the pot from the mold.
Push one last strip of newspaper into the inside bottom of the pot to keep the soil from working its way down into the fold and out of the bottom of the pot, and you’re ready to fill, water, and seed your pots.
- Expect that your first pot is going to take a little time – and maybe more than one try – but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can crank them out. It’s the perfect task to do while you’re catching up on your favorite television show.
- It might seem counter-intuitive, but the pots will “toughen up” in the first few days. You will notice a difference right away as they are filled and thoroughly watered. The wet layers of newspaper will bond together and hold surprisingly well.
- As I mentioned in the early steps, less is more when it comes to the amount of newspaper used. The more you wrap around your mold, the more difficult it will be to get those folds on the bottom to sit flat. If you’re concerned about stability, add those extra layers at the end, just around the outside of the pot (the bottom already has extra layers from all the folds).
- These pots can be made in any size, just keep in mind the length of time your seedlings will be growing in the pot. Plants that are started in a smaller pot may have to be transplanted into a larger pot before it’s time to transplant outdoors.
- If you’re really having a tough time with forming the pot, you can cheat a little and reinforce your wrapping and folds with a little bit of tape.
- You’ll want to place the pots in a flat, waterproof tray that can be covered with either a dome or plastic wrap until the seeds germinate. If you don’t have a seed tray, a glass baking dish or an old plastic container will work well.
- If you have any pots that are still a little tippy, gently push the watered pots down in the tray to flatten the bottom. They’ll be quite malleable that first day. Spacing them in the tray so they are close enough to support each other helps, too.
- When it comes time to transplant, you can put the whole thing, newspaper and all, right into the ground, but keep in mind that the more newspaper you use, the longer it will take to break down. If you’ve added a lot of extra newspaper for stability’s sake, at minimum you should remove the very bottom of the newspaper pot to allow the roots to break through more easily.
And now, all that’s left is the hard part: waiting for the seeds to take off!