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In the Garden

Get down and dirty in the garden

DIY Soda Bottle Seed-Starters

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to get a jump start on your garden. Maybe you have a big pile of small seedling containers for just such a job tucked away somewhere in your basement. But if you don’t, or if you’ve finally run out, this is an easy way to save yourself a trip to the store and to cut down on your consumption of new plastics.

If you’re a soda drinker, start saving your plastic one and two liter bottles. If you’re not, ask your friends to save them. Try to collect darker plastic if you can, as sunlight filtering through clear plastic can discourage root growth. Remove the label from your bottle. Then, using a knife you don’t care much about, stab a hole into the side of the bottle, about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. Jam the knife point into the hole and cut all the way around the bottle, so you have two halves.

Set aside the top half. You’ll want it later, but not for a few weeks.

The bottom half of the bottle will serve as your seedling container. Before planting, you’ll need to add drainage holes. If you have a drill with a spade bit, that’s fabulous. Drill three holes into the bulges on the bottom. If you don’t, you can simply hammer a nail through the plastic a few times or very, very carefully jab a few holes with the point of your knife.

seed starting pot
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.

Next, smooth the jagged plastic edges with a lighter. Slicing through plastic with a kitchen knife doesn’t make for clean work, but just a second of contact with a flame is all it takes to melt that roughness into something more easily handled. Give a quick blast of fire to the top edge and all the holes.

smooth rough edges
Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.

Now you’re ready for dirt. Fill the container almost to the top with potting soil. Give it a few taps against a hard surface to knock the soil down into all those crannies. Make a divot in the middle of the soil and plant your seeds. Set your container in a warm, damp place and wait for your seeds to sprout!

Once your seedlings are ready for transplant, carefully use a pair of scissors to make a single cut straight down from the top. Firmly grab one side of the cut with your hands and pull the plastic away, as far as you can, without disturbing the roots.

Photo courtesy Flickr/duttyri.

Turn the container upside down, cup the dirt around the seedling with one hand and gently squeeze the container with the other—your seedling and its root ball should fall away into your cupped hand. Transplant your seedling wherever you like and put your used container in the recycling—it was going to wind up there anyway before you gave it this second life!

If you’ve set your seedling outside when the nights are still chilly, it’s time to figure out where you put that top half you set aside a few weeks ago. Once you’ve found it, slide it gently over your seedling, oriented just as it was when it was a bottle. Nestle the edges of the cut bottom opening into the dirt to stabilize it. Congratulations, you’ve just made a perfect, breathable, mini greenhouse!

Liz BaesslerLiz Baessler is a New England-based freelance writer who loves to travel, cook, and watch things grow. You can follow her gardening adventures or hire her to write for you.