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By Pauline Vanderwerf

Well, signs of spring have sprung and I’m starting to plan my garden and setting up to start seeds. I tried something last year that I found worked so well, I’m going to do it again this year. I got the tip from Alan Titchmarch, a well known host of British gardening shows.

Over the winter I collected toilet paper rolls (bog rolls as Alan call them), and I used them to start seedlings. Now, for tomatoes and peppers, I will broadcast seeds in a tray and then transplant them into the rolls later. Plants that don’t like being moved much, I will start directly in the roll. Seedlings that mature in these rolls tend to shoot their roots directly down, and when you transplant them on into the garden, they continue this habit, which will keep them cool and headed toward moisture. The rolls will disintegrate eventually, and so the roots will be disturbed as little as possible. All of this ensures a good start!

So, even though I’m still a few weeks away, I will do a dry run to show you how they are set up. Here’s what you’ll need:

Simply place the toilet paper rolls in a tray and fill with soil mix. Once the rolls are filled with soil, they are fairly secure. I will tamp the soil down by gently dropping the tray onto the table from an inch or two just to settle the soil in. Then simply plant your seeds or transplant seedlings in. When I watered, I put water in the tray and allowed the rolls and soil to absorb it, which the paper did well.

If the soil continues to settle, you can top the rolls up as the seedling grows. When the seedling appears to outgrow the roll, I just transplant the whole roll into a larger pot.. paper roll and all. Depending on how large the pot is, I will sometimes put four rolls into one pot, leaving about 1/2 an inch around each roll, and filling soil up to the top of the roll. Surrounding the rolls with soil helps to maintain a fairly consistent moisture content as the exposed paper on the rolls tends to allow a lot of moisture to evaporate.

For the most part the rolls will stay intact until planting in the garden, depending on how long the rolls have been used. With tomatoes and peppers, I found that the roll had roots that had come out of the bottom into the surrounding space. They were still happy with the transplant and adjusted well. Once again, the rolls encourage the roots to grow straight down, directing them toward moisture. My tomato plants did the best last year that I have ever seen! This, with prepping the bed for water retention and mulching made for a split free harvest of tomatoes, and a bumper crop.

Well, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the rolls will accumulate when you start collecting them.. ask your friends. You will at least have enough to try this method, if not to do your whole starting line up. Happy planting!


You don't need a lot to start doing this


A tablespoon makes a perfect tiny shovel


Imagine there are seedlings in these rolls. This is where I would group them together, and I would use a standard potting mix to surround the rolls


Important Notes when Identifying
Some Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching