Gardening can be expensive when starting out. Especially if you’re new to starting seeds indoors, there’s a lot of equipment you feel pressured to purchase up front. While some of it is necessary for seedling success, there are some ways you can save a few dollars.
Why not repurpose something you already have by starting seeds in egg cartons? It’s budget smart and eco-friendly.
In this post, I’ll go over all you need to know about starting seeds in egg cartons. Let’s dive in!
Why Start Seeds in Egg Cartons
There are several advantages to starting seeds in egg cartons.
First of all, it’s budget-friendly and convenient. Instead of spending upwards of $25 on seed starting trays, you can simply repurpose a household item.
You’ll have as many seed cells as you would with an average seed tray. An egg carton is also very similar in width to a seed tray, so it should easily fit under your grow lights.
Most households are buying eggs every week or two. Simply set aside your egg cartons every time you empty one. You’ll be ready to start your seeds indoors in no time.
Starting seeds in egg cartons is also an eco-friendly gardening technique. Instead of using plastic seed trays, egg cartons can be directly planted in the garden. The paper will break down into the soil, improving soil health and texture.
What You’ll Need
Set yourself up for success by having everything you need to get started.
Here are the top things you’ll need to start seeds in egg cartons:
- Paper egg cartons – Look for recyclable egg cartons instead of Styrofoam or plastic egg cartons. If you don’t use biodegradable egg cartons, you’ll have to remove the seedling plug before transplanting.
- Seed starting mix – Your seed starting mix should have good drainage and minimal added nutrients. Here are some of my favorite seed starting mixes, or you can create your own.
- Labels – Plastic or wood labels work great to keep your seeds organized.
- Seeds – Pick up your favorite vegetable seeds from Hoss Tools, True Leaf Market, or your local garden center.
How to Start Seeds in Egg Cartons
Prepare the Egg Carton
The first step to starting seeds in egg cartons is preparation. Remove any plastic stickers or labeling. These won’t break down in the soil once you transplant your seedlings.
You can also cut the top off the egg carton and cover it in saran wrap. This will create a humidity dome that will help germinate your seeds. Once your seeds germinate, you’ll need to remove the top, so that your seedlings receive adequate light.
Poke holes in the bottom of each egg indention. This will allow water to drain through your seedlings. If water sits in an egg carton, it will cause the carton to break down prematurely.
Add Seed Starting Mix
Once you’ve added holes to each egg indention, you are ready to add seed starting mix to your egg cartons.
I recommend wetting your seed starting mix before you add it. This will prevent overwatering your egg carton at the start. It also lowers the chance of air pockets in your mix because it will be slightly weighed down.
Simply put some seed starting mix into a bowl and slowly add water until the entire mix is moist. Then, using gloves, add the mix to your egg carton.
Fill each cell to the top with the seed starting mix. Take your fingers and lightly press down on every cell. This will make sure you get enough mix in the indention and remove air pockets.
Plant the Seed
Now, it’s time to plant the seed. You can use a pencil or even your finger to create an indention in the seed starting mix. Place the seed in that indention.
You’ll want to follow the recommended depth for each type of seed. This is usually found on the back of the seed packet. If you don’t have that information handy, a quick internet search will let you know.
Once you’ve planted the seed, lightly cover it with soil.
Now, all you have to do is wait and watch for germination in the coming days.
Care and Maintenance
After your seedling germinates, make sure that the soil stays consistently moist. But, don’t overwater the seedlings to avoid premature breakdown.
A good way to avoid the egg carton breaking down is by running a fan on low. This will prevent the soil from holding water.
Just make sure not to aim the breeze directly at your seedlings. They are not strong enough at this point to withstand wind.
You can also use a heat mat to help keep the soil warm. (This is also a great way to get those seeds to sprout!)
Eventually, your seedlings will be ready to move into the garden. You can easily identify the signs of when to transplant your seedlings. They will have true leaves and will often have outgrown their container.
Make sure to harden off your seedlings before permanently moving them to the garden. This will keep your seedlings from suffering from transplant shock.
After hardening off your seedlings, plan a day to transplant them to the garden.
Choose an overcast day without direct sun or heavy rain. This is an ideal time to plant. You can also plant in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the direct sun.
Separate the seedlings by cutting the egg carton apart. Or, you may be able to separate it by hand. You can plant the egg carton, so don’t worry about pulling the seedling from the carton.
Make a small hole in your garden soil and place the seedling in it. Lightly cover the area surrounding your seedlings with garden soil. Now, you’re ready to watch your seedlings take off!
Other Repurposable Home Items
Starting seeds in egg cartons is easy and effective. But, you can also repurpose several other home items for starting seeds.
For example, toilet paper tubes can be used to start seeds. They’re biodegradable, just like egg cartons. They’re spacious enough for seedlings, and you won’t have a problem with drainage!
Just group several toilet paper tubes together in a bottom tray. Fill them with a seed starting mix, and plant your seeds as usual.
Paper cups are another good alternative for starting seeds in egg cartons.
Whether you keep up with your cups from the water cooler or coffee shop, they make a spacious seedling pot. Just make sure to poke holes in the bottom of the cups before planting your seeds.
You don’t just have to stick to paper items. For example, plastic milk jugs make a great seed starting vessel. Cut the top of the milk jug off, and poke holes in the bottom of the jug. You’ll be able to start three or four seedlings in this one container.
Once you’re ready to transplant, gently remove your seedlings from the milk jug, and plant them into the soil.
FAQs on Starting Seeds in Egg Cartons
1. Do I have to plant the egg carton?
No, you don’t have to plant the egg carton. If you want to plant your seedlings without the egg carton, moisten the seed starting mix. This will keep it from falling apart.
Gently remove the seedling from the carton by angling the carton. Or, you can push up on the bottom of the egg carton to pop the seedling out.
After you’re finished with the egg carton, toss it into your compost bin. It will make a great addition to your soil.
2. Can I start seeds in egg shells?
Besides starting seeds in egg cartons, you can also start seeds in eggshells. Eggshells are compostable and great for your soil. That means they’re also conducive to growing seeds.
You will need to salvage at least half of the eggshell to contain your seed starting mix.
You’ll also need to gently punch a hole in the bottom of the eggshell. This can be tricky, but it’s necessary for good drainage.
3. What if my seedlings outgrow the egg carton?
Fast-growing warm-season vegetables can easily outgrow an egg carton if started too soon. Your seedlings will become rootbound, and growth will be stunted.
In that case, you will need a large pot to move your seedlings to. You can easily find large, biodegradable pots that will allow your seedlings room to grow.
If you don’t want to purchase larger pots, wait until only a few weeks before transplant time to start your seeds. Or, stick to slow-growing vegetables like lettuce and onion when starting seeds in egg cartons.
Wrapping Up Starting Seeds in Egg Cartons
Starting seeds in egg cartons will save you money and allow you to splurge on other gardening items. And, it’s a smart way to add organic matter to your soil.
For more tips on getting your garden started, visit the Seed Starting page on our website. We go over the best products to use and how to use them. We’ll even take you through how to grow your favorite vegetables!