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How to Grow a Starter Plant in an Egg Carton

Starting plants from seed in advance of planting them in your garden has several benefits. For example, you can start them indoors in the early spring before your garden soil has warmed up, thereby getting a head start on the growing season. Egg cartons made from pressed paper or cardboard are perfect for this because each individual egg cup in the egg carton is the perfect size for starting a seed. Additionally, the entire egg cup can be buried in the ground because it’s biodegradable, and you can thus avoid disturbing the young plant’s roots during transplanting.

Cut off the top of an empty pressed paper or cardboard egg carton with a pair of scissors. Discard or recycle the top, leaving only the bottom of the egg carton with all of the indented cups where the eggs used to be.

Poke three or four holes — using the tip of a pen, pencil or similar instrument — in the bottom of each indented egg cup or however many egg cups you plan to fill and use as planters. These holes will help each egg cup drain properly.

Place the egg carton on a tray, baking sheet or similar flat surface that has a lip around it. This will help contain any moisture or potting soil that drips or falls out of the egg carton.

Fill each egg cup in the egg carton with a sterile soilless potting mix. Such a mix is superior to standard potting soil or outdoor garden loam because it’s free of bacteria and weed seeds, and is more porous and therefore better for seeds and new plants.

Plant one seed in each filled egg cup. Every plant species has different seeding requirements, but most do fine being buried at a depth that is twice as deep as the seed’s thickness.

Mist the surface of the soilless potting mix with water from a spray bottle once or twice a day, or as necessary to keep the potting mix consistently moist until the seedlings emerge.

Growing from Seed Using Containers

Growing plants from seed isn’t rocket science, but some tried and true tips can help improve the outcome of your efforts.

Growing from seed can be an exciting and rewarding experience. When first starting seeds indoors, a small pocket of space is usually sufficient to achieve germination. Many gardeners prefer to start seeds in an egg carton (or even in the eggshells themselves), in a seed cell pack, in peat pots, or in small, individual containers with holes poked into the bottom for drainage.

Choose a quality potting mix for your seedlings or transplants and enhance it if you wish. Consider perlite to aid in proper drainage and vermiculite to help hold in the moisture without water-logging your plants.

Once you’ve planted and watered your seeds, position them near direct sunlight. You may also suspend a grow light two to three inches above your seedlings if you find your natural light is insufficient.

Maximize Seedling Success

Sowing several seeds per cell or container usually helps guarantee at least one will sprout. However, this also often causes a new dilemma. While an abundance of sprouted seedlings can seem exciting at first, this gardening joy can soon turn to disappointment if the seedlings are left too close together. Called overcrowding, this results in numerous tiny plants fighting for the same growing space, nutrients and water. For best results, thin each cell or container by removing the weaker seedlings to allow proper growing conditions for the healthiest bunch. Separate the seedlings you wish to keep into other containers.

Optimize Growing Conditions for Seedlings

Sowing, sprouting and separating—check. Now it’s time to give your seedlings as strong a start as possible before you move them to their next container. Be sure your seeds are getting about 15 hours of sunlight each day. Depending on where you live and what time of year you’ve chosen to start your seeds, you may need to rely on indoor grow lights to achieve enough light.

Watering is the other vital piece of the puzzle. If you’ve started your seeds in a cell pack or other type of container, consider alternating how you water them. Take turns watering from the top and also placing the containers in a shallow pan of water to allow the soil to absorb water from the bottom up. Smaller containers will need to be watered more frequently than larger ones. Make sure the seedlings don’t dry out or become too damp, as either scenario could be the kiss of death for your young plants.

Encourage Stronger Root Systems with Air Pruning

Air pruning, made possible by specialized containers, offers quite a few benefits to your plants. Air pruning occurs naturally when a plant’s roots are permitted to come in contact with hot, dry air. When the roots hit the air, they are burned off, triggering the plant to produce more roots that branch out constantly. For best success, air pruning requires a low-humidity environment, as high humidity doesn’t stop the roots from growing out of control.

The air pruning process prevents a plant’s roots from spiraling, twisting and becoming entangled in a pot-bound mess. This technique also allows plants to stay in their smaller containers longer before they require a bigger container. As a result, the branched root systems help to optimize the plant’s nourishment and growing potential, with larger, healthier plants to show for it.

Fabric container options offer the benefits of soil aeration, moisture control and air pruning. With these containers, roots stop when they hit the edge of the planter, stimulating lateral root branching and fibrous feeder roots that efficiently feed and hydrate your plants. These containers also reduce transplant shock in your plants.

Transplant Seedlings for Continued Growth

Just as a hermit crab upgrades its shell, so should you upgrade the containers for your young seedlings and indoor plants. When choosing the next container for your plants, make sure to research the preferred root depth for each type of plant. If you are growing vegetables indoors, like carrots, radishes, or even beans, a tall flowerpot or an eco-friendly planter can be reward you with many harvesting opportunities right in your kitchen or sunroom.

If you eventually plan to transplant any of your seedlings into an outside garden, peat pots can be a great option. Peat pots are fully biodegradable and naturally add organic matter to your garden right where you want it—near the roots of your crops. Simply plant the entire peat pot in the ground in your garden, taking care not to leave the edge of the pot above the surface, as this can rapidly dry out the soil surrounding your plants.

Container gardening cultivates so many benefits no matter what you’re growing. From beautiful ornamentals to flavorful fruits and vegetables, it’s rewarding to take a tiny seedling through the journey of becoming a vibrant, healthy, mature plant.

Start Seeds Indoors Using Egg Cartons

Gardening can feel like a very expensive activity sometimes, but starting seeds for spring planting doesn’t have to be.

You can use egg cartons as a seed-starting tray! Depending on the type of carton you have, you can even cut apart the individual sections and plant them, as the carton will biodegrade.

Be sure to poke small holes for drainage, and put the cartons on a tray or in a shallow pan to catch any residual water.

If you don’t have a windowsill handy, try using LED lights for growing seeds indoors!

This method of starting seeds works for both flowers and vegetables. I recommend planting some marigold seeds, as they are quick to germinate, have visually striking leaves, and once planted, are relatively hardy in the landscape. Plus, they make great companion plants in the garden because they deter some insect pests!

For everything you need to know about vegetable gardening in Mississippi, download The Garden Tabloid, or pick up a copy at the local Extension office.