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Magnolia sieboldii

Magnolia sieboldii - image by Sten Porse at wikimedia commons

Stupid zone 6 plants I can’t have.

I’m thinking I will plant some other magnolias this spring anyway. Probably Magnolia virginiana, and try my luck with one of the hardier grandifloras. Oh, and Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Woodsman’ is pretty fancy looking too. Ah, I dream.

The Fresh Dirt blog had another post on using toilet paper rolls and newspaper for seed starting. I started writing a monster comment on my experiences with them over there, but decided it made better sense to clutter up my own page.

I used both these methods my first year of seed starting, and still use toilet tubes for plants I want to get started with a long taproot (like tomatoes), but they really aren’t a good all-purpose solution.

For doing large quantities of seedlings, tubes have some significant drawbacks. For one, it is hard to fill the tubes – the potting mix gets in the holes between them and they fall over and spill out the bottom.

Spilling actually isn’t a problem once they’re started since the damp dirt sticks together, and eventually the roots hold it all in anyway, but boy is it a pain with the dry mix. You can’t move the tubes once they’re filled, so you knock them over doing the ones next to them, and you can’t clean all that wasted potting soil out from between them. The more loose soil around the bottoms of the tubes, the more the roots will grow together and the more the bottoms of the tubes will disintegrate (more on that later).

Toilet roll pots are also hard to handle once the plants start to get bigger. The bottom starts to decay pretty quickly, plus a top heavy plant and an already tall and narrow pot leads to trouble. They start to tilt and eventually fall over, and picking them back up causes the paper to rip and they fall apart. A lot of this can be overcome by putting them in a high-sided container where there isn’t room for them to fall over, or by taping them together in groups. However, if you want to transplant some of them before the others? Good luck. (also, the roots will grow into neighboring pots, but that’s never been a big deal for me – I just rip them apart. They seem to deal). Inevitably by the time things are going out in the garden all my toilet roll pots are propped against the edges of the flats and leaning over forlornly.

So, yeah, I do still use toilet paper rolls for things with long or particularly fragile roots, (they have really nice dimensions apart from the tipping over thing – it’s hard to find anything else that’s as good a shape for tomatoes. Really people, why are commercial pots always so short?). However I do most of my ‘serious’ seed starting in re-used black plastic nursery pots, as they are more durable. I did actually purchase some plastic flats, both for the convenient bottom trays and clear covers and because I don’t buy a lot of potted plants, so I didn’t have enough for all the seed-starting I wanted to do. I imagine someone who buys annuals regularly already has plenty on hand.

So, in summary, I would recommend toilet tubes for someone doing a few special plants, but not necessarily for a whole veggie garden’s worth. If you do use them, it helps to put them in a container with high, straight sides to help with the toppling.

Newspaper pots I didn’t think were worth the effort at all – they take time to make in any quantity, and are even more incredibly fragile than the toilet tubes once wet.

I should point out that I did do a few things differently from the video they showed, though I don’t think they change my opinion. For one, I never made bottoms for the toilet rolls. I also never made them square. I can see how the square-ness would help with filling them some, but there would still be holes in between. Obviously the bottom helps with filling, but it also makes the pot shorter, and one of the big advantages of this type of pot is the size & shape. Finally, In making paper pots with bottoms, I found sometimes the soil would get caught on the folded-in paper and not fill all the way to the bottom (particularly a problem with tall, narrow pots like these). This caused problems because then the pots didn’t wick water correctly, resulting in untimely seedling death. Finally, it appears that the bottom is making the pot even *more* tippy. Not something these pots need.