Introduction: Easy, High Success Rate, Seed or Cutting Starter

Picture of Easy, High Success Rate, Seed or Cutting Starter

Starting plants from seeds can have a variable success rate. This method increases your chances of getting viable plants to almost 100%, by preventing some of the common problems that cause seedlings to fail; inconsistent watering, and root shock.

If you start a lot of plants from seeds or cuttings, this is a great low maintenance way to start and replant seeds.

You can get self-watering pots at most garden centers starting at about $10. If you want to do it the DIY way, just put a diaper in the bottom of a regular pot, it will hold a lot of water. The potting soil and seeds will run $5-10. I had everything on hand so my cost was $0.

Step 1: Step 1: Self-watering Pot

Picture of Step 1: Self-watering Pot

Use potting soil to fill a self-watering pot about a third of the way up. Self-watering pots are great for starting plants because you don’t have to constantly monitor the moisture level. You’ll get a lot more successful plants this way.

Step 2: Step 2: Root Protection Tubes

Picture of Step 2: Root Protection Tubes

Take toilet paper rolls and push in the bottom ends so the center is closed and you have a tube with a 2-pointed bottom. These will act as plantable pots so you don’t disturb the roots when you replant later.

Step 3: Step 3: Fill the Tubes

Picture of Step 3: Fill the Tubes

Use your tubes to scoop up potting soil and put them in the pot so they stand upright.

Step 4: Step 4: Plant

Picture of Step 4: Plant

Plant either seeds, or in this case seedlings, in each tube.

Step 5: Step 5: Fill the Pot With Soil

Picture of Step 5: Fill the Pot With Soil

Fill soil in around the tubes, you will be able to shift them around so there is space between them, and they’re standing upright. You can have more density than I’m showing here. I'm a little short on tubes because my husband keeps throwing out my toilet paper rolls; dilettante.

Step 6: Step 6: Add Water and Worms

Picture of Step 6: Add Water and Worms

Gently pat the soil around the tubes. At this point I like to add a worms to fertilize the soil. I always add at least two, so they don’t get lonely. My husband says worms don’t have feelings, but in case there is a worm uprising I’m not taking any chances. Gently water the whole pot.

Step 7: Final Notes

Picture of Final Notes

I have a retired snake terrarium that I use as a mini greenhouse. This helps keep the temperature more consistent, but it’s not necessary. I get gusty afternoon wind; the terrarium does a great job of protecting the seedlings.

The cover photo is Brugmansia that I started in a self-watering pot about a month ago. You can see that they have new leaves and are doing well. When they’re ready to be planted I can dig each one up and transfer the plant, tube and all, into the ground. The tube will degrade over time. You can’t see the tubes in these because I buried them below the surface.

If you liked this Instructable, please vote. Thanks!


aa60 (author)2015-05-05

what a nice pleasing a Granny I think this is a great idea to share with children, especially it being a garden for the worms, simple, low cost and something beautiful at the end........well done!

CityGirl6 (author)aa602015-05-06

Thanks Granny! I'm an auntie; my niece and nephew always love to visit the worm farm.

aa60 (author)CityGirl62015-05-06

I wonder if American worms are different to our British worms?

I bet a few stowed away on the Mayflower!

Sydarta (author)aa602015-05-15

Worms are colonists, too- the last ice age killed all the worms in North America, the Pilgrims brought plants from home and that's why we have worms tilling our soil here, now... as well as honey bees and dandelions.

aa60 (author)Sydarta2015-06-02

Thanks for clearing that up for me.......very interesting.

CityGirl6 (author)aa602015-05-07

That explains why they're so fond of crisps....

Janet Dolan (author)2015-05-28

Great way to start seeds. Think I will try it to make a pot of flowers for the porch.

CityGirl6 (author)Janet Dolan2015-05-29

Thanks, I'm glad you like it

blakeghx (author)2015-05-09

What kind of potting soil did you use? What fertilizer?

CityGirl6 (author)blakeghx2015-05-10

I have a worm farm so I use worm compost as fertilizer. My mixture is ⅓ each; native soil, worm compost, and potting soil.

I buy really basic potting soil because the compost is so good it really doesn't matter, but I've always found that Miracle Grow does a good job. There is also something called Black Gold, that is pretty rich.

jaxboy (author)2015-05-08

How about some info about how to cut the cutting, and how to treat prior to planting?

CityGirl6 (author)jaxboy2015-05-09

This was more about starting seeds, the cuttings were just to show some plants that are further along.

But... they were cut 1/4" above the nodes / places where leaves emerge from the stems, at an angle. I do this while pruning, basically save a few branches off and plant them. I don't treat them prior to planting if they're easy plants like these Brugmansia. They will sprout if you just stick them in dirt, or even lay them on the ground. If they touch soil, they'll sprout. Many plants are more difficult so always look up if your pant can be propagated from cuttings, seeds, or even leaves. Some plants need very specific care, while others, like succulents or geranium, will propagate from dropped leaves and branches.

I hope that helps.

tito.villareal (author)2015-05-05

Great idea! Will definitely try this! Thank you for sharing.

CityGirl6 (author)tito.villareal2015-05-06


Old cooper (author)2015-05-05

Absolutely perfect timing. I am just one hour away from heading to the nursery to get some supplies to root some fig cuttings. I'll try your way for sure. In the absence of tubes, I have and likely will make some "peat pots" out of newspapers wrapped around a small can. It can be done quickly and seems to work well also.

Thanks for your great Instructable.

nonageri (author)Old cooper2015-05-05

HI, figs have got to be the easiest to root..just put them in soil..when I find a new variety, I pluck a branch or two, rough up the outer bark at the base and put it in soil, voile!! new tree...I love figs....

Old cooper (author)nonageri2015-05-05

I'm hoping that this works that well.for me. I did make "peat pots" from newspaper instead of the tubes that citygirl uses, but other than that I followed directions. I love figs too. My wife comes from the tropics and doesn't seem to know about figs. Maybe we can change that this year.

CityGirl6 (author)Old cooper2015-05-06

Figs are awesome. Thanks for the tip about roughing up the bark.

I hope you two get great crops this year!

daddio-1 (author)2015-05-05

You mentioned adding two worms so they don't get lonely. Each worm is an hermaphrodite, possessing both male and female organs. It is possible for a worm to give birth without mating with another worm, although coupling is the "normal" manner of reproduction. None the less,the worm casings (poop) are some of the best fertilizer you can get.

CityGirl6 (author)daddio-12015-05-06

You guys always think it's all about sex, maybe they just want to cuddle. : )

stephenmack (author)2015-05-05

We must prepare for the dreaded worm uprising!

CityGirl6 (author)stephenmack2015-05-06






sarah.young.2345 (author)2015-05-05

Just like we did in kindergarten! And it works very well. We used to help the kids make these and have them ready for Morthers Day. Mom's loved it and kids did too when the tubes were planted and grew. Win Win.


amyntrav (author)2015-05-05

My husband says worms don’t have feelings, but in case there is a worm uprising I’m not taking any chances.

That may be one of the nicest things I have read today. :)

CityGirl6 (author)amyntrav2015-05-06

Thanks! : )

nanaverm (author)2015-05-05

Good idea using toilet rolls for easy replanting! And the diaper provides polyacrylamide water-absorbing crystals.

As someone who raises worms for their valuable vermicompost, I wouldn't add any redworms to your planter unless you feed them some food scraps (an inch down to discourage flies) or at least a mulch of moist leaf litter. Also, worms need more moisture in their bedding than the average planter can provide. Maybe a separate, more suitable home for the worms?

CityGirl6 (author)nanaverm2015-05-06


I have a worm farm too. The self-watering planters tend to keep things pretty most. My worms survive when I use them for a short time like this, they get replanted with the seedlings. Long-term they do fine in large planters but I don't use them in small ones. I should have clarified that. I kind of assumed that anyone who has worms understands their wormy needs.

Helmerchant (author)2015-05-05

Super AWESOME! Gotta do it!

CityGirl6 (author)Helmerchant2015-05-06


mailmam71 (author)2015-05-05

Great instructable!

CityGirl6 (author)mailmam712015-05-06


chingobingo (author)2015-05-05

I, too, am ready for the worm uprising. I have a hungry flock of chickens all waiting for any worm to try something.

I'm assuming you refer to a cloth diaper?

CityGirl6 (author)chingobingo2015-05-06

Worms are friends not food ~~~~ But I had chickens growing up so I get it. : )

ggallen103 (author)chingobingo2015-05-05

Actually, no, a disposable diaper (unused - although.....that might be consider fertilizer). The substance that absorbs the pee is what you are after - when you water the soil, the diaper will soak up lots of the water and hold it. As the soil dries it will start to release the water back into the soil. If your going to use that route, you really need to use potting soil and not regular soil, as the potting soil has other things in it that make it easier for the water to travel up to where the roots need it.

CityGirl6 (author)ggallen1032015-05-06

ggallon103 is right, I should have specified the disposable kind.

monica.dechene (author)2015-05-05

Wonderful idea - and share your toilet roll situation :-)

CityGirl6 (author)monica.dechene2015-05-06

: )

malc in Spain (author)2015-05-05

Nice article city girl.

A nice touch about our friends the worm

malc in Spain

Click on the image to see

CityGirl6 (author)malc in Spain2015-05-06

Hola Guapo y gracias por tu cumplido. Me gusto mucho los gusanos y tu ilustración de ellos. Muchas gracias!!!

heathertorre (author)2015-05-05

great tutorial! I have a terrible time with seedlings and usually fail miserably. I'll try your suggestions!

CityGirl6 (author)heathertorre2015-05-06

If you have a high failure rate consider getting a terrarium. I got mine free on Craig's List. It keeps the temperature and moisture levels stable. If you do all 3 things: self-watering pots, root tubes, and terrarium, you should have nearly 100% success. If you need a self-esteem boost, try growing succulents, they are pretty hard to kill.

madams8 (author)2015-05-05

Great tutorial! This looks much easier than many others I've seen. Very clear instructions. Thanks!

CityGirl6 (author)madams82015-05-06

Thanks, I'm nothing if not lazy so I like to keep things simple.

trevormac (author)2015-05-05

Loved the bit about the worm uprising. Wriggle.wriggle,wriggle,squirm,squirm,squirm!

CityGirl6 (author)trevormac2015-05-06

~~~~~~~~~ happy worms are mellow worms ~~~~~~~

Deepblu505 (author)2015-05-05

The root protection tubes are ingenious. You got my vote!

CityGirl6 (author)Deepblu5052015-05-06


nancy.baker.92372 (author)2015-05-05

excellent idea! I have fairly good luck starting plants from cuttings but this looks promising. Now to get those toilet paper rolls, lol. I do have a couple paper towel rolls, I'll cut them in three and try that. Thank you for the great idea!!!

Thanks. That should work fine, I do it all the time.

About This Instructable




Bio: I live in the hills in the middle of San Francisco, lucky me. Making things has always been a passion for me... from that first ... More »
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