Introduction: Make Paper That Grows - Recycle, Renew, and Plant It in the Ground

Picture of Make Paper That Grows - Recycle, Renew, and Plant It in the Ground

How many tons of junk mail do we get over the course of a week across America? Everyone wants to sell you everything and has the solution to any problem you can think of and it fills our trashcans and landfills. Heres a way to put that junk mail to a good use and spare the overburdened landfills too.

This can be used to create anything you like recipe cards, gardening tip cards, gift tags, notepaper, stationary, etc., and makes a very thoughtful gift.

I have found several methods on doing this but none of them seemed to work quite right for me, so through a lot of trial and error and finding a few tricks of my own I was able to get a more desired effect from my project.

Make sure to have removed any foreign objects such as staples, stamps, glue strips, etc., and check your paper for any hint of slick or shine which indicates a varnish has been applied to it and it should not be used.

Step 1: Materials

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Prepared paper mentioned in the intro
An old wooden picture frame or make a frame to your desired size
Fine Window or Door Screen Material
A Staple Gun or Heavy Duty Tacks
Old Terry Cloth Towels
White Towels (not terry cloth 2 per sheet of paper)
Baking Sheets
Cooling Racks like you would use for cookies
Bricks or something to add weight
A Blender
A Rolling Pin
A Plastic Container, larger than your frame
A Pitcher
Waxed Paper
Any kind of small flat flower or vegetable seeds, I used tomato seeds for this project.

Step 2: Make Your Frame

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Staple or tack screening material to Frame. Place in plastic container and set inside the plastic tub.

Step 3: Shred and Mix Your Paper

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Fill blender with prepared paper as described in the intro about 2/3 full. Add enough water to cover paper and fill blender almost full.

Run blender on high speed until mixture is thick and pulpy looking almost like wet cement.

Step 4: Pour Your Paper

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Pour the mixture over the screen material in the frame, make a second batch and repeat. Spread mixture out as evenly as possible.

Step 5: Lift and Drain the Frame

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Lift frame out of the water and set over the plastic container allowing the mixture to drip freely.

I like to lay a piece of waxed paper over the mixture and help press the water out with a hand above and below the screen material to speed the process.

Step 6: Pressing the Paper

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When the dripping stops lay the frame on a large towel folded several layers thick. Apply a new piece of waxed paper over it and use an implement to press and smooth the paper mixture out evenly. Flip the towel over or refold to a dryer side and continue pressing as much water as possible out.

I used a tool from my kitchen for smoothing fondant and an ironing motion to complete this step.

The more you work the paper mixture the smoother it will become.

Step 7: Flip Your Paper

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Lay a white, smooth textured, non terry cloth type towel on top of your frame.

Flip the frame over onto the white towel. Remove the frame. If you have expressed out enough water the paper mixture should drop right out of the frame. If it does not, flip it back over, get a fresh thick towel and repeat the pressing process.

The thickness of the paper mixture will depend on how many times you poured mixture into the pan. I did it twice here and mine is about 1/4 inch thick so far in an 11x14 frame.

Step 8: Add the Seeds

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Decide what kind of seeds you want to use and sprinkle them over the paper. Apply waxed paper over the top and repeat the pressing process to embed the seeds into the paper.

Step 9: Press Your Paper

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Cover the paper with another clean white, non terry cloth towel and lay a piece of non waxed cardboard on top of the towel.

Slide a baking sheet, firm board, etc., between the lower white towel and the large terry cloth towel, lift your paper off and set on a flat surface. Lay a piece of cardboard on top.

Weight the whole thing down with anything heavy that will cover the entire piece of paper to extract more water. I used bricks but a hospital pail filed with sand, rocks or water works equally well.

Step 10: Roll the Paper Thin

Picture of Roll the Paper Thin

Remove the weights and cardboard. Make layers with:
a single thickness of Terry Towel,
a white non Terry Towel on top, spread longer than your paper,
your paper
and waxed paper on top.

Working lengthwise only take your rolling pin (I used a weighted marble rolling pin) and from the center out roll your paper from the center to the far end. Do not use a back and forth motion.

Repeat the process for the other half until paper is the desired thickness.

Step 11: Dry the Paper

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Slide a cooling rack or anything else with a firm surface you have to use between the Terry Cloth and White Towel. Set another rack on top and flip the paper. Remove the white towel on top then set your paper in an airy place to dry out completely. The rack beneath allows air flow to both sides. Turn the paper after 4  6 hours of drying time.

If you choose to put it outside check your weather forecast to make sure it is going to be a nice sunny day that is not humid, forecasting rain or where birds will come to eat the seeds. (Ha, I speak from experience) You can place an aluminum pie tin with a rock in it next to your paper to discourage the birds.

Note: If you are going to be using your paper to make cut outs like an ornament you want it to be thicker than standard paper.

Step 12: Uses for the Paper

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You are now ready to design and use your paper. Cut it into the desired sizes or make shapes, punch a hole and add some ribbon, string or twine for hanging.

If you are giving it as a gift such as a note card, (I do not recommend greeting cards as they tend to get crumbly on the folds) be sure to include a note to let the recipient know what kind of seeds are in the paper and that they only need to tear it in large pieces and put it in the ground or a pretty pot as the paper creates its own compost and will disintegrate. Include other useful information such as if it needs a sunny or shady location, etc.

If they wont be using it right away the paper should be stored in the refrigerator until planted.

Pre sprouting your paper is as simple as re-wetting the paper, putting it in a plastic zip lock baggie and storing them in either a dark place like a shoe box or in direct sunlight until you see sprouts, depending on what the seeds are and then planting them.


PaulaW60 (author)2017-05-20

Since the seeds in the paper won't sprout doing it this way. I have come up with a solution. I make two cutouts and let them dry thoroughly. Then I put the seeds between the two pieces of paper and carefully glue the edges. The seeds stay dry and when planted will actually sprout and grow. The paper is a great bedding material. If you want you paper to have the nature look, you can add pieces of flowers or leaf to your blending.

abdalado (author)2014-03-11

That's incredible, if i dry the paper on a 338ºC ( 170 ºC ) heating plate would it kill the seeds? ( consider drying it about 20 seconds ), i know that's a very specific question but who knows,right? maybe you know the answer . Did the seeds start growing not being planted? Wich seeds did you use? Wich do you know you could use?

strmrnnr (author)2009-06-21

What about adding some pureed food to the paper for nitrogen content. If you could pre-mix a 30:1 ratio ( C:N ) and dry it out good, do you think it would start to smell or anything bad?

DebH57 (author)strmrnnr2009-06-22

IMHO I would be concerned with the food smelling and maybe rotting.

DIY-Guy (author)DebH572011-07-19

Try unflavored gelatin powder for a nice nitrogen boost to seedlings on paper or paper-tape, no smell to speak of either.

mechanolatry (author)DIY-Guy2012-05-02

What would you recommend for a vegan replacement to the gelatin? Would agar-agar work?

DIY-Guy (author)mechanolatry2012-05-06


"What would you recommend for a vegan replacement to the gelatin? Would agar-agar work?"

Is agar-agar similar in chemical composition to bone or hair?

Agar-agar is from seaweed, but what chemicals are most of the bulk?

Does agar-agar help strengthen fingernails and hair? If so, it could be a source of chemicals which supply nitrogen.

I'm sure other people would be glad to hear of your findings. Try "nutritional comparison gelatin vs agar-agar" in the Google. Hope you find something!

Deewheat (author)2009-07-27

A great idea, although I don't have the space or patience LOL!

hsmomof2 (author)2009-07-25

This is a great "green" idea for gardening. I feel guilty when I throw away paper, so this would be a neat idea. Is it printer paper that you shredded specifically?

DebH57 (author)hsmomof22009-07-25

You can use pretty much any kind of paper Hsmom, read through the intro for guidelines

hsmomof2 (author)DebH572009-07-25

Thank you for answering back. I miss some of the details the first time I read through instructions.

DebH57 (author)hsmomof22009-07-26

NP Hsmom

im4tooele (author)2009-07-22

That's so neat!

DebH57 (author)im4tooele2009-07-25

Thanks Im4

chauntee2 (author)2009-07-20

I really like this idea>

DebH57 (author)chauntee22009-07-25

Thanks Cahuntee

juvinurse (author)2009-07-20

Even I could do this!

DebH57 (author)juvinurse2009-07-25

Yes its pretty easy Juvinurse and if you have kids over the age of 6 they like to get in on the act too

flothmann (author)2009-07-05

Ha guys, some very important tips: WARNING: this step it´so critical overall the project.

1) The space between each seed must be taken in consideration because if they are too close each other when the plant grows up they will fight for minerals and like final result you will get two or more weak plants furthermore some may die.

2 ) Keep in mind the germination rate, this means that no 100% of the seeds that you place on the paper will germinate. Typ for a supermarket seed is 80% or less check the manufacture if is longer than one year you rate will drop to 40%, (search for other option)

3) Are you planning to use this paper only to germinate the seed and after 28 days you will transplant to another place (for bigger space) or this is going to be the final position of the plant?
keep in mind the space requirements for an adult plant for example tomato needs at least 1 foot around the root and a lettuce only needs 6 inches

I hope it helps you

DebH57 (author)flothmann2009-07-05

It is mainly used to get plants started and up to the user if they want to thin it out or plant permanently.

macrumpton (author)2009-07-02

I wonder if you could build a frame with a couple of crank driven rollers like an old wringer washer or pasta machine and have the rollers squish the water out and flatten the paper. It would probably require the pulp being placed between two sheets of screen or stiff fabric to support the pulp while squishing and drying. Adjusting the tension on the rollers would control the paper thickness.

DebH57 (author)macrumpton2009-07-03

I don't see why not but I would use fabric, flat linen towels, etc., as screen would leave a rough imprint on the paper itself.

aunty (author)2009-06-23

Good project, you have done well.

DebH57 (author)aunty2009-07-03

Thank you Aunty

Bratillia (author)2009-06-22

Nice one.

DebH57 (author)Bratillia2009-07-03

Thanks Bratillia

thepelton (author)2009-06-22

The best type of paper to use is dull surface with no colored ink. Colored ink can contain lead, and slick paper uses a clay that might interfere with it's recyclability.

DebH57 (author)thepelton2009-06-22

Yes it is Pelton and all slick and even a hint of gloss should be avoided. Thaks for your comment.

strmrnnr (author)2009-06-21

If I used fresh seeds ( say from a red pepper ) could I allow them to do the intial drying in the paper and store them in a dry area unrefrigerated?

DebH57 (author)strmrnnr2009-06-22

I have never tried it so I can't say with certainty, but I don't see why not, it would be worth a shot at it to find out. Great idea, thanks for commenting.

Kira53 (author)2009-06-20

When do you put the lint out for the birds. It's June 20th, do you think they still need lint? Also where do you put the lint for them to find it ? Thanks for you instructables.

DebH57 (author)Kira532009-06-20

I keep an old thistle seed sock tacked to a post full of it. I bought it at Wally World it's kind of like a mesh bag and they pick it out and since they are still pecking at it I guess they are still nest building.

Lor (author)2009-06-18

This instructable is SO cool. I love that it's multi-instructive, i.e., adding seeds to the paper. I found your page from your instructable on making seed tapes. What a find you are. I'm subscribing! Thanks a bunch...hehe (pun intended).

DebH57 (author)Lor2009-06-18

Thanks Lor I appreciate you too!

Lor (author)Lor2009-06-18

(pun referring to carrots; i know that was obscure.)

BettyBoop1 (author)2009-06-17

This looks interesting. I will try with the grandkids next visit

DebH57 (author)BettyBoop12009-06-18

Good idea Betty, have fun!

Raydoom (author)2009-06-17

This is a briliant idea, mabey if you add bleach or acid when you blend it you will have a clean white finished product great idea ,im lookn forward to doing this

DebH57 (author)Raydoom2009-06-17

Most commercial inks and newsprint ink are soy based now days and highly biodegradable (but not all), a general rule of thumb is to avoid anything with even a hint slick or shine, indicating a varnish has been applied which in most cases is needed for non soy base inks to prevent bleeding and transfer, and sometimes advertisers want the shiny regardless. I don't know what if any reaction bleach would cause to the seeds embedded in it.

RoBear613 (author)2009-06-15

Most commercial inks use heavy metals to give the colors vibrance and depth. You should never use these in the garden. You should, instead, send these to the recycler so they can be properly de-inked. Newspaper (not the insets), however, uses vegetable based inks and are very ecologically friendly. You can even spread them out as a weed block before applying a top dressing of mulch.

DebH57 (author)RoBear6132009-06-15

Thanks RoBear thats why I stated above about not using papers with any hint of shine to them those types also require a varnish to be applied to retain the colors. Thanks for your comment.

flashanimator (author)2009-06-14

This is awesome, its like the product they sell on tv, but you can grow what ever you want, instead of just the same old flowers you see in alot of gardens

DebH57 (author)flashanimator2009-06-14

Thats true Flash, I started one with some seed from a neighbors tree, I am anxious to see how it comes out. Thanks for your comment.

AmazingGracie (author)2009-06-14

I did this one, it came out so cool. Thanks.

DebH57 (author)AmazingGracie2009-06-14

You are welcome Grace

CAWildWoman (author)2009-06-14

I haven't tried this one yet but I am saving my junk mail for it. If this works as good as your other instructables have for me I may be doing this one a lot.

DebH57 (author)CAWildWoman2009-06-14

Good deal, keep us posted

robotguy4 (author)2009-06-11

What about applying moss à la moss graffiti?

DebH57 (author)robotguy42009-06-11

What a great idea Robotguy! I have cut up hemp rope and added it to the mix but moss is interesting. Thanks for commenting.

luvit (author)DebH572009-06-12

when i mow the lawn it's to shrink the junkmail piles, not to mow my dirt.

About This Instructable




Bio: I am 51 and hail from sunny Southern California but originate from back east. I am a Web Designer by trade and own a small ... More »
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