Introduction: Urban Homestead Easy Cutting Propagator

Picture of Urban Homestead Easy Cutting Propagator

Or "What the H am I going to do with this Styrofoam egg carton now for the next 500 years?" Our garden has gotten a bit out of hand, so I wanted to try my hand at cuttings and getting new baby plants to start. I didn't want eight hundred little cups floating around everywhere and little plants diving below the water. So this was the solution...

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

One stryofoam egg container
One pair of scissors
One hole poker (pen, pencil, awl, small screw driver, don't want the holes too big)
One container for water (cake pan, plastic container, etc.)

Step 2: Stab It!

Picture of Stab It!

First, separate the lid from the base @ the fold (you don't really need a picture of that, do you?).

You are left with two pieces, a flat one and one with bumps. Let's start with the flat piece, or what was once the lid. Using a pen, mechanical pencil, regular pencil, screw, nail, whatever... stab holes incrementally across the lid. The size and spacing should vary depending on the plant you will be using,

Ex. the stems of my lemon balm are smaller in diameter but bushier than the bottoms of my strawberry runners, so the lemon balm gets smaller holes that are further apart so the leaves don't touch and the strawberry runners get larger holes

Step 3: Lovely Styro-Bumps

Picture of Lovely Styro-Bumps

When using the bottom of the egg carton, I find it works well for vines and longer clippings when turned upside down. Right side up allows too much water into the cups and the plants rot. Put a hole in the top of each bump, same as the last step.

Step 4: Insert Here --->

Picture of Insert Here --->

Next, prepare your cuttings depending on how your plant likes it (google it to find out). Then simply slip the stem through the hole, separating the exposed nodes from the first leaves.

Step 5: Just Add Water.

Picture of Just Add Water.

Fill a bucket, tray or some sort of container big enough to hold the "boats" with water deep enough to cover the bottom stems. We float ours in our rain catching containers. Keep them in the shade, new cuttings are fragile. "Boats" can be cut in half to fit the container if you need. Change the water every day or so to prevent root rot (and mosquito larva). Drain the boats if they start to collect water.


Miykoll made it! (author)2015-07-10

Excellent Instructable. I first had the cuttings in a glass filled with water, but the leaves were touching the water. With this, I have a simple and clever solution. Thank you

pat_tuxent (author)2010-06-01

You could even throw a goldfish or two in there to munch on the mosquito larvae.

FieldingBlue (author)2008-07-09

Okay so you've just solved one of my problems for me. I was trying to get cuttings to shoot in soil. Obviously I should have put a little effort into researching how to do it before I tried. Thanks for the info.

shellberry (author)FieldingBlue2008-07-10

What kind of plant are you trying?

FieldingBlue (author)shellberry2008-07-10

I was trying to propagate an evergreen called a bottle brush or Callistemon. I did about 10 cuttings. One survived for about three weeks, the rest gave up at about 10 days.

shellberry (author)FieldingBlue2008-07-10

Twenty questions: How often do you change the water? Do you use rooting hormone? Do you use the new growth or more woody/brown growth?

FieldingBlue (author)shellberry2008-07-10

Wow, you got back to me quick. It's the middle of the day here so I can only imagine that it's the middle of the night where you are. Thank you so much for your interest. To answer the 20 questions. I didn't use water, I used potting mix that was saturated. I never changed the water, I just kept the soil moist. I don't remember the rooting hormone I used but I bought it for the job so it was new. It came in a little yellow bottle, if that helps. I used a mixture of new growth and woody growth. The new growth cutting was the one that lasted the longest. It grew a few little tendrils of roots but they didn't get beyond about 5mm long. The rest of the cuttings didn't even start. Having looked at a few other Instructables, I am pretty sure I didn't have the correct sections of the plant. I didn't look for a bud point, which I suspect was the number one problem.

shellberry (author)FieldingBlue2008-07-11

Try using the water method with the new growth instead of the woody. I don't have much experience with the plant, but I have read people who have. Change the water daily or every two days so the roots don't rot. Have you seen the instructable about exposing nodes? See steps 5 and 6 for preparing the cutting.

And be patient. I have a Passion Flower plant that takes FOREVER to root, but eventually it does as long as the stems don't get slimy (i.e. I forget to change the water and kill it :( oh well, it happens.)

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

FieldingBlue (author)shellberry2009-06-25

I'm still trying but I've not had any success yet. My father has a different method, that seems just as frustrating, but it works okay. He built an outside seedling box. It's big enough for half a dozen seedling trays. It has a timer attached to some micro sprays for auto water. To strike his cuttings he gives them a dip in rooting compound, sticks them is some small pots filled with sandy loam and leaves them there for months. Sometimes they work and some times they don't. He has had better luck with collecting seeds from the national parks and raising the seeds. I've not given up yet but I don't have the dedication I suspect I need. If I have a success I'll let you know.

shellberry (author)FieldingBlue2009-06-25

not sure what to tell you, I've never tried to propagate bottle brush so I wish I could tell you some good advice. I found this ( that suggests "wounding" the lower stem. You may want to try air layering ( which may bring better results for trees and shrubs.

FieldingBlue (author)shellberry2008-07-20

Shellberry, I've been away from work for a week, pruning my orchard mostly. As it happens I had read the Instructable you linked to. It all happened as a result of reading your Instructable and wanting to read more. So anyway while I had a week off and a nice sharp pair of secateurs, I tried taking a few more cuttings. It's early days yet so I'll let you know how I go. Thanks FieldingBlue

jmekway (author)2009-02-10

I suspect styrofoam meat trays (inverted) would work, too; shallower, but they would stll float. We wash them well and save to re-use for many art projects, under plants for drainage, for cushioning for packages, etc. Those with plastic egg cartons have wonderful windowsill greenhouses as is. If they are the three-part fold over kind (the ones that cradle each egg top and bottom, with a third fold-over top), you have drainage tray AND greenhouse cover -- just separate the unsegmented part to put underneath as a drainage tray and poke small holes in the bottom of the egg cups with a small, hot nail (for drainage), plant and close the upper half for individual greehouse domes. They usually even have a gap between the top and bottom to allow for air circulation.

MissPennyFarthing (author)2008-08-01

This is such a great way to recycle! Nice! I can't get styrofoam egg cartons - all the shops near me sell them in recycled cardboard cartons. I know that it's good they're using recycled packaging, but I'm really disappointed I can't try this! :-(

Fear not! the cardboard ones are better! Take the half with the egg craters, put soil in those craters, put seed in the soil, wait for spouts, then when the frosts are over you can put the whole thing in the ground. It even makes having nice neat lines a breeze, the carton will decompose and provide food for worms and plants.

Cool idea! Very labour saving! :-) That'll be great for my regular 'dirt' gardening (as opposed to my hydroponics experiments). Thanks!

you can also use "doggy bags" or the styrofoam take-home containers from restaurants... or tear down a cup into three sections...the bottom with a 1" or so lip around the edge, and the sides of the cup in half (think half pipe shape in skate boarding)

Hey, that's a great idea about the takeaway containers! I get them quite often. Thanks! :-) And my geraniums thank you too!!

wocket (author)2008-07-11

I didn't realise that the styro egg carton exisited, In Australia we just have paper or thin plastic....but I have chickens so don't need 'em.

shellberry (author)wocket2008-07-12

I am so jealous. We have city regulations against chickens (we have city regulations about EVERYTHING, including green housing it seems...but the next town over allows two). We usually get the brand with thin plastic (free range vegetarian) but since "green fever" hit the area we've been having a hard time finding them. There is a local co-op who sells free range organics but they label them "not for human consumption" (they sell them for dogs) so...I wonder if it is just for legal/insurance reasonings but haven't got the balls up to try them.

wocket (author)shellberry2008-07-12

Our city has a policy against roosters, but the lady chickens are fine. You'd have to be mad to own a rooster anyway. :)

MissPennyFarthing (author)wocket2008-08-01

There's a rooster in an allotment near to us. It is SO LOUD!! We can hear it at dawn - and we're 2 streets away! I pity our friends who live only 2 houses away from it - it's driving them crazy!

shellberry (author)wocket2008-07-13

Or pissed angry at your neighbors :)

KD7WHQ (author)shellberry2008-07-17

For in city, a rooster is a problem. But, if you have a larger flock, a rooster makes an easier time of things, as he will protect them to an extent, and lead them in at night. He also will call them to found food. And of course if you want fertilized eggs... ;)

shellberry (author)KD7WHQ2008-07-17

:). We've had enough of those lately, thank you.

marmaduke (author)2008-07-21

great cheap idea. I do this too, but i have found it worth the minimum investment to use an airstone at the bottom and keep it in a windowsill facing north. I wanted to keep it cheap, just didnt want to have to change the water every day.

Ezara (author)2008-07-19

Great idea!

shellberry (author)Ezara2008-07-19


juggalo_assassin183 (author)2008-07-08

yummy lemon balm it makes a great panacea (sp?) for herbal medicine it can be used for...(finding books haha) carminative, nervine, antispasmatice, antidepresent, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, hepatic, cleanses skin, good in food, wine, it can be used at wood polish, and bug repelent with the exception of bees and it used to be a way to transmit sympathy between lovers it can be used in a bath, lotion, poltice, tinicure, tea, infusion(really the same thing as a tea), or a capsule i like it lol :)

I'm waiting until it gets bigger to make tea. I read that it takes a lot and I am soooo INPATIENT! Wood polish....? Do you have a recipe? Or just rub it around on the wood? Not that my cheapo ikea Lidens or upcycled thrift finds need polished, but I'm intrigued.

mdeblasi1 (author)shellberry2008-07-18

Where I am, In Ohio USA, (USDA ag zone 5-6) an established lemon balm plant will have grown by July to the size of a small shrub.. As with Mint here, once it's established you'll need to poison the dickens out of it if ever you want to get rid of it. It, however, dies back to the ground every October,.
I use it w/ green tea to make sun tea and have learned that you need a copious mount of leaves in order to truly taste it.

One question, I have heard of people going to "master gardeners classes" and getting some kind of crystalline substance that will force plants to root from the smallest cell scrapings. What is that stuff and where can I get it? I have visions of going to the Park of Roses and creating clones of those giant yellow cabbage roses with which I am in desperate love.

it said to just rub the leaf lol aperently it was also refrenced in many shackspear plays

jessyratfink (author)2008-07-17

This is a lovely idea! :D

shellberry (author)jessyratfink2008-07-17

Thank you!

SpinWard (author)2008-07-09

Very neat idea. There is a Ingle's close to me and they sell their eggs in cardboard egg crates. Would this work and could I just plant the little plants in that?

shellberry (author)SpinWard2008-07-09

They would get soggy and sink... you could play battleship with them, but the make good bio-degradable planters from what I hear. You can fill the cups w/ dirt, start the seedling in that and just cut the cups apart once you acclimate them to the outside and stick the whole thing in the ground. Personally I think the biodegradable pots make my plants grow slower, but it is worth a shot. You could tear them up and use them for mulch...after battleship. The plastic cartons would work, though.

SpinWard (author)shellberry2008-07-10

Hmmm, that makes sense, the cardboard is very thick, I'd have to chop some serious holes in the bottom! Great, thanks for the help!

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-07-08

Cool idea

shellberry (author)Mr. Rig It2008-07-09

Thanks :)

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-07-08

Very nice! I might try this some time.

shellberry (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-07-08

The pen and the stabbing thing are very therapeutic. Try it when you're stressed. :)

About This Instructable




Bio: I run Shellberry, a Journal of Urban Homesteading and Company (
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