3 styrofoam egg cartons with seedlings, blackeyed susan,tomatoes,beets.

Egg Carton for Planting Seeds. Does it work? Pros and Cons

Using an egg carton for planting seeds is a great option if you don’t have seedling trays available.  But they are not totally foolproof.  This is what worked for me.  

  • They are a free resource, Most of us have egg cartons or neighbors do.  
  • Planting seeds in egg cartons uses recycled material, or compostable material.   It is always good to use and recycle.  Compost is gold to a garden! 
  • If you are on a garden budget, start your seeds in egg cartons and you won’t have to buy seed trays.  Every little bit helps.  
  • Keep reading for a few cons. (Remember they are not foolproof. I’ve got some tips.)
3 styrofoam egg cartons with seedlings, blackeyed susan,tomatoes,beets.

By planting seeds in egg cartons you are reusing something that would likely just be thrown away.  Unless of course you have your own chickens in which case those egg cartons get used over and over!   

I’ve read that cardboard egg cartons can be buried with your seedling and will decompose.  Many people have good luck with this.  I have not tried it.  Mainly because I once tried to use toilet paper rolls for seedlings and planted them in the ground.  (I’m always experimenting in the garden). I did NOT have good luck. 

I lived in a dry area at the time and the cartons simply did not decompose very quickly.  The seedlings suffered. It made it more difficult not easier.   

Now that I live where there is more moisture maybe I’d have better luck.   I just have not tried it again.  I did notice that the egg cartons got noticeably soft in my greenhouse. The moisture was having an effect. Maybe I’ll have to try just planting the whole thing next year.

Two types of egg carton material for planting seeds.

Cardboard –  These are biodegradable and can be tossed in the compost pile when finished.  Or do an experiment and plant them right in the ground.  

The cardboard versions got very soft and started decomposing before I was ready to plant some of the seedlings.  Not all of them.  I simply had to handle them carefully.   

cardboard egg carton with tomato seedlings, labeled brandywine tomatoes, black cherry tomato.
These tomatoes in a cardboard egg carton had to be transplanted into solo cups before they were big enough for the garden. Two reasons, the plants got too big too fast and the cardboard was deteriorating.

Styrofoam – I seriously dislike styrofoam egg cartons!  But since I have them why not reuse them at least once.  And I have to admit.  They actually worked a little better as seed trays because they held up to the water involved.  (But they still are styrofoam. Ick.) Haha, can you tell I have a love/hate relationship with these cartons!   

Egg Carton seed tray tips.

Be sure and add drainage to the carton.   

As simple as sticking a knife down through each section.  A little twist of the knife helps open up the hole a bit.  Not too big!  

Use the lid as a tray.   

Simply cut the lid off and slip the egg sections on top. This works easily if you’ve got styrofoam cartons.  (One and only benefit I can think of.)  

If your lid has holes or it is a cardboard tray you can cover it in plastic.  Either wrap with plastic wrap or put the lid in a plastic bread bag.   

Cardboard egg carton with tomato seedlings.
Here I took a cardboard egg carton and placed it in a lid from a styrfoam egg carton.
The lid held the water from draining all over the place.

Optional to cut the tray apart if you want smaller sections.   

Some people will use an egg carton for planting seeds and cut each section out individually, instead of leaving the tray intact. To me this takes away a big convenience factor of having it all together and easy to move and water.     

The idea is that you can plant the carton and all into your garden. So the sections will already be cut out when it comes time to plant out.  

I don’t care for this as I want those roots to be completely loose with no barrier.  Yes the carton will decompose but in the meantime the roots are not spreading out and strengthening.  

But you can go ahead and toss the carton piece down in the hole of your garden as it will decompose just fine.   

Only one con to starting seeds in egg cartons.   

Some fast growing seedlings will quickly outgrow the egg carton.  Some seedlings are better suited for larger containers.   

The pro of biodegradable is also a minor con.  Cardboard egg cartons with seeds being watered regularly do tend to get soft.  This is actually a pro as well as a con.   

So if you think you’ll have the seedlings in your greenhouse for more than a few weeks you might not want the cardboard.  OR just handle the cartons carefully. 

If you have them on a flat tray they’ll hold up but if you try to pick them up they’ll be soft and soggy.  Soft and soggy cardboard won’t hold up to moving without a tray.  

What seeds grow in egg cartons?  

Using an egg carton for planting seeds is perfect for some plants, not so much for others. Consider the needs of the plant you are starting, the time they’ll need to stay in the carton, and the time to go into the garden. Some plants work well, some not so much.   

What didn’t work so well; Starting Tomatoes in egg cartons.  

I seeded some tomatoes in egg carton.  (see the image at the top of this post.) It worked great and they germinated fine.  But they grow fast and before I knew it, they already need more root room.  We were no where near the correct time to get these in the garden.    

I’ll be transferred them to solo cups where they will stay there until the temperatures warm up and I can get them in the ground. 

Warm weather crops like peppers and tomatoes will be seeded directly into solo cups next year. Why add that extra step of the egg cartons when the solo cups will work for longer.

What DID work great; Starting Flowers in egg cartons.  

I planted some egg cartons with flowers . I think this is a great option for this type of plant.  They are small and likely the temperature will be right when these need to be transplanted.  They can go out a bit earlier than tomatoes.   Black Eyed Susans, Zinnias and….uhm… something else. I don’t remember. I’ve planted so many things this year!

What did work great; planting beets in egg cartons.

I wasn’t sure if this would work well or not. I have not started beets indoors before but I’d seen several articles on growing beets in trays instead of seeding directly so I decided to give it a try. The beets did great in the egg carton trays!

If you want to know more about growing beets (including a bit about my experiment) check out this article. How to Grow Beets in a Backyard Garden.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you transfer seedlings from egg cartons.  

Answer: You’ll have 2 options.   

  • If you are using cardboard cartons you can cut the tray apart and plant each section. (I have not done this yet)   
  • Scoop the seedlings out of each section and plant.  I used a spoon and it worked just fine.  

I did a video of planting my beets out from egg cartons here.

Transplanting Beet Seedlings in the Garden. (Opens at youtube, Subscribe while you are there!)

How many seeds should I plant in each hole. (Or egg section)  

Answer: This will depend on the seed you are planting.  For most of my seeds I aimed for 2-4 seeds.  That way if I have some germination issues I’ll still likely get at least one seed per section.  

How do you germinate seeds in egg cartons indoors?  

Answer: You’ll treat your egg cartons just as you would seed trays.  Give your seedlings plenty of light, and keep them moist.   I had mine in the greenhouse so no extra light was needed.

Can you plant seeds in plastic egg cartons?

I discussed styrofoam and cardboard cartons in this article but there are plastic egg cartons as well, they are just not as common in my experience. But yes, you’d do just the same thing with plastic as styrofoam or cardboard. Don’t forget to cut a hole in the bottom of each cell for drainage.

 

3 styrofoam egg cartons with seedlings, blackeyed susan,tomatoes,beets.
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How to use an egg carton for planting seeds.

How to use egg cartons for seed starting. A few tips.
Keyword: use an egg carton for planting seeds
Author: Sharon Peterson

Materials

  • Egg cartons
  • soil for your seeds Can be potting soil or seed starting mix.
  • seeds

Instructions

  • Cut the lid off an egg carton.  If the lid has no holes and is styrofoam use it as the tray for the egg cup section. If you’ve got a cardboard carton you’ll need to have a tray to sit the egg container portion in.   
  • Punch a hole in the bottom of each egg section for drainage.  
  • Add a bit of fine potting soil or seed starting mix.  (I use potting soil)  
  • Add your seeds and cover.  
  • Spray with a mist of water every day if needed to keep them moist until the seeds start sprouting.   
  • Keep your seedlings under grow lights until they are ready to go out into the garden. 
  • Plant your seedling by either cutting apart a cardboard carton and plant right into the ground with the seedling.   OR use a spoon to scoop out your soil mix and seedling and plant according to the needs of your plant.   

Notes

If you don’t plant your cardboard sections and lid in the ground remember they compost well! If you want to, you can save the styrofoam cartons.  Be sure they dry well and store until next year.  OR Toss the styrofoam carton into the trash or recycle bin.  

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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    I will be planting my garden at the cabin (after all the snow melts) and
    you have just offered many great ideas. Thank you for all your great emails

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