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Seed Starting: Ghetto Greenhouse

Growing from seed can be rewarding and a cost effective way of expanding your garden. Depending on the plants it can often times be cheaper than buying a plant at your local garden center. While big box stores can be cheaper than buying at a specialty nursery sometimes the variety of plants can leave a lot to be desired. To avoid the "McGarden" look, acquire seeds; on-line, through catalogs, seed exchanges and the seed rack of your favorite store and start them yourself.

New video on how to make a ghetto greenhouse from 2 liter soda bottles.

You're probably thinking that you couldn't start seeds yourself because you don't have the money for seed starting trays, grow lights or most importantly- a greenhouse. Fear not, using this method all you need is some space outdoors. Here's what you need: an empty 2 liter plastic bottle, potting soil, a handful of seeds and a tool for making holes. I find that Miracle- Gro potting soil works fine for me, other people don't like it for starting seeds. Use your favorite brand but whatever you do don't skimp on the soil. If you use those 99 cent bags you find in Walmart, Walgreens or similar stores it may harden and you'll end up with a brick. That's fine if you want to build a patio or raised bed, but not so good for seed starting.

Take your 2 liter bottle that you've cut in half and make several drainage holes in the bottom of the bottle.

Fill the bottom with about 4-5 inches of soil. Read the seed preparation directions on your packet of seeds and sow them and water them in. You can water from the top or set the "pot" you just made in a saucer of water and allow it to absorb water. Take the top half of the bottle and replace it. What you have now is a seed starting greenhouse like the kind of available in stores. But it didn't cost you between 12-20 dollars. It should look something like this

I use this method to start seeds that require Stratification (cold treatment) I prepare all of my Ghetto Greenhouses and sow the seeds and set them outside for the winter and allow them to be exposed to the elements. When the weather starts to warm up and the snow melts I keep an eye on the containers and water when necessary. The clear bottles make this easy and when the seedlings emerge I just plant them out either into the ground or into pots. I can fit five of these into a plastic milk crate that I stack in a corner of my back yard. Here's what it looks like inside in the spring.

You can use this method to start all kinds of seeds. When the weather outside warms up you can start your tender plants, like annuals and tropicals. You can also adapt this method and make your Ghetto Greenhouse out of things you may have around your house. As a kid my grandfather used coffee cans, in school we used empty milk boxes and larger orange juice boxes. You can use take out containers, the salad containers you get nowadays in fast food restaurants. If you have empty pots you can cover them with plastic wrap or used sandwich bags. You can sow your seeds in Styrofoam/plastic cups and set them inside a plastic tote. Just make sure you have drainage holes and some opening(s) for ventilation, a few holes in the top of your container will still trap enough humidity. If you don't have a yard, try your deck or a bright windowsill.

On the right hand side of this blog you'll find a link to a great site with lots of info on individual seeds and their germination requirements.

Related posts:
Homemade seed pots
Seed pots made from newspaper


  1. Anonymous4:20 PM

    Thank you! This tutorial held some very valuable information for me.

  2. Anonymous8:29 PM

    Now what a contradiction...New Years Resolution 1: Grow more plants from seeds to save money. New Years Resolution 2: Drink less soda. See what you've done :)

    Great advice though...and Im now officially link happy with everything I've stolen from your side bar.

    Hmmm...bottle water greenhouses....

  3. Anonymous10:09 PM

    aimzee, Glad to hear.

    garden girl,

    LOL. You don't have to drink the soda all you need is the bottle.

  4. Good for you for introducing some new people to WSing!
    It's one of those 'too good to be true' sort of things, so most people figure it won't work because it's too easy - until they try it.
    Good luck with this year's.

  5. Anonymous10:29 PM

    I came across this example on flickr of using the soda bottle greenhouse. Seriously I think it's great and I don't think I would have thought about turning it on it's side like BK did.

    BK is also creative enough to use egg shells to start some pineapple seeds. Check out his flickr pics that he allowed me to link.

  6. Thanks for visiting my blog Mr Brownthumb. It's very rewarding growing plants from seed, thanks for no frills tutorial. It really is something anyone can do and get enjoyment from.

  7. I just found your blog when straying from a site on Garden Voices...I'm enjoying your writing and have linked you on my blog. Looking forward to future posts!

  8. Thank you Leslie. I'll add you too.

  9. Anonymous7:59 AM

    That is such a great Idea, I'm am a bit thrifty and would never buy one of those seed starters, But i work at a place that sells this fancy "bio dome" seed starter. That I did purchase as a gift. But I would never buy it myself.

  10. tgentry thanks for visiting. Isn't it funny how we're "thrifty" but we don't mind spending money on items like that for other people?

    I like your avatar and checked out your blog. You should post more and take advantage of that new camera you got.

  11. Anonymous7:19 AM

    I am a very new gardener on a tight budget and I love your interesting soad bottle idea. Thanks!

    Have you ever used 1-liters (I have tons of them and no 2-liters at the moment), or is the opening on the top too big relative to the container to have a greenhouse effect?

    And one last question: am I reading this wrong, or do you really put the bottles right outside in Chicago winter? I'm in the Boston area and can't imagine putting seeds outside in the next few weeks!

  12. Hi monique

    Yes I put them out in the middle of winter here. Some seeds need stratification meaning they need to go through a freeze thaw cycle to break dormancy. So I put out all of those out when it's really cold. But in a couple of weeks you can put out your more tender seeds like annuals.

    And of course you can use the 1 liter soda bottles. Since they're smaller you can use them for smaller amount of seeds and you can fit more of them in crates when you're setting them out.

    If you want you can tell me what kind of seeds you have and I'll see if I can tell you if you should do them now or wait.

  13. Ghetto greenhouse :). I have been using those for years and didn't even know it!

  14. And here I thought I was being original starting seeds in a milk jug and cake dome. Neat stuff. I enjoy reading your blog> I've live in urban areas most of my and am trying to adjust to small town life. I have a neighbor who gives his toddlers rides on his motorcycle around the house. Small town America has character too.

  15. Anonymous4:40 PM


    Thanks for stopping by. I think we all think we're being original but it is funny to see how many of us all think alike.

    I've got a new post on seed starting:

    Homemade seed pots


  16. Anonymous11:33 AM

    I love this idea! I am always looking for resourceful ways to use things around the house instead of expensive gardening gear, partly, I think, because I grew up in a household whose parents lived through the depression.

    I use those clear plastic boxes with lids (the ones organic greens come in at the grocery store) in very much the same way, but you lose the benefit of the tall top which your method provides.


  17. I used to do those all the time as a kid, and just let the plant grow in the bottle until it died. Now, I used this method again this year, but had a LOT of trouble when I tried to transplant the seedlings. Any advice for transplanting?

  18. Hi Amber I usually transplant seedlings early so that they can get over the shock faster and settled in the ground.

  19. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Ever since I was a child my mom did this and also used it in a different configuration to grow hyacinths indoors. She would cut it in half, cut the top off the top half and then put that top half face down into the bottom part. To create a cone sitting above a pot (no holes in the bottom). Fill the bottom with water and then sit a hyacinth bulb into the cone. It was facinating as a kid to watch the roots grow.

  20. I love this idea, but I's only have a covered porch to use. It gets sun, but it is covered. Do you think it would work? I see you commented to someone else in Boston, but seriously how soon could I plant seeds for things like brussel sprouts, cucumbers, basil or tomatoes.

  21. Anonymous,

    Thanks for posting your story.


    I think your porch would work. Seeds are resilient and take colder temps than we give them credit for. If you're curious take a few seeds and try this method now and put them out after you've sown them. Try your usual method too. In the spring if the seeds you exposed with this method works for you, do more next year. I know at first the cold/snow/freezes worry us but experiment with a few and if it doesn't work for you, you didn't lose a lot of seeds.

  22. Thanks for the info!! Well since my "usual method" is buying seedlings I'll be thrilled if this works.

  23. Check out wintersown (; also big interest on this at The seed starting group there has lots of discussion; also search tags "wintersowing" to see results and ideas in various gardeners' journals. (Including mine; novice seed starter this year, after 20 years of gardening. This method seemed to fit my rather laissez-faire approach!)

  24. Anonymous12:18 PM

    BES, Direct sowing is the easiest method of them all.

    Xan, Thanks for the links.

  25. Love your ghetto greenhouse. I must try more of them myself. Thanks for all the info. And for what it's worth, I think it good when folks label their pics:)

  26. Anonymous8:04 AM

    Hi! I just finished planting my pop bottles. Like the name Ghetto Greenhouses though, LOL! Here is a link to the way I like to do it. Self watering sort of like those earthbox things. (Which I am planning to do all of my garden in this year. Homemade ones though. $$$$)

    I am glad I found your site. I am gonna grab my coffee and start lurking! Have a great day!

  27. Hi Tina, thanks for the comment.

    Anon, thanks for stopping by and thanks for sharing the link. Hope you enjoy the blog.

  28. I love your Ghetto Greenhouse. What a great way to reuse those plastic bottles over and over.

  29. Thanks for the story!!!

  30. I use 1. The Land of Lake Clear Egg Boxes, makes a great seed start green house, just punch a little hole in the bottom of each egg cell, fill with soil, and plant seed, nice tight fitting lid, transplant when mature. or/2. Costco sells their apples/ peaches in a similar larger round domed clear container with lid, larger size also makes nice starter for seeds. Can even wash and reuse. I also have used both for cold stratification of seeds on a covered outside porch or deck.

  31. CMamaFishy, Glad you like.

    Jocuri, You're welcome.

    c.m.mitchell1, Those are some good containers, right? Cupcake holders work well too.

  32. Anonymous9:56 PM

    A good idea and resourceful if the "greenhouse effect" is to be desired (snd I love the name!). But for fruit seeds, damping off is a problem, and this contraption would seriously invite the fungus that causes damping off disease. For those seeds, better to use the paper towel method, which the author explains in another article.

  33. Anonymous1:51 PM

    Great informative blog!!!

    Can I take say 6" diameter planting pot with drainage holes in the bottom, fill it up with some pot mix soil, plant few seeds, cover it up with plastic on the top with few holes and put it outside under roof overhang so as to protect it from snow, ice etc etc. I'm thinking about watering them by putting them in tray and fill it up with water so the soil soaks the water from the bottom. Can I start this in March (in upstate NY zone 6), when should you transplant these little babies in your garden?

  34. Anonymous,

    Yes, you can plant seeds like you describe in a pot then cover them with the top of a plastic soda bottle like you describe. Depending on the type of seeds you put out they can in the garden pretty early. Generally, you can transplant seedlings into the garden after the danger of last frost has passed. But it really comes down to what you're planting. Certain veggies like tomatoes you shouldn't plant in the ground until the soil has really warmed up to a certain temperature.

  35. Anonymous7:27 AM

    I assume you plant several seeds inside a plastic bottle or container. When it is time to transplant in the garden, you have to pull/separate plants out of container and when you do that, is there a chance of breaking/damaging/shocking some plants as the roots might entangle with each since they are so close to each other. For the ease of separating plants without any shock I'm thinking of using peat pots but put these peat pots inside a planting pot and cover it up with plastic. what do you think?

    Also is there a need to water this greenhouse? if yes how do you water them without having to remove plastic cover top? Is there a way you can tell if it needs watering or not?

    On a sunny day, does the plants receive light through plastic or these winter greenhouse plants thrive on a heat more than a sunlight?

    It is my understanding that seedlings need light, how does it get light if the lids are covered?

  36. Andrew James4:14 PM

    Hi Mr. Brownthumb,

    I'm a new gardner in Chicago and I've been learning a lot from your great site. I have a quick question for you. I have several dozen seeds planted in little greenhouse boxes sitting in a sunny bay window. But it's still pretty cold in Chicago, and my roommates and I still have winter plastic over the windows to save money. The plastic is taut, and there's a one-inch gap between the window and plastic which creates its own mini-greenhouse to trap in heat.
    Science was never my forte, and I'm wondering if the fact that the sunlight which is now hitting my soon-to-be seedlings had to travel through a separate little green-house will affect it negatively. If so, we'll take the plastic down and pay extra on our heating bill, but if not, we'd prefer to keep it up for a few more weeks. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! -Andrew

  37. Anonymous,

    There is a chance of disturbing the roots when you transplant the seedlings but if you are very careful you can minimize that. Also it can be minimized by the number of seedlings you grow per soda bottle greenhouse. You can place the peat pot inside the soda bottle greenhouse to avoid it all together if you're worried about it. Watering is pretty easy, a lot of moisture is trapped inside the greenhouses but you'll have to watch them to make sure they don't dry out or stay too wet. You'll be able to tell if it needs watering because it is see through and you'll see when the soil is dry.

    Yes, the seedling recieve light through the plastic. It is the same as if you were growing them in the little greenhouses that they sell at the garden center.


    Welcome! Thanks for the question. Be sure to check out my blog on at for local info. To answer your question: The only negative effect of your situation would be that maybe the light is diminished a little big on account of it having to travel through the glass, then the plastic, then the little greenhouse plastic. I've covered my windows as you describe too and I just make sure that the seedlings aren't getting leggy (looked stretched out, especially to one side.)

  38. Anonymous7:11 PM

    Not sure what you mean by "ghetto greenhouse"; when it's just a simple greenhouse using a soda bottle. I have used the method with very sensitive seeds and community kids, too.

    Nonya Afiya

  39. Thanks for the tutorial! When using this technique, does it reduce the concern for keeping the germinating seeds at a certain temp? I know thats the idea "greenhouse" effect, but where we live (mexico city , MX) is gets to about 75-80 during the day and sometimes as low as 50 at night. Our house doesnt have heat or AC so its very affected by the outside temp.

    Do you recommend I biy a thermostat or thermometer to test the inside temp of the bottles and our average indoor room temp at night?

    This is my first year germinating seeds and I dint want to kill them all!

  40. Anonymous9:50 PM

    I've been using the clear plastic containers that baked goods and sometimes strawberries and grapes come in to start seedlings in the house and also in the yard if the plants need stratification. these containers come in various shapes and sizes. I make small holes in the tops and the bottoms of them before planting. Sometimes I start the seeds in individual starter pots if they are the type of plant that doesn't do well with transplanting, sometimes I put a coffee filter in the bottom and put soil right in the containers and start them w/o individual pots. Some of these containers are sturdy enough to be used for a couple of years. I have not lost a single seedling to damping off since I've used this method!

  41. Janice1:22 PM

    Loving your site. I am a new gardener in Scotland UK. got lots of handy tips on collection and storing seed. The Ghetto greenhouse is great how many seeds would you recommend in each. Could I start my Garlic in these over winter? Look forward to reading more of your tips. Thank you

  42. While some people still think that glass is better than plastic because of its Eco-friendliness, Plastic Jars has its fair share of fans too, mainly because of one reason. Plastic and glass are both recyclable, but since glass can only be recycled and turned into more glass, it limits its options. On the other hand, since plastic loses its integrity, it can be recycled into a number of products from carpet filling to plastic lumber and so on.

  43. Sara.K11:04 PM

    Thanks for the tutorial. I'm new to gardening. I have some mulberry stems. May I know if this technique could be apply for stem cutting? Thank you.



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