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Seedlings in an Eggshell: Another Gardening Myth?

20160319ADid you know that you can sow seeds in empty eggshells? And that egg cartons can then be used to hold the shells upright? Then at planting time outdoors, all you have to do is to crack the shell, drop the young plant into the ground and its roots will slip out through the cracks into the surrounding soil, allowing it to grow normally? What a fun idea! And it’s one you’ll see everywhere on the Internet. Except that…

It’s Not Such a Great Idea

The “seedlings in an egg shell” technique has more than a few flaws.

First and foremost, hen’s eggs are too small for most seedlings. Tomatoes, peppers, marigolds: almost any seedling you can imagine is going to find itself growing in cramped quarters very soon if you plant them in a hen’s egg, enough so that its development will be seriously impaired. If you want healthy plants, you’re going to have to remove the little babies from the eggshell (and this, at a stage when they are very young, fragile, and difficult to handle) and repot in a larger container so they can finish their development. Wouldn’t it make more sense to sow your seedlings, from the start, in an appropriately sized pot?

Also, I hope that your entire family loves soft-boiled eggs, since you’re going to have eat plenty of them over the months before sowing season begins!

20160319COf course, if you have access to larger eggs, this “eggshell technique” would work perfectly. Swan eggs or ostrich eggs are quite doable… but where to find them? And how to get them away from the angry mother swan or ostrich?

Moreover, the idea that it is enough to crack the shell before transplanting and that the roots will slip right through a bit simplistic, don’t you think? If the membrane that lines the shell is not thoroughly punctured in several places, the roots will still remain prisoner and then the plant will not be able to grow properly. So, logically, you have to remove the shell completely, most likely piece by piece… tedious work.

Other Recycled Containers

There are many recyclable containers for seedlings. Photo: National Garden Bureau

If you are looking for recycled containers in which to start your seedlings, there are plenty of a more acceptable size: yoghurt and margarine containers, milk cartons, toilet paper rolls, pots and cell packs recycled from previous gardening experiences, pots made from newspaper, etc. But eggshells… nope. They’re not really such a great idea.

Starting seedlings in eggshells would still be a wonderful experiment for first or second grade classrooms, as just seeing seedlings sprout on a windowsill will absolutely fascinate the kids. If the follow-through is a bit awkward, well… no one really expects seedlings sown in a classroom to actually turn into productive plants, do they?

20160319DIf you are a serious gardener, though, don’t waste your time using eggshells as seedling containers. There are sooo many better choices!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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