Spring is here. The sun is feeling warmer, the days becoming longer, and gardeners are already preparing their garden beds for spring harvest.

While some gardeners prefer to plant seeds directly into the ground, I prefer to begin with starter trays and transplant the seedlings to the ground when they are ready. But I hate buying new starter trays: the plastic ones are wasteful and break easily, the compostable ones, too expensive. Plus, every garbage day the street outside my house is lined with recycling bins full of useful objects begging to be turned into planters. With a little imagination those egg cartons, plastic bottles, paper cups, and Styrofoam to-go boxes could become planters for this season’s harvest.

My favorite recycled planter is made with old newspaper. Last year I made over 100 pots in a couple of days with a few newspapers I saved. Here’s how!

First, you’ll need:
– Half-sheets of newspaper (The Alligator is the perfect size)
– A cup with a straight neck or a wine bottle (try to find one with a smallindentation on the bottom).
– Dirt
– Seeds

Step 1 Fold the newspaper sheet in half, length-wise, and again once more so you have a long, narrow piece of paper.

Step 1. (Illustration by Krissy Abdullah)

Step 2 Roll the folded newspaper all the way around the lip of the cup (if you using a bottle, wrap the paper around the bottom), leaving half of the paper off at the top.

Step 2. (Illustration by Krissy Abdullah)

Step 3 Fold the other half inside the cup (or toward the bottom of the bottle- this is where that indention comes in handy) and crease around all the edges.

Step 3. (Illustration by Krissy Abdullah)

Step 4 Remove the pot from the cup/bottle. If you look inside the pot, you’ll notice that the bottom is still folded up. Use your fingers to flatten the bottom.

Step 4. (Illustration by Krissy Abdullah)

Step 5 Fill with nutrient-rich soil and plant your seeds (only a couple per pot). Store the pots where they will not be disturbed, like a tray. Water everyday until the seedlings are ready to be planted in the ground.

Step 5. (Illustration by Krissy Abdullah)

Tip Peel back the sides of the newspaper planter before burying in the ground to allow for easier root development. You can bury the entire planter and allow it to decompose as the plant grows. When peeling back the sides, remember that the fragile new roots may have connected to the sides of the paper, so be gentle!

Plant of the Month
Spanish Moss
Tillandsia usneoides

If you’ve spent anytime at all in Florida, you undoubtedly have crossed paths with that strange grey hair draped around trees. You’ve probably also heard that it is full of chiggers and have always kept a safe distance from it. However this plant has a long history of uses that you may have never given it credit for.

First, lets dispel the chigger myth: not all Spanish Moss is crawling with the red bugs. Actually, Spanish moss that is hanging in a tree does not host chiggers, while the moss found on the ground does.

Spanish moss grows on a variety of trees, but is most commonly found on Live Oak and Cypress trees. It is an air plant that has no root structure (so it is not actually parasitic to a host tree) and produces tiny greenish-blue flowers in the summer that are aromatic at night.

This strange plant, native to Southeastern United States and parts of Central and South America, has an interesting old Florida folktale of its origin that goes like this:

“After many long months at sea, Spanish sailors landed in Florida upon sighting some beautiful Indian maidens who were sunbathing on the beach. One Spaniard chased a beautiful maiden into the woods. But she trotted up a tree out of his reach.

“He was out of breath when he reached the tree, so he rested for a while. Then he climbed the tree after her. She moved up to the tip-top of the tree on a real small limb, and as he reached up to get her, he lost his balance and fell.

“His head was caught in the crotch of the tree. His body decayed, but his beard grew on and on… making Spanish moss.”

Regardless of its origin, it has served some interesting uses over the years. Cured and dried, it has been used as a bathing sponge and toilet paper; stuffing for mattresses and cushions; and weaving for clothing, horse bridles, belts, and baskets.

In the early 1900’s, Spanish Moss was harvested commercially and used primarily as stuffing in car seats. Mattress and furniture factories also incorporated the plant into their design. Presently, synthetic fibers have replaced the plant’s commercial use, and in 1963, a fire in Florida’s last moss gin drew an end to its commercial distribution within Florida.

There are still plenty of homesteaders using the plant for a variety of things. Try it out, and be creative. It could become a substitute for your synthetic kitchen sponge or even a mulch for your plants.