Projects for Kids And Adults: Growing Plants In Recycled Water Bottles

I consider myself an “experimental” gardener.  I don’t always succeed, but when I do, it’s something to be celebrated.  This week, one of my plants sprouted, and in the most unconventional way possible.

I had been researching ways to grow starter seeds productively, and what came up in my Googling rampages was a blog entry by MrBrownThumb about how to make a “ghetto greenhouse” from a recycled plastic water bottle.

I was skeptical, but I tried it out for a project I designed about “nature” for my Child Development Class at UCLA Extension.  My fellow classmates, all teachers, thought it was a great way to teach their students about recycling, using tools and nature.  For me, it was the cheapest project idea I came up with because I had copious amounts of empty water bottles lying around, Miracle Grow dirt, a drill and seeds that I had bought two years ago.  I also tried using recycled paper towel rolls as starter seed pots, but that seed has yet to sprout, so I’ll keep you posted about that situation.

Here’s what I did with the water bottle:

1.  I cut the water bottle in half with some scissors (on water bottles with harder plastic, I suggest using a knife very carefully).  If you’re adapting this project for your classroom, saws and clamps can be found at Timeless Treasure Trunk Wood Shoppe and all you need to do is supervise the children while they’re using the saws.  I pre-cut the bottles at my office after hours, because I don’t have big knives at home.  Our accountant was working late and saw me furiously doing this in the kitchen.  He said nothing, but I’m sure he thought I was crazy.  I don’t THINK I ruined the knives, but I haven’t used them since, so I may need to buy some for the office and wait on buying some for myself.  Anyway… here’s the work station I made for my class:

Work Station for my Child Development Class!

3.  On the bottom of the base of the water bottle, I drilled four small holes so that I could create drainage for the water bottle.  I used a sharp twist bit at a slow speed to minimize heat and not create that weird burning plastic smell.  Normal pots have these holes, so don’t worry about dirt falling out of the bottle.  You need drainage for the plant to survive.  If you don’t have a drill, you can try poking holes in the base of the bottle by using a hammer and a nail.  If you don’t have those tools, try a pair of scissors, but I’ll be honest, they don’t work that well.  If you’re going to do this project in a classroom setting, children can use drills and hammers with supervision.  Just clamp the water bottle down on a desk for them to drill and if they’re going to hammer nails, pre-insert the nails in the base of the bottle for them.  You can also drill for the children, but if they’re older than three years old, I suggest teaching them fine motor skills.  They’ll build trust in themselves, and that’s invaluable.

On the left, see an example of drilling that should not be done with children.

2. Using some colorful duct tape that I found at an art store, I decorated the base of the water bottle (leaving the top of the water bottle completely clear). Below is a bottle that one of my classmates made.  After putting dirt in the base of the bottle, she actually used the tape to hold the top and bottom of the bottle together, but that’s not necessary.  You can just squeeze the top of the water bottle into the bottom and it will stay together.

This bottle needs some circulation, so the cap of it will be taken off.

3.  Filling the base of the water bottle with four to five inches of dirt, I then stuck my forefinger in the dirt and dropped a zinnia seed in the hole.  I chose seeds that were seasonal, so be sure to check the back of your seed packets to see when your seeds should be planted.  I covered my seed up with dirt and then squeezed the top of the bottle into the bottom base.  I left the water bottle cap off the bottle so that I could water the plant twice a week.

4.  The seed should sprout within two weeks!  When it sprouts, take the plant (with it’s dirt) out of its mini greenhouse and plant it in a bigger pot or your garden, if you have one.  Be sure to water as directed on your seed packet.

5.  Pat yourself on your back and say YAY!

You can use eggshells to plant starter seeds, toilet paper rolls, even plastic bags.  I’ve only seen water bottle thing work so far, so that’s why I shared it, but I’m sure these other methods work, because the pictures below are not Photoshopped!

Eggshell Seed Starters (Image from


Toilet Paper Rolls with Starter Seeds (Image from

The Baggie Method (Image from MrBrownThumb)

These are perfect projects for kids because they’ll ask a lot of questions about the process of growing plants, and you can educate them about the greenhouse effect (if you’re using water bottles).  Also, when you start to plant these sprouts in your garden, you can teach them about ecosystems and insects!  This project could really just go on forever.  If you have any questions, comment below.  In the future, I should be sharing more projects that kids can take part in.  Happy gardening for now!

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