Plantable paper is an eco-friendly and sentimental way of gardening

Raised in a small apartment on a busy, treeless street in Brooklyn, I was an embarrassing 40 years old before I dug my hands into a pile of dirt for the first time. The preservation of plant life has always seemed complicated and overwhelming to me. When I moved into my new home with my husband three years ago, my boyfriend gave me a pair of pretty green gardening gloves in honor of my first backyard. I had no idea how to put her thoughtful gift into practice.

Coincidentally, a session with my therapist and my burgeoning interest in eco-friendly activities collided to lead me to plantable seed paper and newfound gardening knowledge.

What is plantable seed paper?

Plantable seed paper — also known as biodegradable eco-paper, sprouted seed paper, and tree-free paper — is typically derived from recycled or upcycled materials, with the seeds being dipped during the papermaking process. She needs soil, water, warmth and sun just like typical seeds. When planting, the paper decomposes in the soil and the seeds begin to germinate.

Although plants grow and mature at different rates, you should usually see sprouts within a couple of weeks, but full bloom often takes two to three months, depending on environmental conditions.

Plantable seed paper is often touted as a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to many traditional paper products. “We take locally sourced paper waste like clipped envelopes and discarded business documents and turn it into pulp,” said Heidi Reimer-Epp, co-founder and CEO of Botanical PaperWorks, a Canadian eco-paper company. The company embeds seeds in the paper waste and then forms the concoction into sheets. To ensure the paper has a high germination rate, the leaves are dried naturally to avoid pressure and heat that can kill the seeds.

Bluecat Paper, a tree-free paper company based in India, offers options like cotton, lemongrass, flax, and even elephant waste. Bloomin, a Colorado-based company, offers a line of products made from 100 percent post-industrial recycled paper.

There is also a sentimental appeal to the product. “People like the idea of ​​someone being able to place their wedding invitation,” said Don Martin, owner and president of Bloomin.

Having only grown up with a few houseplants that my mother tended, I was curious if the product would be suitable for people living in urban areas – especially those with no gardening experience. “I think this is a very user-friendly, non-intimidating product,” said Reimer-Epp. “If you have a small patio or balcony or a sunny corner, you can plant them indoors.”

Reimer-Epp believes that sustainability concerns and the decline of our planet are driving people to turn to seed paper products. “First of all, if you’re using this paper, you’re not using plastic or new paper that ends up in a landfill,” she said. “That’s a big driver.”

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I asked garden and plant science experts to comment on product sustainability claims, which include improving soil, wetlands, water quality and animal habitats. Experts have been reluctant to refute such claims, and in fact, planting any kind of plants has the potential to improve the environment. But even if the touted benefits of plantable paper are somewhat exaggerated, a recycled paper product that naturally degrades is a net good.

“No, it’s not going to change the world,” said Melinda Myers, gardening expert, author, and host of the How to Grow Anything gardening course. But “if it’s 100 percent recycled paper, that definitely means they’re not cutting down more trees to make the product.” Myers pointed out that it often feels better to receive a recycled greeting card or invitation that you can then plant than having to throw them in the recycling bin or landfill.

There are other concerns about seed paper that consumers should also consider. “I want to know what the specific seed is and I want to make sure it’s appropriate for the growing conditions. Are they noninvasive and disease resistant?” Myers said. Seeds that do well in one area may not do well in another.

You should also keep in mind that non-native plant species can alter a habitat, with potentially devastating consequences.

“You don’t want to plant aggressive, non-native seeds,” says Lori Imboden, an associate professor of consumer horticulture at Michigan State University. “They want to know what you are planting and what the consequences are” for your location.

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And of course not every paper is plantable. Stained and glossy cards usually cannot be broken down into environmentally friendly pulp. Those looking to recycle old greetings should contact their recycling centers instead and perhaps reconsider these purchases in the future. (Paper designed with glitter and other non-recyclable materials usually ends up in landfill.)

With consumers turning to seed paper for items like Christmas cards, wedding invitations, and commemorative cards, it’s clear there’s an emotional component to the product as well.

“The fact that there are perennial wildflower seeds that come back every year really creates that sentimental reminder of what you want to commemorate,” Martin said of his line of seed paper cards and gifts.

While struggling with the death of my childhood dog, a mutt named Jack, I came across plantable seed paper after my therapist suggested I write him a letter. “It can help you heal,” she said.

When my order arrived I locked myself in my basement and wrote my letter to Jack. I told him how much I loved him, how lucky I was to have him in my life and how sorry I was that I never got to say goodbye. I cried until I couldn’t see anymore. Then I followed the directions that came with the paper: soak overnight and cover with soil. Can take eight to twelve weeks.

The instructions promised that with proper care, the paper would grow wildflowers. I was skeptical – not because of the product, but because of my ability to garden successfully from scratch. My track record and lack of experience have mocked me. Besides, would writing a letter to my long-dead dog really do any good? The suggestion seemed way too far-fetched for my taste.

Purple wildflowers are now growing in my garden where I buried my letter to Jack two years ago. When I see the flowers I think of the dog I shared my childhood with and who followed me into adulthood. And I think of myself, a woman who can’t master growing her own basil but has learned how to grow it.

Christina Wyman is a writer and teacher based in Michigan. Her debut novel, Jawbreaker, is coming out soon. Find her on Twitter: @CBWymanWriter. Plantable paper is an eco-friendly and sentimental way of gardening

Chris Estrada

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