Happily, we’re seeing more biodegradable planting pots. Yep, they go right in the ground! Not only are they an easy way to start vegetables, but they’re also economical and spare the use of pounds of plastic. See 10 types of plant pots—from paper to cow manure—plus 3 ways to make your own biodegradable pots!
As much as we would like to see plastic plant pots being recycled, tons of them end up in landfills and incinerators every year. That leads many of us to look for alternative containers in which to start our spring seedlings. In shopping, please note that there are three ways that eco-friendly pots are described:
- Plantable: This means that you can put the pots right in the ground, plant and all, and the roots will penetrate through the pot into the surrounding soil as the pot breaks down.
- Biodegradable: These pots eventually break down and seem to disappear to the naked eye but depending on what they were made of they may leave harmful residues behind, so look for ones that are certified organic.
- Compostable: This is another category. These pots break down into humus eventually and leave no toxic residue. Some compostable pots take a long time to break down though so be aware that they are not actually considered plantable. It is best to remove the plants and add the empty pots to your compost pile to break down.
10 Types of Eco-Friendly Garden Pots
There are many types of pots to choose from made from paper to cow manure!
1. Peat pots have been around for years but there is some controversy about how sustainable a product they are. Like oil, there is a finite amount of peat in the world. Even though it is considered by many to be renewable, it takes a long time. Peat develops at a rate of 1 inch every 15 to 25 years. Most of the peat used in the US is harvested in Canada. If you choose to use peat, the pots are totally plantable and come in a wide range of sizes and types from Jiffy7 pellets to strips of square cells to individual pots.
These Jiffy 7 pellets soak up water and expand into little plant pots.
2. Coconut coir is starting to be used as a peat substitute. Once considered agricultural waste, the fibrous husks of coconuts are molded into pots or finely shredded and used as a planting medium. Coir pots are also plantable since roots can easily pass between the fibers.
Coconut coir fiber is being used more and more to replace peat.
3. Feather pots are another agricultural waste product. Poultry farmers in the US generate about 4 billion pounds of chicken feathers each year. A clean and sustainable source of the protein keratin, the feathers can be shredded and made into light, durable pots that can be composted when empty.
4. Fertilpots are made from a mixture of 80% spruce fibers and 20% peat. They are biodegradable but don’t contain any glue or binders and are certified organic. Plant roots can penetrate the sides of the pot so they can be planted pot and all. They are made in France so they do have to travel to get to a US distributor in PA. They are available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
5. Eco-Forms are containers made from grain husks - primarily rice hulls - and starch-based binders which are heated and pressed to make them hold together. They make a range of pots from practical ones for professional growers to dressy looking ones in many colors for home gardeners. These pots will last for 5 years and can withstand freezing and thawing. They are not meant to be planted in the ground but they are biodegradable and can be composted. They are made in China.
6. EnviroArc is a biodegradable pot from Australia. It is made from bamboo pulp, rice hulls, wheat straw, and cornstalks - all organically grown on their own farms. These pots last 18 to 24 months but will break down in less than 6 months when composted. They offer a wide range of sizes and colors.
7. Western Pulp makes a molded fiber pot from recycled paper. These are heavy-duty containers and tender plants will not be able to push their roots through them. You are advised to gently tear away the pots from the rootball before planting, then compost the container. They are made in the USA but are not certified organic.
It is easy enough to make your own paper pots from old newspaper. Wrap the strips around any size cylinder you choose like this juice glass.
8. Paper pots are not a new idea; for years many of us have been making our own pots out of old newspapers. Strips of paper can be wrapped around a cylindrical form and folded over on the bottom to form a little cup. These can be filled with soil and used to grow transplants for the garden. They are fragile, especially when wet so try to avoid handling them too much. They can be planted pot and all and break down fast in your soil. Cardboard toilet paper and paper towel tubes can be turned into pots for seedlings and fiber egg cartons can also been used.
The roots of your plant will help hold the soil blocks together. This mold makes 4 cubes of soil at a time.
9. One kind of pot is no pot at all. Soil blocks are another old practice that is regaining popularity. Simply use a form to compress potting soil into blocks that can be used for direct seeding, transplanting, or growing cuttings. Care must be taken to keep the blocks intact until they can be planted. Forms of different sizes are available from Johnny’s.
CowPots offer fertilizer and container all in one.
10. My favorite eco-friendly container is the CowPot. As a former dairy farmer I applaud the innovative approach brothers Matt and Ben Freund of CT have taken to find ways to maximize the use of all that manure cows generate. Along with solar panels, they use methane gas from manure to power their farm. The liquids left over from that process are used as fertilizer and the solids are composted and then molded along with recycled newsprint into plant pots. The pots can withstand about 3 months of use in the greenhouse but will dissolve within 4 weeks of being planted in the ground. Because of the nutrients from the manure in the pots, plants have been proven to grow larger than those grown in plastic. They are made right on the farm.
3 DIY Ways to Make Biodegradable Planting Pots
If you’re thinking about starting a lot of seeds, make biodegradable seed pots out of recycled materials. They’re easy to make and they can be transplanted right into the ground when the time comes. Plus, they’re economical! Seed trays and pots can be expensive, and as they’re usually made of plastic, they’re not always very environmentally-friendly. The good news is, it’s easy to make your own from nothing more than egg boxes, toilet paper tubes, and newspaper.
To make paper pots, you’ll need an old newspaper (not a glossy magazine, as this will take a long time to rot down and may be printed with inks containing traces of toxic heavy metals), a pair of scissors, and a jar or glass to use as a mold. Follow the instructions below to make your newspaper pot:
1. Cut your newspaper into strips about 1 inch (3cm) taller than your jar.
2. Fold a flap along the length of a strip, then unfold the flap to leave a crease.
3. Lay your jar on the newspaper at one end of the strip so that the open end sticks out.
4. Tightly roll the strip around the jar.
5. Holding the paper closed, turn the jar on its end.
6. Fold the loose ends of the paper in to create the base, and push them down.
7. Pinch along the edges to firm them up.
8. Holding the bottom flaps, pull out the jar and firm up the base.
9. Fold the top of the paper along the crease you made earlier – this creates the rim of your pot.
Once filled with potting soil, the pot will become more stable, but it’s best to also nestle your pots side by side in a tray to keep them secure once the paper is wet.
At planting time, dig a hole into prepared soil and plant your seedling, including the pot – the paper will biodegrade within a few weeks.
Toilet Paper Tube Pots
Cut toilet paper tubes in half for most seedlings, or leave them whole for plants that need more root space – peas, corn, and tomatoes for instance. Alternatively, cut down paper towel tubes to the desired length.
Making a toilet paper tube seed pot is even easier than making a newspaper pot!
1. Cut four equally-spaced inch-long slits into one end of the toilet paper tube.
2. Fold the flaps down, alternating the tucks to create a strong interlocking base.
3. Fill with potting soil, and sow your seeds into it.
Set the tubes in trays so that they don’t fall apart as the cardboard softens. As the seedlings grow, their roots will help hold the potting soil together. You can also group pots together using string or rubber bands.
Cardboard tubes rot down more slowly than newspaper, but roots will find their own way out of the pot eventually. However, you can peel off the cardboard before planting if you prefer – it peels away very easily when wet.
Egg Crate Seed Trays
Using cardboard egg crates is the simplest method of all.
1. Cut off the lid.
2. Put the lid underneath the base for additional strength.
3. Fill the compartments with potting soil, and sow!
Be aware that the roots of some crops will soon become constricted in egg crates, so they should only be used for crops that will quickly be moved on or planted out.
When you’re ready to plant your seedlings out, egg carton cells are easily torn apart when damp. Make sure to also rip away the base of each cell to help the roots escape into the soil.
Whatever you choose to raise your plants in, have fun watching them grow from tiny seeds into strong healthy starts for your garden!