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How to garden without using plastic plant pots

How to garden without using plastic plant pots

3 min read

Being a plastic-free gardener is an important step for having an eco conscious garden. Here’s how to garden by using alternatives to plastic plant pots
The Plastic-Free Gardener by Louise Boland offers extensive guidance on how to create a beautiful garden or allotment while limiting the use of plastic in the garden, and learning the effects it has on our environment.

This extract from the book explains the huge problem of plastic plant pots and the alternative options available for budding plastic-free gardeners to consider instead. 

Lots of pots

Gardeners using plastic-free plant pots to garden
In 2018, a study by Horticulture Week found that around half a billion plastic plant pots were ending up in landfill or being incinerated in the UK each year. Many of the pots in which plants were sold at the time were not recyclable, either because they were made of black plastic or an unrecyclable plastic polymer, or because local recycling processors couldn’t handle the soil contamination.
Many gardeners have a collection of plastic plant pots that have accumulated over the years. It’s pretty difficult to tell which are recyclable and which aren’t. Most are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density poly-ethylene (LDPE) or polystyrene (PS), and come in a variety of colours. None of these plastics are readily recyclable.
"Half a billion plastic plants ended up in landfill or being incincerated in the UK each year"
Since that shocking figure of half a billion plastic plant pots sent to landfill or incineration each year was publicised, there has been a concerted effort across nurseries and garden stores to offer plants in recyclable taupe pots, and local councils have improved their offering of pot recycling. However, even now, many of them still cannot go into household recycling collections but must instead be taken to specialist recycling centres, a chore which is likely to lead to a significant number of them ending up in landfill at the end of their useful life regardless.
Much of recycling is really only one cycle of “downcycling”. PET pots are made into PET pellets, which are used to create clothes of synthetic fibres, which can’t be recycled. Instead, they end up being sent to landfill or incinerated.

Plastic-free plant pot alternatives

The great news is that, for the plastic-free gardener growing from seed, the choice of alternative plastic-free receptacles for starting off seeds in pots and for potting on is fantastic.
In addition to coir, there is also moulded wood pulp, fabric, zinc, cardboard, bamboo, rubber, and even wool.

Terracotta and ceramic pots

Gardeners using terracotta and cermaic plant pots
Though expensive, when it comes to plant pots, there is not much that compares to the rustic charm of terracotta pots. Literally meaning "baked earth," terracotta is a ceramic made from the firing of clay. It is often associated with Italy, but terracotta is also used extensively in artworks and ceramics across China and India.
Terracotta pots are durable and, if collected steadily over the years, become the backbone of any working garden, offering a ready pot for a month or two of growing on; a permanent home for repeat-flowering half-hardy perennials such as bright orange pelargonium; or a decorative feature for a greenhouse or shed when arranged in lopsided piles, particularly those with pretty scalloped edges.
"Terracotta pots are durable and, if collected over the years, become the backbone of any working garden"
As they grow in size, the price tag of terracotta pots starts to become prohibitive, and most larger ceramic pots for permanent or seasonal decorative plants are made of clay fired at a higher temperature. When purchasing a ceramic pot, it’s worthwhile paying a little extra to obtain one marked "frost-proof". "Frost-resistant" will not last as long, and those with no mark at all might seem like a good bargain, but with one cold winter they start to fall to pieces.

Wool pots

Made from raw washed wool, these cute little pots are a very attractive natural alternative to plastic. They can be used to start seedlings, but they also make a perfect receptacle for decorative plants that will sit in a prominent position while they are growing larger—a great talking point for plastic-free gardening.
They need to be stood in a waterproof tray or dish so that they can be watered bottom-up, which will encourage strong downward root growth and prevent the wool from becoming discoloured at the top.
Once planted out, the wool pot can be removed and arranged around the plant to deter slugs and snails.

Hemp pots

Hemp pots are a great alternative to the plastic tubs used to grow tomato and potato plants. Like their plastic counterparts, hemp pots are a boon for those with limited growing space or with a patio-focused garden. They come in a range of sizes, from around five to forty litres.
Made of hemp, and usually stitched with cotton thread, they derive from a sustainable source, and are fully biodegradable.
"Hemp pots derive from a sustainable source, are fully biodegradable and can be reused for several seasons"
They can be reused for several seasons over, and when they wear out can be put on the compost. Water can seep out of the bottom during their use, so it is worth taking that into consideration when deciding on where to position them.
If you are used to using plastic tubs, hemp pots will be more porous, meaning the plants inside will tend to dry out quicker, so be vigilant with your watering.
The Plastic-Free Gardener - Louise Boland
For more tips on plastic-free gardening pick up The Plastic-Free Gardener (Fairlight Books) by Louise Boland, publishing February 22, 2024
Banner photo: Gary Barnes
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