We’ve all used a plastic plant pot at some point in our lives. Most plants from garden centres and nurseries come packaged in plastic pots, so it’s likely that many gardeners have a stack of them somewhere in the shed! However, if you’re trying to move away from the use of plastic in the garden, there are plenty of alternatives to try.
Why plastic pots aren’t so great for the garden
First and foremost, these pots are made from plastic, so they’re unsustainable by nature. According to research by Horticulture Week, around half a billion plastic plant pots end up in landfill or incineration plants each year – even though councils have been instructed to recycle them. This is because only 12% of local authorities have a recycling scheme for plastic garden waste in place.
Even worse, black plastic plant pots are not recyclable at all because they contain pigments which make them undetectable to the sorting machinery at recycling plants (you’d have thought they’d do something about this, wouldn’t you?).
But why else are plastic plant pots not ideal for gardening?
- They break easily
- They’re not the prettiest to look at
- The can seep toxins into herbs and other edibles
- They provide poor insulation for plants
- They can dry out soil quickly, which means higher water usage
It’s important to note that not all plastic pots are created equal. For example, some companies create plastic pots made from 100% recycled plastic (such as pots that are made from bottles that could have gone to landfill), while others use plant-based ‘plastic’ which is better for the environment. Just because something is labelled with the word plastic, does not mean it is necessarily bad. It’s important to do your own research before purchasing.
What to use instead of plastic pots
There are many, many pot options that can be used as an alternative to plastic. I’ve listed six below, some of which you’ll have probably already used!
1. Clay pots
Clay is a very common material used to make garden pots. It’s more expensive than plastic, but unpainted and unfired versions (basically, the plain terracotta-coloured pots) are cheaper than their refined counterparts.
Clay pots are great for the cottage garden look, as they were so common in the Victorian era when cottage gardens became increasingly popular. Use them in this style to line vegetable patches and scatter throughout informal borders, and fill them with herbs, lavender, sedums and other plants that don’t mind drier soil (clay pots dry out quicker than other alternatives).
This material can last generations. However, if you drop one, that’s it – unless you glue it back together. Or, you can use the pieces in a rock garden or a ‘wildlife stack’.
2. Paper pot maker
This amazingly simple tool turns paper into pots! This is perfect for seedlings, as the pots come out at around 4cm wide. All you do is simply place a strip of paper (around 10-12cm wide and 14-16cm long) into the ‘mould’, press down with the wooden tool, and it creates a pot for you.
You’ll likely need a tray in which you can stand up your paper pots, but you can use a ceramic plate or foil tub for this, or recycle a plastic tub if you have one.
Your paper pots will last until your seedlings have grown and are ready to plant out.
3. Fabric planters
You can actually make fabric planters from old pillowcases and other scraps of fabric if you have the sewing skills, or you can purchase them ready-made from a reputable retailer. Fabric planters are reusable and washable, and they’ll last a fairly long time if well looked after.
One thing about fabric pots is that they’re ideal for regulating water. Excess water simply seeps out of the fabric, meaning that your plants won’t get waterlogged and rot.
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Wool Pots also make a great range of pots made from – you guessed it – wool! While real wool clothing or furnishings might be on the expensive side, the wool pots come in packs of 10, 20, 50 or 100 from as little as £6.
4. Bamboo pots
Unprocessed bamboo is incredibly sustainable. It’s a fast growing plant, growing to full size in just three to four months, and it doesn’t require fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. It just… grows.
This is a super strong material that will last years. The tensile strength of steel is 23,000 PSI, while the tensile strength of bamboo is 28,000 PSI, so a bamboo pot is unlikely to break if you drop it, unlike clay pots.
If you grow bamboo, you may be able to make pots yourself if you have some crafting or woodwork skills. If not, there are lots of options on the market for bamboo pots.
5. Rubber pots and trays
Most people have never seen rubber in its natural form before processing, which is why many might believe that it’s not a natural product – but it is! And it’s much more sustainable than plastic.
Rubber can be made into a wide variety of everyday objects, including plant pots and seed trays. Wildlife World, AKA The Wildlife Community, are members of the Fair Rubber Association, which means that they can work with small rubber plantations to maintain sustainability while keeping prices on their rubber products low. Browse their products here.
6. Recycled household objects
Almost anything can be used as a plant pot! As long as it’s sturdy and has some holes in the bottom for drainage, there are so many containers that you can recycle – it beats sending them off to the recycling centre, where it actually takes a fair amount of energy to recycle them, and they may even be rejected if they are not fit for recycling!
Here are a few ideas:
- Soup cans
- Old tupperware
- Muffin tins (for seedlings)
- Mason jars
- Yoghurt pots
- Wooden crates
- Paint cans
If you hope to reduce your plastic usage in the garden, you won’t be short of alternatives!
What are your plastic pot alternatives? Let me know in the comments section below.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.