Making biodegradable pots for plants is a big part of my childhood. I didn’t realize it was, until last winter when we moved into a house with some garden space. It was a cold dark night in February and I put a favourite movie on and sat down with a pile of old newspaper and got to work making some starter pots for my seeds.
I didn’t even need to look it up on the internet; the pattern came to me as though it was a hard-wired instinct. I made hundreds, if not thousands, of these for my mom on our farm when I was growing up.
Rows and rows of little newspaper pots sitting on trays, stacked on shelves, being carefully tended until they could be put out in cold frames and then eventually into the garden. It was a ritual.
Looking back on it, I don’t think the decision to use biodegradable pots was based on environmental concerns. I think it was cheap (and we didn’t have a lot of money) and it was easy for transplanting. Of course, there was also the added benefit that it kept me out of trouble.
Usually, gardeners seek out biodegradable pots for seed starting as there are a number of benefits, particularly when it comes time to transplant.
Four benefits of biodegradable plant pots
- The most obvious benefit is that the pot is 100% biodegradable and does not end up in a landfill.
- Biodegradable pots made from newspaper or toilet paper rolls make use of products from around the house that are cheap and otherwise headed for recycling anyway.
- The seedlings can be transplanted directly into the garden in the biodegradable pot, preventing any root damage as a result of transplanting and reducing transplant shock.
- The pots last while in a greenhouse or on your windowsill (as in my case), but begin to degrade once they are planted.
Five types of biodegradable pots for plants
Bamboo – there are a number of bamboo plant pots on the market today. These pots are suitable for house plants rather than planting out seedlings and make a nice eco-friendly alternative to plastic.
Coconut (or coir) - Coconut is an environmentally friendly source of fibre. Coir or coco pots are made from coconut husk fibers and are 100% biodegradable, breathable and can be planted directly into the ground with your seedling.
Peat – peat pots are the most common type of biodegradable pot you will see on the market. However, this is not the best choice as there is an environmental cost to harvesting peat. Peatlands play a critical ecological role as natural water filtration systems. They are also home to some rare and wonderful organisms that are found nowhere else. They are essentially mined for this resource, causing immense damage to these ecosystems.
Poop pots – There are seedling pots on the market that are made from dried composted cow manure combined with natural fibres – they’re known as Cowpots. The benefit of these pots is that they help fertilize the plants as they breakdown in the soil.
Paper – it is very easy to make your own seedling pots using old newspaper or the inside of a toilet paper roll (as in the photo).
To make the toilet roll pots, simply squish a toilet paper roll flat and run your finger along the edges to make a good crease. Then flatten it again by making the two creased edges meet in the middle. In other words, you’ve now given your round roll, four corners. Cut the roll in half. Cut about ¼” into the roll on each corner at one end. Now fold these in like you would a cardboard box to keep all the flaps down. Repeat with the other half and you should have two toilet roll pots!
There are various designs for building biodegradable pots out of newspaper, some of which involve using staples or tape, which you might not want in your garden. There are also very simple wooden tools that you can buy to help shape perfect pots each time.
However, my favourite is the one featured in the video below that is essentially functional origami. It might seem a bit complicated at first, but it’s actually very easy.
I’ve used both the origami paper pots and the toilet paper roll pots with great success. Obviously keep in mind that water will go right through the paper, so be sure to have your pots sitting on a tray of some sort.
A movement to biodegradable pots by commercial growers
Commercial nurseries are often filled with an abundance of plastic pots. However, many commercial growers are now moving toward biodegradable plant pots. Many use peat, which you will have learned is not the most environmentally-friendly source. However, others are using alternatives such as coir or coco pots as well as pots made from paper fiber. It’s an easy way for commercial producers to go green.
One last bit of advice when it comes to biodegradable pots for plants is that you should always tear off the rim of the pot before transplanting so that it is just below the soil surface once the plant is in the ground. If you leave the rim on and it sticks above the ground, it can act as a wick pulling up moisture from the soil. Otherwise, start collecting your newspapers and toilet paper rolls and if you have children in your life, get them involved too! It could be the beginning of life-long growing!