As flower gardeners, we like to consider ourselves stewards of the earth, but did you ever wonder what happens to the garden flats, trays and pots that you bring home from your local nursery or garden center? In most cases, you can’t recycle them. In fact, we recycle only about 1% of garden plastics. Part of the recycling barrier is the fact that the horticulture industry doesn’t use recycling-friendly plastic in its pots and trays. However, there are ways we can keep garden plastics out of the waste stream.
Recycling Plastic Garden Pots
If you look at the bottom of your gardening pots, you will notice a “chasing arrow” symbol with a number closed inside. However, this chasing arrow symbol can be misleading. Many recycling programs only accept #1 and #2 plastics, commonly used in food containers. The #4 and #5 plastics commonly used in the gardening industry may not be recyclable curbside, and #7 plastics aren’t recycled in most community recycling programs.
Newspaper Grow Pots
So, what’s a responsible organic gardener to do? First, start more of your own plants from seed. You can fashion your grow pots from newspaper. Look for wooden forms that enable you to fashion a pot for seedlings in seconds. If this sounds laborious for large scale growing, think of it as a way to pass the idle winter gardening months.
Sterilizing Plastic Garden Pots
Even if you use plastics that can’t be recycled, you can reuse them many times by sterilizing them each season. The sterilizing process ensures microbes hiding in soil crumbs won’t bring on a case of damping-off to your new seedlings. A ten minute soak in 10 gallons of water and a gallon of bleach will kill any harmful plant pathogens.
When you shop for plants, look for retailers that offer biodegradable garden pots. Many gardeners are familiar with the peat pots sold in garden departments in the springtime. Even big box retailers offer these pots. You can get peat pots as dehydrated pellets, which plump up in the presence of water. Kids love to watch these pots expand, and the planting hole is just right for a kid-friendly sunflower or nasturtium seed. Peat pots also come in transplant sized single pots and seed starting strips. These pots reduce transplant shock, as you place the pot directly in the soil, and the roots grow through it.
Manure Garden Pots
Another biodegradable garden pot option for flower gardeners is Cow Pots. Started by a group of dairy farmers in 1997, these pots are made from manure processed in a way that removes all of the odor, weed seeds, and harmful bacteria. Gardeners are left with a fibrous pot that is both biodegradable and nourishing to the plant and the soil.
Biodegradable Container Gardens
Finally, look for pots that you can add to your compost heap when you’re finished using them. Containers like EcoForms, made from rice hulls, can last as long as five years outdoors, but will break down in the compost bin. Unlike biodegradable pots for seed starting, these pots resemble plastics in color, texture, and finish, giving ecologically minded flower gardeners stylish options for the deck and patio.