Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Biodegradeable pots: yes or no?

Today's weather forecast was "heavy rain" but I ignored it and went out to work anyway. I managed a solid three hours before the black clouds came rolling overhead and I packed up for the day...

...but not before Indigo, my favourite of the, er, five or six house cats in this garden, came over for another instalment of his Train Gardener How To Stroke Me course.

"Urrr, urrr, left a bit, urrr urr, just there."

After supervising me for a while, he headed off back indoors towards the Rayburn, leaving me to get on with the weeding.

But while digging out a failed plant, I discovered the Thought for Today: Biodegradable Plant Pots - do they work?

Understandably, there's a growing movement wanting an alternative to the plastic plant pot, which is, after all, about as non-eco as it gets, considering that they are designed for and used by gardeners.  They are used once, then thrown away, or left in great tottering piles wreathed in cobwebs and dessicated snails.

For some time we've had the Jiffy Pot: horrible cardboard-like things in fetching shades of grey and brown.

Fully bio-degradable, yes, but I find them impossible to work with, as they have to be kept absolutely soaked, otherwise it's hard work to re-wet them.

As they are basically paper fibre, they dry out quite quickly by simple evaporation, which means they have to be kept standing in water on a drip tray of some kind: and when they are kept wet, they are permanently fragile and can't be moved around without them turning to mush in your hands.

Not a favourite of mine, you can probably tell.

Next there's a thing called the Vipot, which - it is claimed - is fully biodegradable, being made from coconut shells and rice husks. Mmm, sounds yummy. The clever part is that the pots are glazed, so they last as long as  you want them to. But once you are done with them, you just crush them to break the glaze, put them on your compost heap and within 18 months (they say) they have rotted away to nothing.

I haven't seen any of these yet: and I certainly won't be putting them, crushed or otherwise, on any of "my" composty heaps, as I expect my compost to be ready in considerably less than 18 months.

As a side issue, there is a big difference between "biodegradable" and "compostable". I am sure I will refer to this point again...

Now we come to the Coir Pot:  two years ago, and again last year, my client bought some plants - Lychnis coronaria to be exact - in coir pots. These are weird-looking fibrous pots, all hairy and compressed, proudly bearing labels telling us that the roots of the plant will grow through them, and that they will gently rot away into the soil.

Well, here is Exhibit A: one dead plant, one coir plant pot in extremely good, ie not rotted at all, condition.  I rather think that I did the rip in the side when I dug out the plant, and it was already frayed around the top, so it doesn't seem to have degraded very much at all, does it?

I keep finding the non-rotted shells of these coir pots in the bed, even long after the plant inside it has rotted away to nothing.

So I'm not convinced about the worth of coir pots, so far.

Personally I do my bit by reusing pots as many times as possible, and whenever I find a pile of used pots in sheds or round the back of a greenhouse, I ask if I can take them. This reduces the number of new pots that I have to buy.

Now you might think it strange, and possibly "wrong" that I am selling plants in old pots, but think about it: I would never, ever sell a plant that has just been potted on, I always hold them back until they are well rooted. So by the time it is ready for sale, the plant pot has been "used" for several months, and often they don't exactly look very new any more.

So I much prefer to re-use pots whenever possible. As long as they are washed out and sterilized, they seem to work just as well as brand new ones.

And I'm doing my small bit for the environment.

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