Crowded shed illustrates plastic pot conundrum

 

Most of my garden has been put to bed, but one job looms large on the horizon — organizing the shed.

I’m not sure how it happens, but in April the shed, in which we store everything we use in the yard or garden other than the riding lawn tractor, is perfectly arranged, with power equipment, tools and various bits of garden gear at the ready.

By November, anyone who enters takes their life into their own hands as they navigate tripping hazards and high odds of something falling on their head.

The primary culprit of this mess is a collection of hundreds of plastic pots, most of which I’ve saved from plants I’ve purchased. I find uses for some of these: potting up dahlias early in spring, planting divisions for friends and as filler in large containers to save on potting soil.

But the real reason I keep so many pots around is that they are difficult to get rid of. Nursery pots are made from a variety of different plastics, which means most municipal recycling programs won’t take them. Some big box stores will accept nursery pots for recycling, but it is such an enormous undertaking that most independent garden centers just aren’t equipped to manage them.

The garden industry, which sometimes calls itself the “green industry,” is well aware of the plastic pot conundrum.

Pots made from peat or even cow manure have been around for years, and garden centers sometimes sell small pots of vegetables or herbs in them, but they are far from perfect, sometimes falling apart too soon or creating watering challenges.

Next year, the plant brand Proven Winners will offer its growers, who are required to use its branded pots, a “compostable” pot for flowering annuals. The pots, made from starchy plants like corn and sugar beets, are used to create a biopolymer that behaves like petroleum-based plastic. Gardeners will be able to plant them directly in the soil or remove the pots for “industrial composting.”

That’s where things get a little complicated. In most cases, it’s not a good idea leave any plant in its pot in the ground because it can inhibit root growth. And industrial composting is the kind of composting done on a large scale, where temperatures reach 160 degrees, something unachievable in a typical home composting system.

The pots will break down over time in the ground, over years not months in our area. It’s an imperfect system but a big improvement over plastic pots.

But I think some garden centers in the UK have a better plan. Plants are grown in square plastic nursery pots, but when a customer buys them, they are slipped out of the plastic pot, which the nursery reuses, and put in a cardboard pot for the customer to take home.

It’s probably not a system that would work for shrubs or trees, but for annuals and perennials, it seems like the best of both worlds — long-lasting plastic for growing a plant and a easy-to-recycle option for home gardeners.

And I can’t help but think it would solve a lot of problems, including the odds of sustaining a head injury from a stack of plastic pots.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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