soil-saving tricks for planting big pots

potting soil and potAS I POTTED UP SOME PLANTS TODAY, I ran short on potting soil–and then I remembered: With big pots, in particular, there’s sometimes no need to fill the entire vessel, which is often deeper than the roots of seasonal plants would reach in their relatively short time in residence. So I reviewed my trick for making false bottoms (and saving on soil). Hint: It involves recycling garden-center leftovers, like plastic soil bags and empty six-packs. It’s right here.

  1. Mary lou says:

    Thank you for such a useful tip. It’s one of those ideas that when you hear it , you think,’Why didn’t I think of that!’ – such common sense.

  2. Rae says:

    Years ago I had to plant up my son’s new wooden planters. It would have taken a ton of soil. At that time, he had available from his shipping department a large amount of styrofoam peanuts. I used probably two feet of this in each of the three planters before putting in about a foot of soil. Worked very well.

  3. Grandma Ann says:

    Packing peanuts need to be in a plastic bag (water will drain along the outside) or you will never be able to dig out too much (to replace with fresh soil or plant something large) because the peanuts will be sort of mixed in. Plus, the soil level will drop as it sifts between the styrofoam…

  4. Dixie says:

    I use plastic caps from bottles since our recycle doesn’t take them. A bag next to the recycle bin yields 3-4 bagsof caps (several sizes too!) over the winter. I just pop them into an onion sack which can be appropriately sized for any pot and allows better circulation than plastic bags. They either winter over in an upside down pot or under my potting bench – reuseable forever.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Dixie — and GENIUS. I love this trash-to-treasure mix of yours, and the “breathable” onion bags, thank you. Hope to see you again soon with more goodies like this.

  5. Kathy Cornell says:

    Hi Margaret, I have this terrible greenhouse problem and I figured if anyone knew the answer it’d be you. Something is eating my tomato seedlings, even marigold seedlings; I come in to find just the tiny, tender young stems. Insectidal soap hasn’t stopped it. Today they got to coleus seedlings. I’ve never had this happen. Would you know what could be doing this? Thank you!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Kathy. No trace of slug or snail slime trails? That would be one guess. Nontoxic slug pellets or saucers of beer might help if so. And any chance a mouse is in there?

    2. Dee says:

      The same thing happened to me. Look for tiny pesky little critters that jump around and look like fleas. They ate all the carrot and radish seedlings in my planter boxes. After the same result after a second planting, I looked harder and found them popping around all over the surface of my boxes. Apparently they over-winter in the soil. They are flea beetles and hard to get rid of.

  6. Kathy Cornell says:

    Margaret you are terrific!! No slime trails but yes mice got inside in winter and I had to go non-organic to get rid of them. So they easily could run in there when I leave the door open on cloudless days.

  7. Kathy Cornell says:


    My thanks to you also for the heads-up about the lily leaf beetles; just found a bunch of those, too!

  8. ruthsachs says:

    Margaret, I am a potter and I save my broken bisque pot shards to put in the bottom of my big pots. If you know a potter, you can ask them to put their broken bisque ware in a box for you.This may work at your local art center where ceramics is taught. We all like to recycle and it is better than sending the shards to the dump.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Ruth. I do put “crock” In the bottoms, too, but the big pots get even heavier if I use too much. I do save the bits of any pots that give out, stockpiling the shards for such use as you suggest — thanks for reminding me!

  9. Susan says:

    Hello Margaret:

    Is it okay to use beer bottles vs to soda cans to fill the bottoms of a large pot? Your advise is grately appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Susan. Yes, could do — obviously will make the pot heavier is all. Which might be good (for stability, if it’s tall, for instance) or bad (if you need to move it).

  10. Pat Bower says:

    To decrease amount of soil used in large pots, I put packing peanuts in old nylons, than into the bottom of the pot. The peanuts don’t get tangled in the roots and you can remove them and reuse them if you chose.

    1. margaret says:

      That’s hilarious, Pat. I used to us old pantyhose to make “slings” to tie developing melons and pumpkins up off the ground, to the veg-garden fence, to keep rabbits from gnawing on them!

  11. Barbara says:

    Plastic Easter eggs and packing peanut filled pantyhose. I LOVE those ideas!! I only did a search on making patio pots lighter and found you.
    I’ll come your site from now on for all of my gardening questions. Thanks

  12. Helen leen says:

    The pots I have , I can’t shift on my own anyway, so I use bricks and broken pot pieces down the bottem

  13. William says:

    I know for indoor plants pinecones work very well as a filler (false bottom) and keep the weight of the pot to a minimum. I would think they would work in an outdoor environment as well.

      1. margaret says:

        Hi, Jen. The cones aren’t going to decompose anytime soon, probably, so I don’t expect it would be a worry in terms of pH balance.

  14. Roxanne says:

    Great ideas for fill in the large pots bottoms..but if you were planting vegetables i wonder how safe all that plastic would be to your plants produce.

  15. Vicki says:

    I have found using cedar mulch which doesn’t pack down a great alternative to filling large pots completely with potting soil…

  16. Jennifer Loros says:

    I do a lot of big pots in my summer garden. I use old leaves from under shrubs, mash a whole bunch of them down, can fill up to a third of the pot, are lightweight and the roots love them. No plastic to pick out of your soil and root ball the next year.

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