how trash helps me save on potting soil

recycled plastic for pot bottomEVER BEMOAN HOW MUCH POTTING SOIL it takes to fill a really big pot, and how much it all adds up to at the nursery checkout counter? If I’m going to grow something big, or something in there longterm, I’m happy to fill a container up with fresh, high-quality potting soil. But some plants don’t stay in the pot long enough or have big enough root systems to warrant the wasted medium, and money. I employ a bit of trickery in the form of a false bottom for the pot, and here’s how:

false bottom in big potSimply bundle some used six-packs or nursery pots, or even packing “peanuts,” inside a discarded plastic bag. Secure it closed with a twist-tie, and insert the new plastic “pillow” in the bottom of the pot, preferably on top of a few upside-down plastic 6-packs or small nursery pots, so the plastic bag doesn’t seal the drainage hole shut. Then top up with your medium. You can also just stack a layer or two of upside-down empty small pots or cellpacks on the bottom of the pot.

This is also a great way to “plunge” a young shrub or tree (in its plastic nursery pot, using it for “annual color” before it gets a permanent garden spot in fall) or a houseplant you may wish to use outdoors in a pot bigger than it needs. Just make the pillow platform, balance the potted plant on it, and backfill around with potting soil or even mulch (my preference, for that use). You can even put several houseplants, pots and all, together in a big outdoor container this way for temporary summer duty.

If I still worked where I used to, I’d call this a “good thing.” :)

potting soil and pot

  1. Liz says:

    I have used those pesky styrofoam peanuts that you can’t recycle. I have also used torn up styro egg cartons. I never thought of using six packs. Good idea! It will help when I re-pot my giant aloe vera this year, then have to bring it back in the house for the winter. It really helps when you have giant pots to drag around the yard. Lightens them up considerably.

  2. Marilyn says:

    I once used a large amount of styrofoam peanut to half-fill a large planter. It worked very well–until the day the soil on top was too dry to promply drink in the water. The water gathered in the bottom of the planter, the peanuts rose majestically (or maybe not) and all the plants tipped right over on the new little island.

    If you want a humourous event in the middle of summer, this could work.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Marilyn. That’s why I put the “pillow” of stuff on top of some upside down cellpacks — to keep the drainage hole open! Because I had a similar experience to yours first. :)

  3. Naul says:

    You can put twigs, small branches, leaves or any such garden waste in. Small sections of logs can also be used. Over time this will decay and become compost. You must’ve heard of Hugelkultur. This is on a smaller scale.

  4. Mary Kay says:

    I use the 3 qt.-gallon pots that come with purchased plants to help fill my large patio pots. I just put one large pot inside the other (to help with stability), and then fill the patio pot with potting mix. Saves potting medium and insures drainage holes stay open.
    I will try your pillow idea, too.

    1. margaret says:

      I don’t think so, Gretchen. I think that’s why plastic is such an environmental nightmare globally — because it doesn’t degrade.

  5. Mary says:

    I use wine corks or I’m thinking of starting to use k cups with the coffee scooped out and into the soul!

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