Eco-Friendly Pots for Plants (Biodegradable and Sustainable)


Are you looking for some eco-friendly alternatives to plastic pots for your plants?  If so, there are some biodegradable and sustainable options out there.

Some eco-friendly materials for plant pots include:

  • Recycled Paper and Cardboard
  • Clay
  • Wood
  • Bamboo
  • Husk (Coconut, Corn, Rice)
  • Fiber (Jute, Hemp)
  • Recycled Fabric

Of course, there are a few more options that are a little more unique – I’ve left those for later.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these eco-friendly materials for plant pots and when you might want to use each one.

Let’s begin.

Eco-Friendly Pots for Plants

The eco-friendly pots listed here are not made of plastic.  Some are made from natural materials, such as bamboo, while others come from man-made products, such as newspaper.

Recycled Paper and Cardboard

We produce a lot of paper and cardboard every day.  Much of it goes into landfills, since recycling programs do not always work.

Fortunately, there is a way to reuse this material in your garden for plant pots.  You can use either cardboard or recycled paper (such as newspaper) for your pots.

Pots made of cardboard or paper are not sturdy, and they will really start to break apart after they get wet.  As such, they are not good for larger plants or long-term growing.

cardboard box
You might be able to use a cardboard box as a pot for one or more plants.

However, they are ideal for starting seeds and growing seedlings until they are ready to transplant into a larger pot or into the garden.

Cardboard

Cardboard is convenient because you can often find boxes that are the right size for your plants.  Of course, you can always use a piece of cardboard as a divider to split a large box into smaller cells.

Cardboard rolls from paper towels or toilet paper also work as plant pots.  However, they are small, so you might want to use these for starting seeds (or as cutworm collars!)

cardboard rolls
Cardboard tubes from paper towels or toilet paper can be used as pots for seed starting. They won’t last long when wet, though!

Start by making plant pots out of cardboard boxes from your own household waste, such as food packaging.  If you run out, ask friends and neighbors for their cardboard.

If you need even more cardboard, you can go to a wholesale club (Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, etc.) to find some.  They often have cardboard boxes out in the open, free for the taking – just ask!

You can plant a cardboard pot directly into the garden if you wish.  You can also put the cardboard into your compost pile after transplanting outdoors.

Flat crushed cardboard boxes can also be used as mulch to keep weeds at bay.  You can read more about how to use cardboard in your garden in my article here.

Newspaper

Newspaper is another common material that you can turn into plant pots.  There are plenty of recycled paper pots available, such as these recycled paper seed starters on Etsy.

newspaper
Turn the newspaper into a pot for your plants!

If you prefer a DIY option, you can always make your own plant pots out of newspaper.  Here is a great step-by-step guide with pictures to make newspaper pots from Treading My Own Path.

Clay

Clay pots, including ceramic and terra cotta, are another alternative to plastic.  They have some benefits over plastic, including:

  • They allow water to move in and out of soil more easily.
  • They provide insulation against rapid temperature changes (useful on cold nights!).

However, there are some drawbacks to clay pots:

  • It is harder to drill drainage holes in them.
  • They are heavy, making them harder to move.
  • They shatter easily, which produces sharp pieces.
clay pots
If you want sturdy containers and want to avoid plastic, clay pots might be the way to go.

Clay pots are sturdy enough to hold more soil and larger plants.  This makes them useful beyond the seed-starting and seedling stages of plant growth.

You can learn more about the pros and cons of clay pots in my article here.

Wood

Wood is a natural material that has a nice look indoors or in the garden.  It will rot over time, especially if untreated.

However, you can always use a wooden pot until it rots, then burn it to make ash.  You can then put the ash in your compost pile to help feed your garden.

Just be careful not to add too much ash to your soil at once, since it raises soil pH (similar to lime).  You can learn more about using wood ash in your garden in my article here.

wood ash
You can use a wooden pot until it rots, then burn it to make ash. Wood ash provides nutrients to soil, and can be used to raise pH.

You can find wood pots fashioned from timber, such as this indoor wooden planter from Etsy.  These pots are sturdy and can be used for growing larger plants for longer periods of time.

You can also find pots made of recycled wood, such as these upcycled wooden succulent planters on Etsy.

Many pots also use recycled wood chips or sawdust to make a composite material.  However, these won’t last as long as pots cut from timber.

Also, keep in mind that some of these recycled pots contain glue (adhesives) to hold them together.  Be careful about growing food in them unless you know the source is safe.

Bamboo

Bamboo is another interesting material that can be used to make plant pots.  One way to do this is to weave strands of bamboo together, as you can see in these woven flower pots on Etsy.

Another option is to use huge bamboo shoots themselves as containers, just like these succulent planters from Etsy.

Bamboo is durable, and sturdy enough to grow plants beyond the seedling stage.  However, it will eventually biodegrade, making this another eco-friendly option for plant pots.

bamboo
Bamboo is sturdy, but it will eventually biodegrade.

Husk (Coconut, Corn, Rice)

Using the husk of certain plants, such as coconut, corn, or rice, is another way to make plant pots.

These coconut coir pots from Greenhouse Megastore hold moisture, resist mold, and are fully biodegradable.

Coconut fiber can be used to make durable pots that will eventually biodegrade.

You can also try rice husk pots from The Original Garden, which have an interesting appearance and are also fully biodegradable.

These pots will hold up better than paper or cardboard, especially when wet.  This makes them a better option for longer-term growing if necessary.

When these pots begin to rot, you can toss them in your compost pile, just like many of the other options listed here.

Fiber (Jute, Hemp)

There are some tough plant fibers out there, such as jute or hemp, that are used to make plant pots called grow bags.  Grow bags can also be made of canvas or other durable materials.

Grow Bag
Jute bags can be used as grow bags for your plants.

A grow bag holds soil for growing plants, just like an ordinary pot.  Grow bags range in size from 1 gallon to 200 gallons!

One benefit of a grow bag over ordinary pots is that it prevents the roots of plants from becoming root bound.  Plants become root bound when their roots circle around the inside of the pot and get tangled up.

Grow bags also allow for better aeration and drainage than other pots, and they can be reused, sometimes for many years.  Grow bags can last for 10 years, depending on the material.

You can learn more about grow bags (and their pros and cons) in my article here.

Another interesting option is recycled cotton rope, such as this macramé plant hanger on Etsy.  You could use something like this to hold a pot made of other materials, such as recycled paper or jute.

Recycled Fabric

Another cool idea is to use upcycled fabric to make pots, instead of throwing it away.  This idea is similar to grow bags, but you could use recycled clothes that are starting to wear out, such as jeans.

Here is an example of upcycled fabric used to make succulent planters on Etsy.

Other Eco-Friendly Materials for Pots

Here are a few more ideas for eco-friendly plant pots.  Some of the ideas are a little strange, but if you are creative you can probably think of many more like these!

Seaweed

Seaweed (kelp and other marine plants) are often turned into meal to provide nutrients for plants.  This makes seaweed a great choice for a plant pot.

kelp
Kelp is one type of seaweed you can use to make pots and to feed your plants.

After using it to grow seeds and raise seedlings, you can plant a seaweed pot in the ground with the transplant itself.  You can also compost the seaweed to provide extra nutrients for next year’s plants.

Peat Moss

Peat moss is another material that can be used to make plant pots.  Peat will decompose, so it can be planted with the transplant or added to the compost pile.

sphagnum moss
Sphagnum moss is one material you could use for a plant pot.

You can find peat moss pots such as this one from Jiffy on the Growers Solution website.

Wire & Twine

Here’s one more DIY plant pot option for you if you like to build things and be creative.

First, grab some chicken or rabbit wire.

wire mesh
Wire is the first step in making a wire and twine pot.

Next, shape the wire into the shape you want – round, square, or whatever you like.

Then, take some twine and tie it to the top of the shape and begin to wrap it around the wire, starting at the top and working your way to the bottom.

jute twine
Use some twine to wrap around the wire frame.

Finally, tie off the twine with a knot at the bottom and your DIY pot is ready!

You may need to put some extra wire and twine at the bottom to keep the soil from falling out.  You could also just keep the pot in a tray until it is time to transplant.

After transplanting, you can cut pieces of twine from the pot.  Then, use the pieces of twine to tie tomatoes and other climbing plants later in the season.

Another option: when the twine starts to decompose, you can cut it off and add it to your compost pile.  Then, just use some new twine to renew your wire and twine pot.

As far as dimensions go, it’s easy to figure out how much wire to use.  All you need is a rectangular piece of wire with these dimensions:

  • Length: the same as the desired height of your pot
  • Width: the circumference of your pot, or 3.14 times the diameter (the diameter is the widest part of the circle)

For example, let’s say you want to make a pot that is 5 inches tall with a diameter of 7 inches.

In that case, you would need a rectangular piece of wire with a length of 5 inches (the height) and a width of 22 inches (3.14 times 7 is 21.98, or about 22).

Bend the rectangular piece into a circle, and use twine to tie the ends together.  Then, wrap twine all around it as described above, and you’ve got yourself a wire and twine pot.

Conclusion

Now you have some ideas for eco-friendly materials that you can buy (or recycle) for pots for your plants.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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