Science Says

Bluestone says good riddance

Helen/patientgardener9 comments1558 views
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Pot image by Shutterstock

To plastic pots, that is. According to a press release I just got, Bluestone is the first perennial nursery to com­pletely replace plastic growing pots with biodegradable media.  I wish more nurseries would do this. I rather enjoy stepping on root-bound perennials in plastic pots before prying them out, but then there are all the black plastic pots of varying sizes taking up space in my recycling bin. Some I have been able to reuse as filler to lighten container plantings, but most get thrown the bin—and who knows what really happens to them? (Many of my friends firmly believe that the recycling trash and the regular trash end up in the same landfill.)

Also, according to the release, the plants can be kept in their coir pots and planted as is. This makes for a gentler transition—sort of like keeping fish in their little baggie until the water temperatures are the same. Except that the coir pots dissolve into the soil with time (unlike baggies in water).

I’ve tried the little cow pots for vegetable seedlings before, and I regularly see herbs offered in biodegradable paper containers, but perennials generally come in black or green plastic. The thing with Bluestone, however, is that their plants are small. They’re fine if you’re starting a new bed, but when surrounded by other large established, perennials, they struggle.

And I saw some interesting comments on these online, on the Gardenweb forums (which I rarely check, but google revealed quite a discussion about coir over there). One thread—titled “Bluestone Perennials has lost their minds!” —was filled with complaints about plants arriving in a tangle of spilled dirt. The company is no longer styrofoam peanuts either, which sounds like a good thing to me, but apparently some of the GW posters liked them. I have noticed that rolled up newspaper, used by a few companies, works just as well.

Forums like GW are kind of like Trip Advisor; you have to take the opinions with a big grain of salt and sort of average them out.

As for coir pots—how about them? Seems like a step in the right direction to me, especially if it means other nurseries will think more about plastic pot alternatives.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on March 19, 2013 at 7:43 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Shut Up and Dig.


  1. I have found that some plants do well in coir pots planted directly in the ground but others struggle with too much retained moisture. I do shop Bluestone, and will continue to, but I remove the pots and compost them.

  2. In the St. Louis area most nurseries participate in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s pot recycling program. I personally store and reuse my nursery pots, but for the ones that are cracked or I don’t need, into the recycling program they go.

  3. No more Bluestone for me. I applaud them not using packing peanuts and I love that they are doing away with plastic pots. The problem for me is that those coir pots do not break down in my soil. I actually spent some time digging those things up recently because the growth of the plants in them was so incredibly stunted. I don’t know if it’s the coir or my soil but no thank you!

  4. Like Angie, I also have had no luck with coir pots breaking down in the garden or in compost. The next year the tough fiber is still intact in the ground, the plants are stunted, and roots can’t get into surrounding soil. In winter the frost heaves the coir right up out of the ground. They don’t work in my soil unless I un-pot the plant, and then I have all the coir to dump somewhere, and it simply dries out into non-degradable dense material. Do others find that these ever break down over time?

  5. Interesting to hear that the coir pots are not breaking down for so many people. We have used coir pots for our 3 inch succulents for the last six years (and rice-hull compostable pots for 4 inch and gallons for four years) and had great success with them, as a product line and as a plant-able pot that actually breaks down to let the roots through. In Berkeley’s mediterranean climate, we have to turn the crops fairly quickly or the plants root out of the pots and grow together in the trays. We do tell people to make sure the pot is wet when planting so that the soil can bond with the pots easily and make a path for both roots and micro fauna to start the process. I wonder if there is a difference in the natural latex binder in pot brands or if is a pH or soil environmental issue that keeps the latex in the coir pots from breaking down and letting the roots through.

  6. My fave nursery out this way (Green Acres!) participates in a pot recycling program. On top of that, any pots I have that are beyond redemption, can be thrown in the regular trash. We have a “One Big Bin” program here – all trash, save green waste, goes into the same trash bin. It is sorted at the landfill to determine recyclable materials and genuine trash, so I know that my broken plastic pots will be recycled.

  7. Since I have champagne tastes and a beer budget, small is not a problem. I can pretty much only afford the plants I want in small sizes. I would still remove the pots because I wash potting soil off before planting per Lind Chalker-Scott, but at least I wouldn’t end up with so many plastic pots. (note to self; clean and recycle some of those pots in the garage). Maybe I could use the coir in my nesting boxes since it holds up so well.

  8. If plastic pots are recycled there is no issue. In a nursery setting however bio-pots nearing the end of their life cycle will look worse than dead plants at box stores. No one will buy plants from a nursery with pots falling apart and soil that will fall all over the insides of their cars……………………………..

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