Eco-friendly Alternatives to Plastic for Propagation

There is now an increased focus on the excessive uses of plastic in gardens, so what approaches can gardeners take when it comes to eco-friendly options for sowing and growing your seedlings?

The fact that Monty Don has pledged to cut down on the amount of plastic he uses at Longmeadow, and urged viewers to follow suit on Gardeners World, means that millions of gardeners up and down the country will now be actively trying to reduce their reliance on non-recyclable materials.

Once the issue gets highlighted in the media like this people undoubtedly listen. Monty’s call, together with the national outrage over plastic pollution highlighted in the Blue Planet II series, thrust the issue of plastics in gardening into the spotlight. While there has been a movement going on for years to combat this issue among gardeners, recent focus has put it front and centre in the mind-set.

Ahead of that Gardeners World broadcast the other week, Monty said: “I would suggest that the overwhelming goal for the next 50 years for gardeners around the world is to reduce and if possible stop all use of plastic.

“This will not be easy. It will involve rethinking how we do things rather than just going without or returning to the methods of half a century ago.”

It might be a pipe dream to foresee the end of plastics in gardening as of course most gardener’s sheds and greenhouses will currently be likely crammed with plastic. Pots, seed trays, compost bags, labels and more all have been made of non-recyclable materials for years. It has been a curse over the years that the more plants we bought, the more plastic pots we accumulated.

20180310_113243.jpgGardeners will continue to use rather than throw them out. For one it is not an overnight move to eradicate the use of plastics, so they should re-use them over-and-over until they are no longer usable. There are reportedly plans in place for recycling schemes for plastic plant pots at garden centres, but there is no guarantee how prevalent such options will be.

So each gardener really needs to analyse their own usage and start making changes to ensure they are not solely reliant on plastic and can cut down their use year-on-year. Try small steps to help result in an achievable goal of more use of eco-friendly solutions.

There is a whole host of options out there, some more novel than others, for alternatives to non-recyclable materials. Whether you want to buy alternatives from the garden centre or go the full DIY approach to make them yourself at home, there are avenues open for all gardeners. This is especially true when it comes to seed sowing and raising seedlings, an area which requires high use of trays and pots.

Rather than sowing seeds into a plastic tray or plastic pot, look around for coir or fibre pots. Coir is coconut fibre and is biodegradable, so you can pot seedlings on and then plant the entire thing straight out. Or, if you would prefer not to plant the pot, then you can get a couple of years’ worth of re-use out of them. Such pots are relatively inexpensive so it doesn’t break the bank to replenish your stock every few years.

20180102_092748.jpgIf you wanted more robust solutions then you could use terracotta pots. More commonly used to display your plants, smaller terracotta pots offer a great solution for growing seedlings and will last year-after-year. Wooden trays are also good, durable options for propagating and transplanting your young plants.

You can make small pots and modules simply using items made around the home, predominantly out of newspapers or toilet roll tubes. In just a few simple steps you can create eco-friendly pots to grow plants in that can are also biodegradable and, just like the coir pots, the whole thing can be planted. Other options for homemade pots include egg boxes, paper cups or even ice cube trays.

If you wanted to start off your seeds with no need for an initial pot at all then you can use seed pellets. These pellets are simply soil encased in nettings and they need to be soaked in water for five minutes before you place either the seed or cutting in. When you see roots growing through the pellet’s wall then you pot the whole thing on. Another option is using a soil blocker, a device which makes blocks of soil each with a small depression on top to sow the seed in.

inCollage_20180316_172935979.jpgIt is undoubtedly a step forward that this issue is front and centre in people’s thinking and more gardeners are going to be actively turning away from plastic and looking for new eco-friendly alternatives. The tide is turning and now seems the opportunity to experiment with different options; it is not a one-size-fits-all approach so find what you prefer and what you favour going forward. So cut down on the plastic and carve your own more eco-friendly gardening path.

2 thoughts on “Eco-friendly Alternatives to Plastic for Propagation

  1. There are some great ideas here. We’re going to look after the plastic pots we have, to get as many uses out of them as possible.


  2. While it’s great that he highlighted it, I was really confused with the way it was presented as a new thing/idea. My Dad, Grandad, and pretty much all of the gardeners I’ve ever known my whole life were already doing this 50 years+ ago. I’ve done it all my gardening life too, so about 32 years so far (I started as a toddler).

    I’d have thought that the biggest thing that could make a difference at this junction would be if the larger nurseries and garden centres could be persuaded to make the switch to compostable plastics. There are so many options now. We did our wedding last summer with all compostable plastics (from Klee paper in Dublin, but there are many options here and in UK) and watching them break down in the compost heap has been so fascinating!

    At the very least, you’d think someone could make Monty a present of some compostable wine glasses. They’d be comparable to starter cells for seedlings and you could even plant into the stem too if you wanted two containers for the price of one.


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