Gardening on the Planet, Shut Up and Dig

Bluestone says good riddance

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 on March 19, 2013 at 7:43 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Shut Up and Dig.
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26 Responses to “Bluestone says good riddance”

  1. KelsGarden says:

    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. Teri says:

    I’ve ordered from them once before but won’t be doing it again.

    The comments from Garddenweb are actually pretty accurate.

    My plants arrived literally in a pile of dirt. They weren’t well packaged and had fallen out of their pots, with the roots exposed and dried out. I’ve ordered from a handful of online sites, and Bluestone was by far the worst at packaging their plants for shipment.

    Coir pots are terrible. I threw the pots in the compost bin, but they were still fully intact a couple of months later. They get so hydrophobic once they get dried out that they don’t break down.

  3. 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.

    I wouldn’t mind trying coir pots, but I’d eventually miss the plastic ones for my own use. Someday I’ll actually have to buy them?!

  4. Angie says:

    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!

  5. Laurrie says:

    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?

  6. Hap says:

    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.

  7. Laura Bell says:

    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.

    I’d use coir, but like some above this post have commented, the pots do not break down in my soil. I have one that’s been tumbling through my compost for over a year now. Everything else breaks down. The coir remains.

  8. Deirdre in Seattle says:

    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.

  9. greg draiss says:

    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……………………………..

    At least they are not made from milk cartons, green washing at it’s best. Taking all those milk cartons out of the recycling stream is not sustainability.

    The TROLL

  10. tara dillard says:

    At what point is bio not stable for the size/weight of a plant, especially after it rains. How long is bio viable at the grower before it deteriorates? Customer thoughts are ‘fine’. Would really like to know grower’s thoughts. And those from nursery owners, go Troll.

    Stunned at the price of 3 gallon wholesale plants ($19.80 oakleaf hydrangea, patented plants more) in the Atlanta metro area.

    Who will garden at this price? Bio or not. What does retail have to be at this wholesale cost? What does installation with guarantee have to be at this price? I’m already adding a gas fluctuation in bids. They pay more if gas is above a certain point, get a credit if it goes below a certain point.

    Designing interesting ‘new’ plants into my work for installation? No. Too hard to source. Going to several nurseries to get plants is not a price option. For DIY it’s fine to use the new-interesting cultivars.

    We are on the front end of the learning curve for bio. As a child, in the 60′s, I remember visiting nurseries with my parents. Plants were in old coffee or paint cans.

    When large plants are dug for my projects wire baskets + burlap are used to hold the rootball, all is planted. Already bio.

    Cuttings are sooooo easy.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  11. Rachelle says:

    Some plants that have had growth regulators used to make a plant bushier or to control legginess seem to struggle getting their roots outside the coir pots, regardless of size when planted, in my experience. When I have had a premium annual that has severely underperformed, when I dig it up in the fall invariably the bio-pot is still in place and has not degraded.

  12. Susan says:

    I have ordered many plants from Bluestone and have had very good luck with most of them. Only after they had first gone to their new packing methods, did I receive a package with the plants in disarray. The last couple of years, the plants have arrived very well packed. I applaud them.

    I have had a similar issue that others mentioned with those little Jiffy peat blobs that rehydrate with water and you plant right in them. I found they had a sort of mesh fabric holding the media together and it never decomposed even months later in my compost bin. The year I used them for seed starting, I tore off the mesh before planting the seedlings.

  13. allan becker says:

    Bluestone’s decision to use coir pots is misguided. There is a significant difference between shredded coir that performs like peat moss to combine easily with the soil in a flower bed and rugged coir fiber used in the manufacture of flower pots. The coarse coir fiber is not plant-root-friendly and I doubt that it can break down in the earth quickly enough to be useful.

  14. Sandra Knauf says:

    Plastic pots are fairly horrible, if you really think about it. I’m with Susan’s friend on suspicions with recycling as well–and I read not long ago that the recycling process of plastics is “tricky” at best (here’s a good overview: http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/06-when-recycling-is-bad-for-the-environment#.UUmx9Rwsnlg) All in all, plastic is something we should try to avoid in the first place. I’ve also recycled plastic pots over the years and it seems like it doesn’t take long before they break and crack (pretty pointless).

    Bluestone’s pots, if not perfected, are still commendable! Sometimes it takes a while to get it right. Patience! Some of these comments are a bit disheartening.

  15. At our nursery, Avant Gardens, we’ve been looking for alternative to plastic for years now. We started using the rice hull pots for perennials and succulents three years ago. We had mixed results. We found quality inconstant. The first year’s supply of pots had more structural integrity. The second year we tried them it was a mixed bag; some pots began breaking down before we wee halfway through the season. We had to repot a lot of plants in June and July, so the cost factor of both additional pots and additional labor added up to a lot of money. Additionally the rice hull pots are considerably more expensive than plastic. They are not manufactured in a size that works in standard square nursery trays, so we ended up using over sized trays which took up a lot more space.
    Our solution for no is to use a high quality thicker (and more expensive plastic container, which can be reused over and over again for years if need be. It has proven more cost effective for us, and a better solution for waste management than using the cheap thin plastic pots which are a one time use product.
    Also we did recommend taking the plant out of the pot before planting. The idea that you should plant the pot and all is misguided.

  16. Eve says:

    I’ve used the coir pots and also found them tough. But I sliced them with a sharp knife and this seemed to help. ALso put them in the compost with no trouble – maybe I pulled them apart without remembering? I think it’s great and applaud any company who decreases the amount of plastic in the world. Recycling is not the same as not using!

  17. Monish says:

    I applaud Bluestone for their leadership- it has been needed for some time now! The amount of waste generated by the wholesale nursery industry is staggering and nobody seems to want to even try to address it- this is an industry stuck in “old fashioned” ways (also part of it’s charm). People it is not perfect yet- so just rip the heck out of the bottom of the pot and plant it if you must!

  18. Jason says:

    I’ve been happy so far with what I’ve gotten from bluestone, and I think they deserve credit for trying this. However, reading some of these comments is going to make me watch the plants I’ve received from this nursery more carefully.

  19. We have to give it to Bluestone here.

    This is something of a stand they have taken and even if some deliveries seem off the mark (as the ones shown in the Gardenweb forum), they are just minor blips in the bigger picture. Waste is a big concern area and if someone tries to show us all a way here, we have to applaud them and not pull them down. It is a win-win for us all.

  20. commonweeder says:

    I am a fan of Bluestone and have gotten plants in coir pots. However, I have found that in my hilltown Mass. soil/climate it is best to rip the pot a bit. It doesn’t degrade very quickly in my garden. I am happy not to have plastic pots to deal with.

  21. BooksInGarden says:

    Kudos to Bluestone. Thanks for the post, Elizabeth. I have not bought from Bluestone recently so had not noticed this. This will make me more likely to buy from them in the future. I will remove the pot before planting as coir does not degrade sufficiently quickly in my soil. The coir pot will be cut up and put in my compost bin. In my area, San Diego County, CA, there are multiple nurseries that will take plastic pots of your hands. There is even a local native plant nursery that will give you a few cents per pot that you bring in – http://www.laspilitas.com. When I see a fellow gardener with a stack of used plastic pots, I offer to take the pots for when I next return my pots to a nursery. I use many plastic pots for propagation. When my pots are broken, I give them a bit of a cleaning and put them in the recycle bin.

  22. Matt says:

    There are so many ways to look at this issue. Coir, for me, does not break down in New England, and coir soil mixes have killed more of my plants than anything, as it dries out too quickly. It was my understanding that coir and the retting process that creates the fibre, is not environmentally sound, polluting waterways in southern India, and that 98% of the coir in North America come from India, so yes- one could say that the carbon footprint alone defeats any argument? Yet I wonder if the solution could be something else? Perhaps, clay pots, wooden flats which were once were so common. There are so many places to point ones finger, our disposable culture and the idea that ornamental plants are disposable maybe? I don’t know the numbers, but I imagine that one major consumable brand alone ( pick one – any one) uses as much plastic as the entire nursery business. The answer may be to educate – not only nursery owners, but consumer to demand more responsible products – easier said than done, but this is a start. With out population out of control, most any material could be listed here as bad for something – rice hulls, plastics industry, wood, coir. Such concerns can drive one crazy.

  23. Sandy in TX says:

    Good for Bluestone for using less plastic. Yes, most coir is imported – I’d read from the Philippines, but India’s likely too. How about pressed-recycled-paper pots for transplants? They’d still fall apart sooner than plastic, but most of us know how to deal with paper and cardboard in the compost pile, and plants with disintegrating wrappers could be just dropped into/wrapped in a new one, without un-potting. Not quite as much additional labor for the nursery.
    I’m not fond of peat pots, and tear off at least the top rim – I’ve found they pull water away from the plant roots, somehow.
    Suggestion: Take the coir pot off the plant, and use it for weed-suppressing mulch around existing plants? I do that with used coffee filters, which have similarly slow breakdown rates; the coir would pass rain through just as well, and look better in the landscape. And perhaps not blow around as much.

  24. gemma says:

    I’ve been reusing plastic pots for years. When I need more, I go to the local recycling center, and on a good day, find lots of pots in all sizes. I could imagine using paper pots I made myself if I ever ran out of plastic pots, but I cannot quite bring myself to buy pots.

  25. Great job for Bluestone! Now, they have not settled the issue of plastic pots, nor have they solved world huger. But what they have done is Do Something. Coir pots may not be the best answer and it may prove to fail. And if it fails this would also be good, because it tells us what not dot do. I think coir will have its place and other items will be needed for different situations. Kudos for Bluestone in taking action, taking risk and adding to the knowledge of this issue. I’m waiting for my Bluetone shipment to come this week. I will be paying close attention to my experience.

  26. Nicole says:

    I think this is a step in the right direction, but I haven’t found any of the biodegradable pot materials work for just planting as-is. I always tear off the pot material and put it in the compost pile.

    Bonnie plants has, at least locally, also switched to all biodegradable (peat) pots, but with a plastic wrapper around the top. This seems to effectively protect the pot from falling apart during shipping and at retail while using a fraction of the plastic. I do wish they’d switch from peat to recycled paper, though.

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