• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • r ranson
  • Mike Haasl
  • James Freyr
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Burra Maluca
garden masters:
  • Steve Thorn
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Kate Downham
  • Jay Angler
  • thomas rubino

Pros and Cons of Various Planting Containers

 
steward
Posts: 5059
1993
transportation forest garden tiny house books urban greening the desert
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In Edible Paradise by Vera Greutink, Chapter 1 starts off with a good discussion of the pros and cons and different planting containers and pots.

For example, metal containers can be good for plants that need heat:

Vera Greutink wrote:Metal containers are long lasting but can heat up excessively if they are in a sunny spot. This can be beneficial for some heat-loving crops (peppers, aubergines) but can be fatal for fruit trees in winter.



However, metal containers can be detrimental to plants by confusing them into thinking that spring is earlier than it really is:

Vera Greutink wrote:If the pot heats up on a sunny day, the tree thinks it’s spring and starts to produce sugar. But because the plant is not actively growing at that moment, the sugar is not used and turns into alcohol, which can kill the plant.



What are some other pros and cons for other plant containers? Their costs? Their toxicity? Their benefit/detriment to certain types of plants?
 
gardener
Posts: 2969
Location: Central Texas zone 8a
635
cattle chicken bee sheep
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This was the first year i tried wicking beds in containers. I was very surprised how well it did in my Texas heat. By far the biggest yellow squash and zuchini plants i have ever grown. I should also add that the seeds were planted while temps were still approaching 100 degrees. This one is 2ft x 8ft x 2ft deep. I added another that is 8 ft diameter dedicated to strawberries. .
 
Posts: 616
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
173
transportation hugelkultur cat forest garden fish trees urban chicken cooking woodworking homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
'Vera Greutink wrote:
If the pot heats up on a sunny day, the tree thinks it’s spring and starts to produce sugar. But because the plant is not actively growing at that moment, the sugar is not used and turns into alcohol, which can kill the plant.'


I don’t know if that assumption is correct – it may be more likely the warmer soil promotes early budding when the surrounding air temperature is too cold, causing frost burn. The biggest fear is most metal containers are cheap galvanised ones, where the zinc and other chemicals adversely affect plants.

I find containers that retain heat – terracotta/metal give seedlings a very big head-start in late Winter early Spring, much like a cold frame.

Plastic pots are almost a necessary evil and far too convenient. I like them for cultivating from seed – better control, and to harden-up seedlings before planting out into the garden. But mostly, they are very polluting simply because of the number produced and their throw-away nature.

Toilet rolls and shaped newspaper tubes are excellent alternatives for quick turnover – assist with input of carbon into the soil as well.

In regards to water retention: unglazed terracotta/clay are  good for arid loving plants. Even the glazed ones dry out too quickly in our Temperate and Subtropical climates, though they are good for indoor plants because it’s easy to gauge critical moisture levels.

Hollowed tree trunks and sandstone rocks are REALLY good for ferns and orchids – the wood and rock mimics their natural growing environments.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1055
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
72
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Earthboxes are great. Plastic but they last a long time. I have some that are over ten years old. They are expensive though.

https://earthbox.com/
 
gardener
Posts: 1019
Location: South of Capricorn
331
dog rabbit urban cooking writing homestead ungarbage
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am in a place with strong sun and almost no plastic lasts more than 2 years without breaking down. I need to hill up dirt around these pots. And as FAgricola says, the terra cotta get really hot and dry out fast- good for planting rosemary, figs, and citrus, but not so great for other things.
 
gardener
Posts: 2652
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
216
forest garden trees urban
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm a big fan of sub irrigated planters.
Never too wet,  rarely too dry, they are my lazy gardening go too.
Plus I get to build something.
Mine are so simple,  I often skip the feed tube.
Mostly they are little bucket upside down inside of a bigger buckets.
Cut slots where you need to let water in or out.
Add wicking soil,water and plants.
Something I want to try more of is this kind of thing buried in a raised bed in next to a tree we it is planted, as a kind if olla.

5 gallon buckets last a long time in our weather here,  but 55 gallon barrels and 275 gallon totes are designed to be in the weather and last indefinitely.
If I really want something smaller than a icing bucket, I favor #10 cans or one gallon vinegar bottles.

If you have shovel friendly soil,  a tarp lined hole filled with upside down buckets and wicking soil is super cheap wicking bed.

 
gardener
Posts: 2984
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
715
forest garden trees woodworking
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am trying to phase out cheap/small plastic containers because they make such a mess when they deteriorate in the elements. Drums, calf feed tubs, and anything thick enough to resist UV shatter I still like.

I love glazed and unglazed pottery of all sizes, but large is expensive, and rare to find unbroken at garage sales, my main source for containers.

I don’t have an issue with galvanized metal but it’s another thing that’s rare at garage sales.

If you’re not scared of aluminum, old pressure canner vessels go real cheap once the lids, gaskets, valves, and guages have deteriorated beyond use. And drain holes are easy to drill.

I also like old steel five-gallon paint buckets — they tend to be well-coated against corrosion.

Another garage sale trick is to watch for those big enameled-steel hot-water-bath canning pots. Once the enamel chips and they start to rust, people dump them cheap. But for our purposes, the rusty chipped spot is just the marker for “Drill drain hole here.”

When my brother in law gets his sawmill spun up, I am hoping to get some rough-milled boards in Eastern Red Cedar. I think I can make some durable planter boxes from those.
 
Posts: 374
25
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
plastic is a love hate relationship
i hate plastic, but its everywhere
pete pots are just about ideal for starting annuals to plant in garden
its a shame that a biodegradable alternative to plastic pots has not been mass produced yet
Pakistan has outlawed some plastics, if pakistan can do it you would think the rest of the world could catch up with them.
 
gardener
Posts: 1774
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
598
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I agree with the love/hate relationship with plastic as bruce Fine stated above!
My take is that I avoid buying single-use plastic unless absolutely desperate. Beyond that, if I get it "pre-used" then any use I can give it before it starts to degrade is a help to the environment as I keep hoping there will arise better recycling options. (OK, so give me points for wishful thinking - it's the Christmas season at the moment)

For serious container growing, I take a half a 55 gallon drum, drill some drainage hole about an inch up from the bottom so that some of the water pools in the bottom and then I ask the local bike shops for broken bike wheel rims and fasten them inside or outside at the top of the rim depending on the fit. (I generally have to saw the rim open and fit things.) This keeps the barrel round and allows me to move them more easily if I need to. My oldest ones don't need the "rim treatment" - like everything else, they're using less plastic because it costs more to clean and return the barrels than it does to buy a new one!

Last year I built an ~4ft x8ft raised bed out of salvaged concrete blocks. I have been *very* pleased with it from the management perspective - it's large enough I could put punky wood in the bottom so it seemed to hold water very well. A friend has since dropped off enough salvaged blocks for a second one which I'd like to get moving on if there weren't so many other things to do. The blocks are wide enough that I can rest my knee or butt on them, which as I get older is important.

 
Posts: 1
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I’ve grown all my plants in containers because of renting. I got cheap black plastic storage containers that have the rope handles. I found that they did well for my fruit trees but anything smaller they lost the soil too quickly - you would water them and it would run straight out. Since moving to our new house, the pots have cracked at the base. But mulching and adding chicken poop to the top has really done wonders for the water draining issue. So as long as the soil is good it shouldn’t really matter what you plant in. Containers are great for the hot weather because you can move them out of the sun. Which in Australia we are having a massive heat wave.
C4CAEDE4-B59B-4E52-B48C-CA3F52247770.jpeg
Container garden
Container garden
84E4750B-2F5E-48B5-A748-C3565ACD4234.jpeg
Citrus growing happily in containers
Citrus growing happily in containers
 
author & pollinator
Posts: 162
Location: Southeastern U.S.
65
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jay Angler wrote:For serious container growing, I take a half a 55 gallon drum, drill some drainage hole about an inch up from the bottom so that some of the water pools in the bottom and then I ask the local bike shops for broken bike wheel rims and fasten them inside or outside at the top of the rim depending on the fit. (I generally have to saw the rim open and fit things.) This keeps the barrel round and allows me to move them more easily if I need to. My oldest ones don't need the "rim treatment" - like everything else, they're using less plastic because it costs more to clean and return the barrels than it does to buy a new one!


I'm really happy to find this thread because I want to focus more on containers this year. Living in the south usually means a long hot dry spell every summer, which is rough on the garden. We irrigate with collected rainwater, but last summer I found that my container plants near the back door did really well. They got got the rinsings from cleaning out critter water buckets and it was so easy to run out the back door with cooled canning water and dump it in the containers. I definitely want to expand on this concept and these ideas are great.

I agree that plastic for this seems to be a necessary evil. I've been thinking 55-gallon drums for planters, but Jay, you're so right about how flimsy everything is becoming. That's a real concern. Your idea to stiffen with broken bike wheel rims is a keeper.
 
pollinator
Posts: 224
37
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
One idea we are working on is portable crops that can be easily transported into an underground chamber for the winter and then returned outside after the last hard freeze. I’ve experimented w/ those plastic bags and they did not hold up and tore after a single season. Also I felt they didn’t breath enough or have adequate drainage. I saw online they sell bags made of felt and I like felt as a material. Large sheets of felt are available in thickness of up to 1 inch thick. Fabrication into box shapes using pop rivets or sewn, then insertion into a sturdy box of some sort seems a viable design for portability. Those steel wire milk crates come to mind obviously as a carrier. Crates to hold the felt boxes of soil could be constructed of bamboo lashed together with natural materials.
 
author
Posts: 21
Location: Hengelo, The Netherlands
9
forest garden foraging writing
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Bianca, your container garden looks lovely!
I'm also a big fan of mulching, both in the garden and in containers! A layer of myulch slows down evaporation so that you don't need to water as much. In my large tub, I also put down a layer of landscaping fabric at the bottom over a layer of gravel. It prevents the soil from draining away and also from mixing with the gravel which makes reusing the potting mix easier. To reuse it, I  add some of our homemade worm compost in spring.
,

Bianca Humphrey wrote:I’ve grown all my plants in containers because of renting. I got cheap black plastic storage containers that have the rope handles. I found that they did well for my fruit trees but anything smaller they lost the soil too quickly - you would water them and it would run straight out. Since moving to our new house, the pots have cracked at the base. But mulching and adding chicken poop to the top has really done wonders for the water draining issue. So as long as the soil is good it shouldn’t really matter what you plant in. Containers are great for the hot weather because you can move them out of the sun. Which in Australia we are having a massive heat wave.

 
bruce Fine
Posts: 374
25
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
those citrus do look very happy and healthy
 
Vera Greutink
author
Posts: 21
Location: Hengelo, The Netherlands
9
forest garden foraging writing
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think  both might be right :)  The info in my book regarding fruit trees in containers comes from a German nursery specialised in edible plants. They even have a range of compact fruit varieties for container growing. When the sugar turns to alcohol, you can actually smell it.

 

F Agricola wrote:'Vera Greutink wrote:
If the pot heats up on a sunny day, the tree thinks it’s spring and starts to produce sugar. But because the plant is not actively growing at that moment, the sugar is not used and turns into alcohol, which can kill the plant.'


I don’t know if that assumption is correct – it may be more likely the warmer soil promotes early budding when the surrounding air temperature is too cold, causing frost burn. The biggest fear is most metal containers are cheap galvanised ones, where the zinc and other chemicals adversely affect plants.

I find containers that retain heat – terracotta/metal give seedlings a very big head-start in late Winter early Spring, much like a cold frame.

Plastic pots are almost a necessary evil and far too convenient. I like them for cultivating from seed – better control, and to harden-up seedlings before planting out into the garden. But mostly, they are very polluting simply because of the number produced and their throw-away nature.

Toilet rolls and shaped newspaper tubes are excellent alternatives for quick turnover – assist with input of carbon into the soil as well.

In regards to water retention: unglazed terracotta/clay are  good for arid loving plants. Even the glazed ones dry out too quickly in our Temperate and Subtropical climates, though they are good for indoor plants because it’s easy to gauge critical moisture levels.

Hollowed tree trunks and sandstone rocks are REALLY good for ferns and orchids – the wood and rock mimics their natural growing environments.

 
pollinator
Posts: 262
Location: Central Texas
81
hugelkultur forest garden trees rabbit greening the desert homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I agree with plastic being a "necessary" evil in some cases, especially with the little, plastic nursery pots that are so prevalent in the landscape/nursery trade.
I use them in my small nursery business, but I make a point to never actually buy them new. Each spring I go "hunting" and can usually find more than enough for the upcoming year just by dumpster diving and driving through residential areas the evening before the garbage trucks are scheduled to pick up in the area. I've even had people save them for me after I stop to ask if I can have them from their garbage, and it never hurts to give them a plant as a token of thanks. I also have friends/family who look for pots to bring me, and many of the repeat customers at the market will bring me the empty pots they've accumulated since they know it helps keep my prices lower.
When the pots start to crack & break down, I've cut them into strips or melted them into solid, flat pieces and stapled them to the walls in the rabbit barn like tiles, which helps protect the walls from sprayed urine.

For personal use, I use all kinds of stuff to grow container plants in. The big tubs that cow feed comes in make great tree/shrub containers, and recycled metal containers work well for heat lovers or in the shade. The only thing I use terra cotta/clay for is cacti & succulents, because they just dry out too quickly in my climate.
I've also used the woven plastic feed sacks as "grow bags" when I didn't have anything else on hand, but they tend to work best for dormant trees/shrubs in winter because they break down too quickly in the sun.
Recycled dresser drawers make good seed/cutting propagation containers, and milk crates lined with newspaper or cardboard can be used as planters.  
For my bonsai projects, I like to use recycled colanders & pond baskets for root pruning/ramification.
Although many of the things I use for containers would be considered unsustainable for their initial use, I try to do my part in keeping them from the waste stream for as long as possible by repurposing them after they've been discarded by people who no longer use them for the intended purposes.
 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 1774
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
598
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Bianca Humphrey wrote:

I found that they did well for my fruit trees but anything smaller they lost the soil too quickly - you would water them and it would run straight out.


Welcome to Permies Bianca!

For pots I'm using that are less than 30cm (1 ft) diameter at the base, I have a bunch of rubber feed pans that are a few inches high that I put under the pots during our drought season, and remove during our wet season. That way the water can wick up rather than running out. We use the same bins as "duckling bath tubs", which for some bizarre reason, our goose thinks is a perfect size for her. The point being they're indestructible so far, unlike cheap flimsy plastic reservoirs available for most plant pots.

The better the soil quality and using good mulch, the less water the plants need in the first place, but I also notice a difference based on the plant itself. Some plants do need more water than others and I'm learning to use them as "indicator plants" - who needs a fancy moisture meter when I can just look at what the comfrey is saying?
 
Tereza Okava
gardener
Posts: 1019
Location: South of Capricorn
331
dog rabbit urban cooking writing homestead ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Kc Simmons wrote:
I've also used the woven plastic feed sacks as "grow bags" when I didn't have anything else on hand, but they tend to work best for dormant trees/shrubs in winter because they break down too quickly in the sun.


I have potatoes and sweet potatoes growing in these at this very moment, but I know from last season that when it`s time to harvest I need to bring over a wheelbarrow or something and do it right there, because those bags don`t even stand up to getting picked up, they just crumble. But for one season, good enough, considering I have a load of them hanging around.

I just cleaned out the attic and I found, of all things, a US Mail mailbag, like the one below, really sturdy canvas with a belt on top and a mechanism to "lock" the bag. It is probably from the last international move..... 13 years ago! Maybe time to let go? I think I will plant in it, should be a bit more resilient than the feed sacks and it`s a bit larger.


(yes, I know it is the property of the USPS. I'd be happy to give it back to them, but they're not interested in coming out here to get it, or better yet sending me up there to deliver it).
 
What does a metric clock look like? I bet it is nothing like this tiny ad:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!