What to fill the bottom of large pots with to take up some room

debbiep_gwMarch 28, 2006

Hi,what could I put in the bottom of large flower pots to take up some room so I don't have to use lots of potting soil in it.I know styrofoam peanuts will work and thought about newspaper crumpled in the bottom but is there anything else?I prefer not to use regualr garden soil as its heavier than potting soil and makes moving the pot hard.Thanks in advance.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I avoid any drainage material in favor of a uniform soil - top to bottom, but that's another discussion.

I will say that garden or topsoil in a container will be counter-productive & increase water retention while destroying aeration. Newspaper will quickly compact to a soggy mess & promote soil organisms that thrive in oxygen-starved conditions.

What about using an upended smaller container in the bottom of the larger, or just use a smaller container?


    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 4:56PM
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debbie8592(Central FL)

I've seen the styrofoam peanuts mentioned, and plastic water or soda bottles.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 5:59PM
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I have had great luck filling the bottoms with pine bark nugget mulch--- it's light weight,natural, easy to find, and inexpensive. One caution though anything you use will make the pots dry out quicker as water will sieve on through-- Good Luck

    Bookmark   March 28, 2006 at 6:37PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I see debbie's point. I,too, plant several very large containers full of fast growing annuals. They simply don't need the entire soil volume, it seems. I've always filled the bottom of those containers with the packing peanuts, and the plants seem to be happy.

Since my potting medium is extremely porous, and so are those pp, extra watering is required at the beginning of the growing season. But at the end of the season, when I am cleaning out and storing those pots, plant roots have completely wrapped around every pp...something that I've thought interesting. That layer of styrofoam comes out like an integrated whole, not individual peanuts. LOTs and LOTs of nice healthy roots.

By the way, be observant if you use the pp. Styrofoam only, not the corn starch ones that dissolve in water.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2006 at 12:06PM
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Rekha Anandkumar(9)

I have used smaller plastic containers (the ones small plants come in from the nursery), they seem to do well

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 10:24PM
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Fill the container with those empty plastic easter eggs.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2006 at 10:37PM
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Last year I used many, many plastic water bottles in my giant pots. My pots looked fantastic all summer and I plan to use them again. The potting medium I buy for my containers is about $20 per bag - way to costly to fill up large containers when you don't need to.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 11:38AM
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Maggie- Thanks for that tip; I hang my hat on the Winter Sowing forum, and we've found that the smaller water bottles are too small for WS-ing, but this is a good use for them!

To answer the OP's question, I've also heard you can use aluminum cans.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 2:03PM
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I had some small pails that I planted leftover Impatiens in last year and I was low on potting soil so I put 2 glass Coke bottles,(the smallest ones) and layed on their sides in the bottom of each pail.They took up one third of the pail.These were the best of all my containers all summer long.The plants grew large and bushy,just beautiful.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 9:03AM
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kristal(3b MN)

I like the plastic bottle idea, I think I'll try it this year. Be wary of what you use, though. Last year, I used crushed pop cans, and when it came time to dump out pots, I had a tangled mess of roots, cans, and soil. It's easier just to recycle them.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 9:42PM
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kansas5(z5 KS)

I use uncrushed soda pop cans - works great and lightweight.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 11:36PM
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I've tried the styro peanuts, and do not like having to deal with them when it is time to re-pot. I often use a variety of organic materials such as leaves, twigs that are bulky and light. By the time I am ready to re-pot they are composted or at least it is okay to put them in the garden as-is.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 4:21PM
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kitha1215(z8/Central Louisiana)

Try small stones, that'll work.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 10:57PM
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Grancru(z5 MI)

I am going to try using old 1 and 3 gallon plastic pots (inverted) from other nursery plants. They cost nothing, are very lightweight and the different sizes can fill amost any size space. You can get these free at most nurseries. Then use plastic water or pop bottles to fill in the space around the rest.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2006 at 8:00PM
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amanda_t(KY, zone 6)

If you have them around, pine cones work really well, they weigh next to nothing.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 11:53AM
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I too also use plastic water bottles, soda bottles, and plastic milk containers and have for about 15+ years. Just make sure that these are the type of plastic bottles with the screw-on tops.

I make all my own compost (of which there's never enough) and to save on buying bags of potting soil, I mix regular garden soil with rough compost. Sometimes going as much as half soil and half rough compost. The compost continues to break down in the soil and feed it and the plants. You wouldn't believe the worms that I have in my large planters.

If you use things like cans or plastic bottles, put a good healthy layer in and shake (if it isn't too large of a container or planter) and then water it well. This will help to settle the soil/compost mixture around whatever you have on the bottom. I then water again after I have it filled with the soil mixture and let it sit for several days before I plant in it. This helps the soil to settle. If you find that it's still too low for your liking, then just add more.

Hope this helps to give you some ideas.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 11:18PM
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aktnyc(z7a NYC)

Absolutely don't use garden soil--I speak from sad experience. Don't use stones either, as you want to be able to lug pots around. Everything else more or less works, in my experience, though it's true that styrofoam peanuts can be messy when repotting. Al argues against anything, in favor of giving plants all possible room for roots, and that has certainly influenced me against plastic bottles (though I still have a hidden cache of them to use for containers with annuals).

    Bookmark   April 26, 2006 at 11:58AM
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ljrmiller(z7 NV)

Don't the lighter containers blow over? I fill my containers with potting mix. Period. If it's a really big container I won't be able to wrestle into place, I put the container where I want it, THEN fill.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 2:56PM
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hollyhockdoll(z5 IN)

I put packing peanuts in a mesh bag (like what onions come in from the grocery) before putting them in the pot. No more sorting peanuts out of soil, as the wind is blowing them into your neighbor's yard :) I like to do this with pinecones too, since they'll last several seasons.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 7:26PM
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WOW - a lot of good ideas here. I came here to ask this very question or at least search for an answer. I am doing a large galvanized tub 2 sq foot and about 2 ft deep and wanted to see if my idea of using uncrushed soda cans would be a good idea but the soda bottles seems like a good idea too. Gonna think a little bit more about exactly what method I will use but glad to see I wasn't TOOOOOOO far offbase. I have a bunch of wildflower seed and wanted it in a more controlled enviroment rather than just sowing it in the ground and then questioning what was weed or what was seed...


    Bookmark   April 28, 2006 at 11:09PM
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aktnyc(z7a NYC)

What a very good idea!Never occured to me.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2006 at 3:20PM
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For the last several years, when planting my annuals in large pots, I simply take the plants out of the plastic containers they come in and toss those in the bottom of the pots. Makes the pots much more light-weight and easier to move if necessary, helps with drainage, saves on potting mix, and saves the landfills from all my cast-off plastic container thingies.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 6:32PM
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alex_z7(7 AL)

I thought it was interesting to note that I have seen some roots go right through packing peanuts, i.e. spearing them. While I may not be wild about them being integrated into the plant like that, it doesn't seem to stunt them and makes good use of an otherwise environmentally-unfriendly product.

I have used 2 liter bottles and smaller water bottles. Smaller (like 16 oz) Gatorade and such soda bottles, too.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2006 at 10:34PM
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karen_in_memphis(z7 TN)

Please explain why I shouldn't use something like M.G on the top and a cheaper potting mix with perlite added on the bottom. I really would prefer soil in my pots instead of other stuff (sorry).

Really need to know,

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 12:06AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Alex, plastic peanuts do work as a great surface for the roots to interface with and they will also grow into them. There have been quite a few studies done on this. Certainly not as good as a terrific, coarse textured potting mix, but as far as providing a good environment for vast root development....pretty darned good.

Karen, you would be better of mixing the cheap stuff (a soilless mix) with whatever name brand you use, rather than creating an artificial layering between two different planting mediums. It is possible, I would presume, that drainage could be impeded if the bottom layer is finer textured than the top. If your entire substrate is homogeneous, that backup of water is less likely to happen.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 11:29AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Karen - Dorie is right, in that different soils in the same container will create watering problems and a homogeneous mix is best. A finer soil on the bottom will create an unnecessarily high level of saturated water there & if you use a fine layer atop a coarse layer, the water "perches" in the fine soil above and doesn't drain into the soil below.

Many times, even marginal quality potting soils can be vastly improved by the addition of a fairly substantial volume of pine bark and some perlite.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2006 at 3:39PM
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I use lava rock, it is lightweight and takes up alot of room, plus I like the rough edges, such that it won't "pack" down.

But I really like the plastic easter egg suggestion! I hate those stupid things--I have had some taking up space in my house for several years because they are not recyclable and I couldn't bring myself to just throw them away--so un-ecofriendly! Now I know just what to do with them!!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 6:39PM
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myyyyy goodness i read all these suggestions, and roll my eyes, because not one person has said to just throw leaves in the bottom, AND now i know that i have got to go dig all those stinkin leaves back out of the bottom of my large containers LOL. now i know that the leaves will stay wet longer while the top dries out, thus creating a soogy pool in the bottom, then here comes the "root rot". really glad to see these posts on different senerios for different people. i have been viewing other posts at other websites and man some gardeners are just rude and mean. i was like my goodness these people are just asking for advice etc, and reply comebacks were smart remarks, gardening scientists saying how wrong it all is, etc. i know everyone's situation is different, as some have success with this or that, and others won't. it's still nice to read all the options ON HERE. grateful to have found nice people that truly care enough about someone's questions to reply with nice answers. happy gardening to you all and God bless!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 2:29AM
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Thanks for the reminders- a couple variations would be to put the peanuts in a ziplock bag which would allow you to reuse them. Could mess with drainage but the basic idea worked for me.
Also, after I read your posts, I found a couple gallon pots to put upside down in my containers but the holes on the bottom of the pots would allow soil to fall in which reminded me of another tip I learned. Cover the holes with a coffee filter which is degradable over time but prevents soil from falling in. I also use the filters to cover holes in any pots or containers I use.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 8:04PM
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