The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

What do we do with garden pots?

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

As gardeners we spend a lot of time with "re" words. We relive the time BJB (before Japanese beetles). We reinvent new uses for caste off items. Old plastic window blinds become plant labels. Curtain rods become hose guides to protect our gardens from an unfortunate quick whip of the hose dragon's tail. We reuse plastic pots. Or at least we think we will reuse them. We stack them, and stack them, and stack them until we need to have "search and rescue" dogs alerted every time we venture into the garage. If we can't reuse all those pots, do garden centers want them? Are pots recyclable with milk jugs?

A few rules concerning pot returns to garden centers:

  • If the nursery does accept used pots, most accept only pots that were purchased from them originally. There is an excellent reason for this. In quality plant production consistency is crucial. Since I have spent many hours watering plants in greenhouses, I know what a nightmare it is to care for plants in a hodgepodge of pots.
  • Return only usable pots. Nothing cracked.
  • Stack similar sizes together.
  • Remove as much soil as possible. Keep in mind pots have to be sterilized at the garden center before they are reused to lessen the risk of disease transmission.
  • Most nurseries don't accept cell packs, which are those thin inserts that house four or six plants.
  • Most don't accept flats, which are those things that hold the cell packs or specific sized pots.

Here are the results of a survey of area garden centers:

Country Arbors, Urbana
They have struggled with this and for years have taken them back. They have had to quit doing this because the storage shed they built is full with over 10,000 pots. However they still find it cost effective to take any usable 7 gallon or above sized pots that were purchased from them originally.

Danville Gardens, Danville and Champaign
Accept only their pots that are 4.5 inch to a gallon size but no inserts or flats. "It saves money and is good to recycle," according to owner Nathan Campbell.

Greenview, Champaign
Accept only their green pots with GV on them. Pots could be 5 inches or 1-2 gallon size.

Hidden Acres, St. Joseph
Accept only pots purchased from them.

Illini FS Farmtown, Urbana
Since they are a distributor, they do not accept pots.

Kleiss Nursery, Tolono
Accept their pots only and sanitize them on site. Linda Kleiss stated it used to be more cost efficient to buy new ones [considering the cost of paying someone to clean and stack pots] but the cost of petroleum has driven up the cost of pots. It is now more cost efficient and environmentally friendly to recycle.

Kountry Colors, Fithian
Accept individual pots that are 4 and 6 inch and gallon size. No flats.

Prairie Gardens, Champaign
Don't accept used pots.

Ropp's Nursery, Gibson City
Roger Cramer says that they accept more substantial pots and flats that they sell. They do not accept pots less than four inches in diameter.

Schuren Nursery in St. Joseph
Accept any and all kinds of bedding pots that are theirs or anyone else's. They must be free of soil and be reusable.

Village Garden Shoppe, Mahomet
Accepts most any pot.

Check with your waste hauler about recycling pots with other recyclables. Not every plastic is recyclable. Urbana's U-Cycle program and the Champaign Drop Off site only accept pots with a 5 or 2 recycling symbol on the bottom. No cell packs.

Join us for the Master Gardener Garden Walk June 24 from 9-4. Tickets available day of walk at area garden centers and at Idea Garden in Urbana, just south of the corner of Lincoln and Florida.

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