Sustainable ways of growing saplings in the nursery

We all have visited nursery at some point in time whether it is for buying plants, acquaint ourselves with knowledge of various species of plants, or simply just to experience the beauty of nature. But have you ever realized that the nursery which mostly involves working with organic and natural products to carry out their most activities is also one of the major contributors to plastic pollution? Believe it or not, the bitter truth is that nurseries use a lot of plastics. For example, plastic pots and plastic bags which are used to keep saplings are the most common usage of plastics in nurseries. Once the plants are sold these all plastic bags are discarded.

Do you know where these discarded plastic bags go?

We all are somewhat aware of the aftermath of it just a little ignorant in accepting the truth. Because it is not hidden truth that the plastics which we use either end up in landfills, clog the waterways or are burnt. In all cases it causes pollution the harmful effects of which on the environment is irreversible. In worst case scenario many of the plastic bags eaten up by animals while grazing and also end up in the stomachs of marine creatures through water resources.

In India alone, it is estimated that around 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic wastes are generated every year. Also, plastic wastes are not easy to recycle which can be confirmed by the fact that worldwide only around 9% of total plastic waste is recycled.

So, what options do we have?

Up until a few years ago, there wasn’t really a viable alternative to plastic. But in these eco-conscious times we are starting to see more sustainable and eco-friendly options such as reusable growing bags and pots made from various plant fibres such as bamboo, rice hulls etc. But it is natural that after using plastic pots since many years gardeners will be concerned about whether these alternatives will work or not and their economic viability. So, let’s see some of the alternatives available in the market with their advantages and disadvantages.

1. Coconut coir fibre pots

Coir is the fibrous material that constitutes the thick middle layer of the ripe coconut fruit. It makes an excellent choice for making pots in order to grow plants. The pots made from these are not only eco-friendly but also sturdy.

How it is made?

In order to get coconut coir ready and suitable for making pots, it needs to go through processing as follows:

  • Coir fibres are separated from coconut husks by soaking the husks in water so that they get loosen and soften.
  • Coir granules are then separated from the fibre.
  • Coir fibres are then washed with fresh water and dried.
  • Dried coir fibres are treated with steam at about 50ºC to remove unwanted bugs and weed seeds.
  • The fibre is pressed to produce a loose coir mat. It is then moulded into various pot shapes by being pushed into various sizes of pot moulds.
  • The pots are then dipped in natural latex to hold the fibres together. It is then pressed heavily to give the pot its final shape.
  • The pots are then sun dried and trimmed.


Pots made from coir fibre provide numerous benefits to the gardeners as well as the plants.

  • Coco-coir pots have high permeability to water, air and roots.
  • The coir pots break down naturally in the soil. Therefore, the plant, along with the pot, can go straight into the soil without causing any root disturbance or transplant shock to the plant.
  • As opposed to plastic pots, coir pots are completely bio-degradable and readily transform into organic matter on decomposing.
  • Another added advantage is that plants grown in coir pots undergo aerial root pruning (root distribution) which allows complete usage of the pots.
  • It also helps in nourishment of plants by providing nutrients like iron, zinc, magnesium and copper. These all nutrients are beneficial to the growth of plants.
  • It also ensures proper drainage and maintain moisture content.


  • They are expensive than conventional plastic pots. Hence it might not be suitable for large-scale commercial use.
  • They are also not as durable as plastic pots.

2.  Cow dung pots

Although cow dung is mainly used for manure, but it can also be one of the sustainable alternatives to plastic bags and plastic pots of nurseries. Using cow dung pots can act as double edge sword because it is not only beneficial to the environment but for the soil too.

How it is made?

Cow dung pots are very easy to make. Just follow these simple steps:

  • Cow dungs are collected and removed for any earthworms or unwanted materials.
  • The cleaned cow dungs are filled in the pot mould of desired size and shapes.
  • Compress it and remove the pot from the mould.
  • The moulded pot is sun dried.
  • If pots made from cow dung are sun dried properly then we can get rid of the smell of cow dung.


  • The plant potted in a cow dung pot can be simply transplanted into the ground without having to disturb the root ball. While transplanting the plants one does not have to dig a hole in the ground since plants can directly transferred to the ground along with the pot itself.
  • It is eco-friendly and inexpensive too.
  • It can also help in generating more income for farmers.
  • It may also give an employment opportunity in the rural area specially to women.
  • This might encourage villagers to not abandon their unproductive cow which is also becoming a rising issue nowadays.


As compare to plastic pots they are fragile. Hence, they are less durable than plastic pots.

3. Cellulose fibre pots

When considering eco-friendly planters an obvious choice which comes into the mind is pots made from cellulose fibre. Cellulose is woody fibre obtained by mashing up plants. Cellulose are organic and biodegradable materials which readily decomposes.

How it is made?

  • Cellulose pots are generally made from newspapers and cardboards.
  • For this first newspapers and cardboards are shredded.
  • After shredding they are reduced to a soft and pulpy mass with the help of water.
  • The pulpy mass is usually mixed with resins and binders which act as adhesives and bind it all together.
  • The mixture is then given a proper shape using a mould.
  • After getting the desired shape pots are then dried.


  • It is very easy to transplant plants from the cellulose pots because plants grow into and through the pots and can be planted in the ground with the pot itself.
  • They are biodegradable.
  • It has very low carbon footprint especially when made using recycled materials like paper, cardboard etc.


  • One of the biggest disadvantages when using cellulose pots is that there arises a problem of developing a mould on the pots. Generally, after 3 months of using, mould starts to develop. But it does not cause any harm to the plants. This is one of the main reasons why they are not used on a large scale.
  • Generally, the binding agents used to make pots are synthetic. Hence, they tend to be unbiodegradable. This problem can be avoided by using natural resins and binders.

4. Bamboo pots

Bamboo is one of the most useful natural materials on the planet. Since it is comparatively harder it doesn’t swell or shrink like other available woody products. Therefore, it is a great material for making pots which can be used in the nurseries or by people in general.

How it is made?

In order to make bamboo pots, it needs to go following process:

  • First bamboo is mashed up. In order to better utilize available sources, we can use bits of bamboo which are left after making furniture.
  • These mashed-up pulp is then combined using binding agents like resin, corn starch etc.
  • This paste is then heated and filled into the mould of desired shape and size.
  • Next, it is pressurized to give it the final shape.


  • Pots made from bamboo are rigid and sturdy. Due to this property, they behave mostly like conventional plastic pots. Therefore, they make an excellent choice for plantation.
  • They are reusable which is the most desirable property for commercial use.


  • They are expensive than other available pots. But since they can be used repeatedly hence, they have an added advantage over those less expensive single-use biodegradable pots.
  • These pots are usually imported so they come with relatively high carbon emissions due to the transportation process involved in it.

5. Rice hulls pots

One of the recent entries into the market of sustainable eco-friendly pots is those made using rice hulls. Rice hulls are the hard outer portions of a grain of rice. They are a major by-products of the rice crop and are mainly treated as a waste products. The use of rice hulls in the preparation of biodegradable pots is one of the most useful ways to utilize these agricultural wastes.

How it is made?

  • Rice hulls are grinded in order to get it in powdered form.
  • Next, they are combined with starch-based binding agents in order to form a paste. To get the desired color of pots organic pigments can also be added.
  • It is then heated and moulded into the desired shape of pots by pressurizing it.
  • Both heat and pressure bind the ingredients to produce the final product which is totally guilt-free.


  • These pots are rigid and durable. Hence can be use multiple times.
  • They are biodegradable. Hence after their shelf life is up it can be added to compost.
  • Due to their heat-insulating characteristics it results in better root development which leads to thriving and healthy plants.
  • It is also effective in ensuring proper drainage and air movement.


They are comparatively more expensive than plastic pots.

Article written by Priyanka Premchandra Yadav

Article By

Gayatri Dhumal
Having a background in Forestry & Environmental Science has been the driving force to know all about the mysteries of the environment and looking for newer sustainable ways to contribute to the environment. She enjoys sharing her knowledge about her passion with people and help contribute towards sensitizing them to adopt cleaner, greener ways to make a change.

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