Think Twice Before Adding Packing Materials To The Bottom Of Your Planters

Placing non-soil items like plastic bottles or pool noodles in the bottom of planters can save you money on potting soil and help with drainage, but not everything every upcycled item is a good idea. Packing materials like styrofoam peanuts may cause more harm than good. Similarly, other styrofoam products like take-out containers or sheets that come in boxes to protect delicate items from shipping damage can create problems for your plants.

On a superficial level, it makes sense that these items would make a great addition to the bottom of a planter. They are lightweight, making the planter easier to move. And unlike sticks or other organic materials, styrofoam takes about 500 years to break down. Yes, 500 years! So even though this plastic-based product will be around for centuries longer than all of us, there are a few reasons not to use packing materials in the bottom of your planters.

Why packing products are a problem

Styrofoam may last forever, but it may not encourage good drainage. Sheets made of this product consist of tiny beads. You have seen them. You have struggled to get them off your arms and hands thanks to static cling. Because these sheets and take-out containers are so fragile, they will break apart when covered with a heavier planting medium, like soil mix. So, instead of giving you lightweight filler that promotes drainage, it's all going to break and may even form a seal in the bottom of your planter, preventing excess water from getting out. Packing peanuts may seem more sturdy, but they are unlikely to stand up well to the weight of wet soil and plants. Also, if you ever want to empty your container and reuse that soil, you are going to have a mess of styrofoam to deal with. Yuck.

Now, you might ask, "What about eco-friendly packing materials?" Ironically, they will not work well because they are made to decompose quickly — great for the environment — but not helpful in a planter. As products like biodegradable packing peanuts made of cornstarch break down, your soil will settle, and you will lose all the benefits of using extra filler in the bottom of your planters.

Alternatives to packing materials

Packing products may not help you lighten the weight of your soil-filled containers, save you money, or promote drainage, but there are plenty of products that will. Start by digging through your recycling bin. Soda bottles with the lid on can take up a lot of space and will not get crushed to the point they will block the planter's drainage holes. Likewise, soda cans placed upside down in the bottom of a planter offer the same benefit.

If you prefer something more natural or just have an abundance of medium-sized rocks that you have dug from your garden, these make an excellent addition to the bottom of a container — if you're not concerned about weight. They can even be used to stabilize smaller containers and keep them from tipping over in high winds. Use rocks that are about 2 inches in diameter and add a few layers to the bottom of your planter. Place a sheet of landscaping fabric on top to keep the potting soil from filling in the gaps.