Lockdown Gardening: Help! I’ve run out of pots!

For some of you, this may be your first foray into the wonderful world of gardening. For others, this may be just another year in our glorious cycle of sowing and harvesting our own fresh produce. For the latter group, who likely have much more experience than I, please go make yourself a cup of tea and pot/put on some chard. For the former, please, pull up a chair and read on.

For whatever reason you find yourself reading this article, you and many others like you have found yourself dipping a toe into growing your own, but are unsure perhaps of what to do when you don’t have everything you need, to hand. Gardening, in its basic form, is simple. That is the beauty. It is a simple, meditative activity. You get some seeds or maybe a plant from a nursery or garden centre, you buy some compost and some pots and off you go. You keep them watered – maybe a little too much, maybe not enough, but nine times out of ten it will work. You nurse your newborn plants with all the care and attention your lifestyle will allow. It gives you a sense of pride to watch them grow and to thrive. Someone may ask “What do you feed it?” which will prompt a 10pm Google marathon on the topic of ‘How to feed your plants’ but on the whole, you fall into an easy routine of watering and watching.

Slowly and excitingly, your seedlings/plants grow and before long you are starting to consider what happens next. Around that time, your access to garden centres, garden clubs, everything is cut off. Overnight. What do you do?

  • What happens when you run out of pots?
  • What happens when you run out of compost?
  • What happens when you run out of space?
  • What happens when online seed shopping becomes more frantic than share trading?

Panic not fellow gardeners (because that’s what you are!), I am here to offer some simple, quick and importantly, cheap solutions to lockdown garden dilemmas.

OK we have all been there: you sowed an entire packet of chard seeds you had managed to grab before the garden centre closed, and sprinkled the lot in that pot you had from the peach tree which you were given by Aunt Mary in Dorset two Christmases ago. It subsequently died, because we’re not in subtropical Dorset but you know… reduce, reuse and recycle! In a couple of weeks, you are excited to see the first heads poke through the compost. In three weeks you are marvelling at the rainbow colours of their little stems. In four you’re starting to wonder how tall these things might grow, and by week five you’re beginning to realise you might need to resolve this overcrowding issue.

However, the garden centre is shut, you can’t source online and even Asda or The Range (during your weekly restock of essentials) has run out.

So what do you do? You improvise, that’s what you do. Trust me, there are many, many things lying around your house right now that you can use for pots. They just sometimes need pointing out.

With most of these suggestions below, please remember to wash them thoroughly before planting, and then drill or pierce some holes in the bottom (I use a metal skewer over a flame – lighter, gas hob etc. DO NOT PUT IN TOASTER OR MICROWAVE).

Plastic bottles: From juice or fizzy drinks or similar. Simply cut off the top just about 6 inches up from the bottom – also don’t cast the top section aside, especially if it has a lid – we’ll get onto that in a later article.

Cherry tomato/grape trays: These usually come with pre-made holes so they are essentially ready to go.

Milk/Orange juice cartons: You know… the tetrapak kind. Cut them in half. Some are flatter on top than others, so you can get away with standing the top on end too.

Shampoo bottles, and especially that well known bargain brand with the slightly french sound name:

Plastic milk bottles: Simply remove the top from just under the level of the handle.

Mugs: You know, the one with the broken handle

Toilet roll tubes: Yes, the cardboard ones. Controversial – some are concerned about possible germs but if you’re not, then go for it. Personally, I don’t find them that useful but friends swear by them.

Rolled up paper/card: Cut paper – newspaper (was not the shiny stuff – some bad stuff in the coloured ink), Amazon delivery boxes, breakfast cereal boxes, you get the idea. Cut them into 6 inch by 10 inch strips, roll the strip round on the long edge and sellotape or tie together with string or an elastic band. Cut 4 or 5 equally spaced slits upwards from the bottom, about an inch long round the base, and then fold those inwards to form a ‘bottom’ for your pot.

Guttering: A lot of us might have that spare bit we thought might come in useful laying about in the garage somewhere. Well, now it’s useful. Keep the entire length or cut to size and simply fill with compost. If you have some actual plastic drainpipe, then simply cut into 6 inch lengths.

Yoghurt & Plastic margarine tubs: Any will do.

Glass jars: Don’t try to pierce holes in the bottom of these though.

Cans: You can use cans but if you are going to do that please make sure the top is filed smooth and lined with a food grade plastic sandwich bag. Some cans leech nasty stuff into the soil when exposed to air, but most are very safe. Which leads me nicely onto..

Bags: Compost bags, plastic Sainsbury’s bags (*or other supermarkets, we’re not fussy), that hideous handbag/sport bag your ex bought you. All have been used in this house as emergency pots! Including my last…

Shoes: Yes, shoes. Or wellies. They hold soil so they are fair game. Not your Sunday best obviously…

Beg, borrow or steal: I post regular gardening updates on my Facebook and after posting my emergency potting results yesterday, my lovely non-gardening neighbour handed me a pile of twenty or more pots she found in her garden shed.

So there you go – just some ideas. There are many other potential emergency potting possibilities out there, just let your imagination run wild.

Next week – Help!​ I’ve run out of compost!