Bottle gardening – some experiments

In Februari 2007 I started some small experiments with what I call “bottle gardening“. I try to show that plastic bottles can be used as containers (see also “container gardening” informer messages on this blog).

The main objective is to use plastic bottles for vegetable production in the drylands in order to save a maximum of water for irrigation. Within the framework of the combat of desertification, it is important to get a maximum of agricultural or horticultural production with a minimum of irrigation water. Moreover, enhancement of food production should also be realized in the drylands and on relatively poor soils.

Should these experiments be successful, a myriad of bottles, otherwise littered and dramatically degrading the environment, could play a very interesting role in sustainable food production for the rural people.

Each bottle can easily be decapitated with scissors or a knife. Then, the top can be slipped inside the bottle and put as a conical cover over the perforated bottom. The bottle is now filled with a substrate. At home in Belgium, I did it with a nice potting mix to which some TerraCottem soil conditioner was added. TerraCottem is a waters stocking and fertilizing mixture (see It offers the supplementary advantage to stock a large quantity of water and thus, keeps the substrate in the bottle moistened for a longer time (less direct drainage, less need to water the bottle regularly), resulting in a significant safe of water.

Five weeks after the start of the experiments, I feel quite happy with the results. I used different vegetable seedlings as test material : lettuce, cauliflower, parsley, lemon thyme and, later on, strawberry. I also used small, medium and big bottles. I watered the plants every 3-4 days with a very small quantity of water. No single plant died up to now.

My prognosis is that these plastic bottles can be used as “free” containers (no costs). In the drylands I would prepare a substrate with the local, mostly sandy soil, enriched with a bit of animal manure or compost and abit of TerraCottem.

I would also bury the bottles in a vertical position in the soil in order to avoid UV-degradation of the plastic, so that the same bottles can be used for a number of years.

It seems to me that this would be a good idea to get rid of all these littered plastic bottles. Maybe the same principle can be used with the classical plastic bags, which are now infesting nature all over the world.

Have a look at some pictures of my tests:

2007-03 Decapitated bottle
2007-03 : Decapitated bottle – Top of bottle slipped inside – Conical protection over perforated bottom.

2007-03 : Bouteille décapitée – Sommet de la bouteille poussé à l’intérieur – Protection conique au-dessus du fond perforé

2007-03 Bottle with parsley
2007-03 : Bottle filled with substrate (potting mix with TerraCottem) – Bottom remains free for drainage and aeration. Parsley growing.

2007-03 : Bouteille remplie avec le substrat (terreau avec TerraCottem) – Le fond reste libre pour le drainage et l’aération. Persille en plein développement.

2007-03 2 bottles
2007-03 : Lettuce and cauliflower develop well in a plastic bottle.

2007-03 : Une laitue et un choufleur se développent bien dans une bouteille en plastique. 

2007-03 : 4 bottles
2007-03 : Bottle size doesn’t seem to be that important for a good development.

2007-03 : La dimension de la bouteille ne semble pas être tellement important pour un bon développement. 

2007-03 Bottle collection
2007-03 : My full collection of plastic bottles, small and big ones, all doing well.

2007-03 : Ma collection de bouteilles en plastique, petites et grandes, toutes vont bien.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

7 thoughts on “Bottle gardening – some experiments”

  1. It sounds fascinating. We tried some indoor container gardening last year with not much luck. The plants grew, but didn’t produce much. I think perhaps the way you did the perforations and cones would have been much more successful than the stones in a solid bottom that we used. If I can find something to use as drainage trays I will try your way this year. We are trying to make indoor gardening work because the grasshoppers eat everything planted outside. My goal is to build a small greenhouse, but it’s just not in the budget yet. Your success is inspiring.

  2. I am “into” gardening and related things such as garden decor accessories. My brother is building an underground house. Perhaps we can combine our skills and passions and come up with something truly wonderful. Let me explain. In the areas that are totally underground, I can see the possibility of having an underground vegetable garden, a number of container gardens, and bottle gardens. Consider this: no matter now cold it gets, even with the heat totally turned off, it never gets below 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the underground areas—even in the coldest winters! Add a little heat, an irrigation system (not hard to do since my brother had a well dug), some florescent lights, and an underground garden is a definite possibility. And consider this: since everything is underground, there is no need to build a 6-foot fence to keep the deer out, no need to be concerned with a “bug lights” to get rid of misquotes and other flying insects, or no need to devise a plan to get rid of the grasshoppers that eat everything. Wow, what a neat thought! Thanks for your post that has started the creative process and placed the what-if possibilities on over-drive!

  3. I totally agree with what Jenny has said. It is good education for youngsters. Government should emphasize on this matter.

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