Have you ever felt a twinge of guilt when throwing an empty plastic or glass bottle into the recycling bin? Maybe you’ve wondered if there was another way you could put that bottle to work.
Good news: There is!
As it turns out, an empty bottle can make a happy home for a wide variety of plants.
In this article, we’ll look at what bottle gardens are and why you should consider growing plants in bottles. You’ll also learn the kinds of plants that are ideal for growing in bottles and how you can start your own mini-garden.
So don’t throw that bottle away just yet, and let’s get started!
Although some folks have always been interested in container gardening, it seems to have exploded in popularity over the last decade.
Fortunately, growing plants in bottles is a fantastic way to jump on this trend. Here are 4 key reasons why:
1. Cuts Down on Waste
It’s pretty common knowledge that single-use plastic is everywhere and that most of it ends up in the garbage.
Upcycling plastic bottles into a home garden gives them a second life that also keeps them out of the landfill.
What about glass? Isn’t it an easy material to recycle?
Glass bottles are indeed more environmentally-friendly than their plastic counterparts. However, used glass still contributes to our world’s waste problem, to the tune of 10 million tons per year in the United States!
Instead, an empty wine or other glass bottle makes a perfect home for a small-scale (but upscale!) garden.
Although some gardening containers can be surprisingly pricey, most tend to be fairly affordable.
Nonetheless, you can’t beat free when it comes to cost!
You’ve already paid for the bottle when you purchased your beverage, so why not get some extra bang for your buck and use it to grow a plant?
Even if you don’t buy bottled drinks yourself, you likely know people who do. Your friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members would probably be more than willing to share their empty bottles with you.
3. Fantastic for Small Spaces
Not everyone has a large plot for an in-ground garden or raised beds. While bucket gardening is fantastic for patios or small yards, what do you do if you have very little to no outdoor space to work with?
A glass or plastic bottle garden is the perfect solution! You can place your bottles in even the tiniest patch of outdoor sun, or put your bottle garden on a windowsill that gets direct sunlight.
4. Easy to Care For
Space constraints aside, preparing and caring for a larger garden takes a considerable amount of time.
On the other hand, growing plants in bottles translates to gardening on a much smaller and more manageable scale.
You’ll spend just a few minutes setting up your bottle garden, and daily care shouldn’t take much longer than that. Depending on the set-up you choose, you may not have to do any upkeep!
How Does Growing Plants in Bottles Work?
There are two main strategies when it comes to growing plants in bottles: Using the water-based method for glass bottles or a soil-based one for plastic bottles.
Here’s a breakdown of each method:
Also known as the “hydro” method, this technique involves using a glass bottle to place your plant’s roots directly in water.
The easiest and most effective way to have a hydro set-up is to use a bottle garden kit. These kits include specialized nutrient insert packs that transform your bottle into an actual garden rather than just a vase.
These inserts are long and narrow, and they’re specifically developed for use in long-necked bottles, like wine bottles. Since standard plastic bottles usually have a short neck, they aren’t ideal for hydro set-ups.
Pros of hydro:
- Incredibly easy upkeep
- Excellent for growing herbs
Cons of hydro:
- Will not work for every type of plant
This method utilizes plastic bottles and soil to essentially create a very miniaturized version of a traditional garden. After filling your prepared bottles with soil, you can plant seeds or young seedlings.
This method involves laying your bottle horizontally and cutting an opening in the side. Unless you have specialized tools and expertise in cutting glass, wine bottles or other glass vessels won’t work.
Pros of soil:
- More options for plants to grow
- Some people create vertical hanging bottle gardens
- Can be indoors or outdoors
Cons of soil:
- Spilled soil can be messy
- Need to water carefully and frequently
What Plants Can You Grow in Bottles?
Bottles are obviously small containers, so which plants are ideal for such tight quarters? More than you might think!
The plants listed here should all grow well in a small-bottle home. We’re defining a small bottle as one that holds less than 2 gallons, like these:
- 20-ounce water/soda bottles
- 2-liter bottles
- 1-gallon juice bottles
- 750 mL wine bottles
Here are some of the best plants that can be grown in bottles:
You just can’t beat the flavor that fresh herbs add to your cooking! What’s more, herbs are often powerhouses of essential nutrients, especially when eaten raw and in large quantities.
On top of all that, they’re typically easy to grow and require minimal care.
For these reasons, herbs are probably the most common plants that can be grown in bottles, and they work for both hydro and soil set-ups.
Here are a few suggestions to spark your imagination for your bottle herb garden:
- Lemon balm
- Edible flowers
The term “microgreens” may sound fancy, but they’re nothing more than standard greens in their immature form.
These baby greens have a far milder taste than their older counterparts, making them more palatable for people who tend to avoid eating greens. Scientific studies have also found that many microgreens contain far higher nutrient levels compared to mature leaves.
To top it all off, your microgreen harvest can be ready in as little as 14 days, giving you the satisfaction of gardening without the waiting!
Microgreens are ideal for soil-based bottle gardens, and some of the most common choices include:
Another soil-based option, radishes are a fast-growing crop, though not quite to the level of microgreens.
Still, harvesting your peppery, bright-red radishes about a month after planting isn’t too long to wait.
Unless you get a hold of a very large plastic bottle (think more than 2 gallons) you’ll probably struggle to have enough soil depth to grow standard onions.
But green onions, also known as spring onions, are another story!
Since you eat only the top green portion of the plant, the bulbs don’t get very large or require too much space to grow. Perfect for a soil-based bottle garden!
This one might not be a common household crop, but mushrooms can be very easy and fast to grow in the proper conditions.
Also, if you don’t have a sunny space available for your soil-based bottle garden, all the better! Mushrooms grow best in damp, dim conditions.
Ok, so succulents are not an edible crop. But that doesn’t diminish their adorable appearance or the fact that they add life to your home!
Succulents are also notorious for producing new baby plants. These little plantlets need a place to live until they are big enough for their own pot. So why not use a plastic bottle as a succulent nursery?
Visit our succulent propagation post if you’re interested in learning more!
Now that you know what you can grow, let’s talk about the two bottle garden growing methods.
Method 1: Growing Plants in Water with a Bottle Garden Kit
Bottle gardens are not only a fantastic way to recycle spare glass bottles and grow fresh herbs, they’re also a beautiful addition to your home’s decor.
What’s more, a bottle garden kit makes it beyond easy to set up and care for your garden.
Urban Leaf offers what we consider to be the best when it comes to bottle garden kits.
Each Urban Leaf kit consists of a seed packet with your choice of herbs and a soil/nutrient insert piece. The image below is an example of their Hint of Citrus bottle garden kit in action.
Urban Leaf offers these four seed options:
Hint of Citrus. This collection of lemon balm, lemon basil and lime basil all have a distinctive citrus-like flavor. Awesome for cooking or adding to cocktails.
Exotic Basil. Expand your basil horizons with Thai, purple and lime varieties from around the globe. Perfect for cooking and soothing aromatherapy for your home.
Edible Flowers. A true 2-for-1! Spruce up your home with colorful marigolds, zinnias and cosmos, and use the blossoms in salads or as an eye-catching garnish.
Culinary Classics. Sweet basil, dill and French parsley enhance almost any dish.
Empty bottles are not included with your kit, but 750-mL wine bottles are a perfect fit. Urban Leaf also sells empty bottles as a separate purchase if you don’t have any bottles to recycle around your house.
Setting Up Your Bottle Garden Kit
To use your kit, fill your clean bottle with purified water, place the insert into the bottle’s neck and add your seeds to the upper soil surface.
When the insert touches the water, the nutrients dissolve and enrich the water, and the soil slowly draws moisture up to water your plant. As your plant grows, the roots reach into the water, where they absorb essential nutrients.
Thanks to this design, the Urban Leaf kits are completely self-watering. The insert is also designed to support your plant for its entire lifespan, so you won’t need to do any additional fertilizing or upkeep.
Gardening really doesn’t get much easier than that! So if you’re short on time as well as space, these bottle garden kits can be a fantastic option.
Method 2: Growing Plants in Plastic Bottles with Soil
Settling your plants in plastic bottles takes just a little more time and effort than using a bottle garden kit.
All you need are a few simple supplies and a few minutes to complete the set-up.
Supplies for a Soil Bottle Garden
- Empty bottles
- A utility knife
- Power drill or hammer and nail (optional)
- Seeds or plants
Let’s look at each of these items in a little more detail:
Empty bottles. Some plastic containers may contain harmful chemicals, making them unsafe for growing edible plants.
Fortunately, water, soda and juice bottles are made from food-grade plastic, so they’re a safe, readily-available option.
Utility Knife. You’ll need to make a hole in the side of your bottle for adding soil and plants.
A retractable utility knife makes the safest, easiest and cleanest cuts. But if you don’t have one, carefully using sharp, strong scissors will also work on thin plastic bottles.
Power drill or hammer and nail. It’s not completely necessary, but adding a few drainage holes to your bottle can help you avoid drowning your plants by overwatering.
If you don’t add drainage, on the other hand, you’ll have to be more careful to check the soil moisture level and water accordingly.
Creating drainage holes is easy and only takes a few seconds with a power drill and 1/16-inch drill bit. You could also carefully use a hammer and a thin nail to puncture small holes.
If you add drainage holes and your bottles will be indoors, it’s a good idea to use a drip tray to avoid a mess.
Soil. Skip the topsoil or garden soil and get your hands on some potting mix. As opposed to standard dirt, potting mix is light, resists compacting and drains quickly.
But unless you planning to have an extensive bottle garden, you’ll only need a small amount of potting mix to fill your bottles. If you’re planting anywhere from 1 to 10 small bottles, you’re probably better off buying a bag of pre-made potting mix.
Seeds or plants. Depending on the plants you want to grow, you’ll need either seeds for direct sowing or established seedlings.
Botanical Interests offers a wide selection of high-quality herb and vegetable seeds.
Setting Up Your Plastic Bottle Garden
Once you’ve gathered your basic supplies, follow these 3 easy steps to create your plastic bottle garden:
1. Cut a Hole in the Side of Your Bottle
Remove any labels from your bottle and wash it out well. Then, lay your bottle on its side, and make sure the cap is screwed on tightly.
Using your craft knife or scissors, carefully cut an opening in the bottle’s side. Depending on the size of your bottle, this opening should be about:
- 4 to 8 inches long
- 2 to 4 inches wide
Your goal is to create an opening large enough for plants to grow in but not so large that your bottle loses structural integrity.
The bottle in these photos is a 32-oz. juice bottle that is approximately 8 inches tall. I made a hole that measured about 5.5 inches long and 3 inches wide.
2. Add Drainage Holes (Optional)
Using your drill or a hammer and nail, make 4 to 6 small drainage holes on the underside of your bottle.
Make sure to work slowly and carefully to avoid cracking the plastic.
3. Fill With Potting Mix and Add Plants or Seeds
Add a couple of handfuls of potting mix to fill your bottle up to the horizontal cut line.
Sow seeds according to the package directions, or plant one seedling per bottle. Give your new garden some water, and place it in a sunny spot.
Note: You don’t have to follow the package’s seed-planting directions when you’re growing microgreens. Since you’ll be harvesting your greens well before they’re fully mature, you can sow your seeds more densely than the package calls for.
Growing plants in bottles is an awesome way to reduce your environmental impact, cut down on your grocery bill and add some more fresh food to your diet year-round.
All it takes are a few minutes to prepare your plastic bottles and care for plants every day, and using a seed kit with glass bottles takes even less time.
Either method lets you make the most of whatever growing space you have, and you could be reaping a harvest before you know it!
How about you? Have you ever tried growing plants in bottles, either glass or plastic? What was your experience like, and do you have any tips or tricks to share? Let us know in the comments!
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