rusty duck’s First Law of Plastic Pots

The number you have is inversely proportional to the number you actually need.


I’ve always stashed plastic pots. While we were living in a rented house with no garden I had boxes full of the things, brought with us from the previous abode. Mike was forever either falling over them or having to move them from one place to another. In his mind their only rightful resting place would have been at the dump. These days they find a safer refuge in my greenhouse. In winter the mice get their daily exercise by using the staging as a climbing frame. The serried ranks of pots are inevitably knocked over, leaving me with the job of picking them all up.

But now? In April the greenhouse is a hive of activity. Sowing, potting up and potting on. Endless watering. The production line, mostly of vegetables, is in full swing. And here I am staring into the abyss of yet another pot crisis. However many I have, even with all the plants (or more to the point their pots) that I have purchased over the years, I never seem to have enough. Especially the three and a half inch ones. The ones that are the perfect size for a single bean. Those are the ones which always run out first.


Veg Production Line 002 Wm[1]


With greenhouse space at a premium, the larger plants get shifted out to the cold frames and I can begin the process of hardening them off. Lids raised by day and closed at night. The trouble is, as it stands today, the cold frames are also now full. Mostly with peas using each other for twining support.


Veg Production Line 003 Wm[1]


On milder nights some get to stay out in the open air. With the appropriate protection.

The ‘nursery’ is in a sunken area, bordered by retaining walls and one side of the house. It is a proper little sun trap and holds on to that heat well into the night. Needless to say, it’s one of Ptolemy’s favourite places too. He has discovered that when the cold frame lids are closed he can leap on top of them and, almost, peer in at us through the kitchen window.


Veg Production Line 004 Wm[1]


At the end of the production line comes the prize for getting this far. For the plants, and for me. Automatic irrigation.

Perhaps I have taken a risk, putting the peas out quite so early. But it is relatively mild in the south west and I have fleece. And besides, I need the pots. So the whole bloomin’ cycle can begin again.


Linking up with Helen’s Greenhouse Year at The Patient Gardener’s Weblog. Click through to find out what other gardeners are growing this month.


2018-03-27T18:29:48+00:00April 19th, 2014|Tags: |


  1. Sue@GLAllotments April 19, 2014 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    The pot mountain just keeps on growing, We find that the polystyrene tray used in nurseries are ideal for transporting a collection of potted plants to the allotment or from greenhouse to cold frame but they are space takers too!

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      I have loads of the green plastic trays as seen in the top photo, some with holes drilled in the bottom some not. Even though they ‘nest’ they still take up a lot of room. Kitchens may need a lot of storage space but potting sheds are far worse!

  2. Joanne April 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    I thought with having a small space I wouldn’t need so many pots but I have loads. All in use too, I’ve moved onto those coir ones which I can squeeze into some old trays. Have a great Easter.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      Thanks Joanne, you too.
      I should give the coir pots another go. I tried some years ago but they went all soggy on me!

  3. Cumbrian April 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Never understood why they make pots round, square ones would fit together better and so take up less space??

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      They also have a sounder foundation.. the mice never manage to knock over the square ones.

  4. SeagullSuzie April 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Totally agree, I’ve still go too many and gave plenty away to a local charity who needed them. They gather spiders…which I’m not too keen on, but as you say once it all gets going you run out! Happy Easter.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Happy Easter to you too.
      I found a spider’s nest in one of my pot piles last week. I moved one and all these babies came rushing out..

  5. justjilluk April 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Such a pity we are so far apart. As we hope to move to garden free abode I have just what you need…..

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      I missed a trick when my mother did likewise. She had a garden shed full. Doh.

  6. islandthreads April 19, 2014 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    ooooo Jessica all that lovely room in a greenhouse, I need one, I’ve started saving yogurt pots and the cardboard tube from loo rolls to use as pots, still need more pots and windowsills …….

    your plants are looking very nice and healthy Jessica and auto irrigation, way to go girl …………

    have a nice Easter weekend, Frances

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      Believe it or not the irrigation does get used! Our clay soil bakes hard after even a short dry spell. As now. I am using it already on the terraces and the slope. Don’t think I could manage this garden without it.

      • islandthreads April 20, 2014 at 7:56 am - Reply

        I do believe Jessica, I lived most of my life on the London/Surrey border so know clay soil, it was in my parents garden and the garden I had in the 70’s, nice you have a dry spell, Frances

        • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:59 am - Reply

          The rain is back… I should have kept schtum.

  7. Marian April 19, 2014 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    This itself repeating circle sounds so wonderful to me. I wish I had the room and appropriate place for it as well. Just the opposite here, I have too many of those pots. Recently my daughter took a whole bunch of them to art school as they asked for such pots to do some kind of art project with them. Instead of pots to plants it’s pots to art here 😉
    Have a lovely Easter time,

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:43 pm - Reply

      That sounds like a very good way to dispose of your excess pots. I too still have loads… just none of the required size!

  8. Alison April 19, 2014 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    I use a lot of the square (nominally) four-inch pots for my single seedlings of whatever I’m sowing, they work really well and save space. Do they maybe not have them in England? I find it’s true about running out though. I never seem to have enough.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm - Reply

      The square pots are obviously available to trade buyers because a lot of the plants I purchase come in square pots, so I do have some. When I go to the garden centres though, mostly what they offer is round.

  9. sustainablemum April 19, 2014 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    I have just tided all mine, up in the North West we are a little behind you. I start some seeds in seed trays rather than pots to give me more choice and then pot on into small pots if I need to. About half of mine are square which take up far less room on the shelf they all sit on, no idea where I got them from tho’. I have yet to reach the running out of stage but I am sure I will be doing the same dance as you to give everything room!

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      Hi there and welcome to rusty duck.
      I tend to sow small amounts of a lot of different varieties, and sow successionally, which is why I use pots rather than seed trays. Unless I’m growing seed harvested from the garden, then I’ll use trays. It’s all good fun though isn’t it!

  10. Jo April 19, 2014 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    It’s the same here, I always run out of 3” pots. I haven’t sown my peas yet, I’ve decided that I’ll sow them direct this year, that’s a few less pots I’ll need then.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:51 pm - Reply

      I wish I could do the same. They’d all get eaten. 🙁

  11. Jane @Hoehoegrow April 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Soooo true ! There is also the law of ‘Always having lots of pots which are bigger than the ones you need’! Like you, the little ones are in short supply at this time of year, but only for a short while, until everything is planted out – then it will be ‘PotMountain’ again !

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      It’s your typical shrub size pot that I have loads of.. 5 litre? The really big ones (with handles!) I can use for potatoes!

  12. angiesgardendiaries April 19, 2014 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    I few weeks ago I was complaining of the very same thing, except I was looking for large ones to house all the plants I was lifting. I ended up having to divide plants I really didn’t want to because I only had small pots. Sods law that we never have the ones we need.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Perhaps we should have a plastic pot swappers network..

  13. elaine April 19, 2014 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I know where you are coming from – I chucked a load out a couple of weeks ago – they just seem to multiply.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm - Reply

      There are some sizes of pot I could probably justify chucking. It’s just that it’s almost certain I’ll find a use for them straight after I’ve done it.

  14. Denise April 19, 2014 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    I’ve found loo roll tubes are good for seed planting beans and sweet peas. When the seedlings are big enough, just pop ’em in their growing site with no need to disturb roots! The cardboard tubes just rot away as the plants grow. I also have one those make-a-pot-from-old-newspapers gizmo.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      It’s a good idea Denise. I shall start to collect my inner tubes.

  15. Chloris April 19, 2014 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    You are so well organised, I am very impressed. A pity you don’t live nearer you could have some pots from my pot mountain.
    Our pheasant struts down the garden as if he owns it, which he clearly believes he does, and peers at us through the French windows. He is obviously intrigued to know what I am doing when I am not outside. He probably goes off and blogs about it.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      A pheasant with a blog! Good grief, I wonder what Ptolemy calls me?

  16. Crafty Gardener April 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    Wonderful to see all those new plants growing in the greenhouse and cold frames.

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 9:46 pm - Reply

      It’s starting to happen, at last!

  17. Cathy April 19, 2014 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    I invested in trays of 40 7cm pots from Aldi this year, but also went onto Ebay and bought a stack of 12 cell and 9 cell trays which you could get in small to enormous quantities (probably can get them in 4 cells too) – it makes my greenhouse at least ‘look’ organised and I got rid of a lot of irregular smaller pots (nb please don’t think I need order and neatness in every aspect of my life – definitely not the case!!) Now, did I see a witch hazel in that second to last photo still waiting to be planted out…..? 😉

    • Jessica April 19, 2014 at 9:47 pm - Reply

      Well spotted. It’s my Diane. I still haven’t decided where to put it..

  18. nataliescarberry April 20, 2014 at 3:38 am - Reply

    Wow you’re a regular farmer there, Jessica! I’ll bet there’s some good food fixin’s at your house during the summer! Blessings, Natalie 🙂

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:33 am - Reply

      There is nothing better than vegetables harvested straight from the garden. Assuming all the critters leave me some!
      Have a lovely Easter Natalie.

  19. Christina April 20, 2014 at 5:02 am - Reply

    HI Jessica, man, you have been busy like a bee, growing plants from seeds, potting them all up, and then probably potting them up in even bigger pots again. I guess the greenhouse really is the culprit in your never ending need for plastic pots. I don’t have a greenhouse and opposite to you I have more plastic containers left over than I would like. I definitively could help you out with those ;-)! Thankfully some nurseries here have started to take them back for recycling. I always felt super bad when I had to throw them away. What a waste! Happy Easter!

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:38 am - Reply

      I must find out whether there are any recycling schemes here, for the pots I don’t have need for. Yes, it’s a very busy time of year. Things are growing like crazy!
      A very Happy Easter to you too.

  20. Janet/Plantaliscious April 20, 2014 at 6:57 am - Reply

    There is a corollary to your rule – there is always a mountain of available pots of just exactly the wrong size. I actually found myself planting things yesterday just so that I could get my sweetcorn sown, but I think I am going to treat myself to some more 9cm square pots. I have switched to square because you can cram more in… Love your production line, it all looks very familiar!

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Oh so true!
      I shall have to find an internet supplier for square pots. They do make sense.

  21. Jayne Hill April 20, 2014 at 7:25 am - Reply

    You can never have too many pots :} Like Janet I favour square pots because they take up far less space on a crowded bench.

    Quite envious of how far on all your little plants are but I remind myself you’re 400 miles further south and with luck (and not too much following wind) things here will catch up.

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:53 am - Reply

      It’ll certainly catch up Jayne. Tables turned today I think, we have the worst of the weather.

  22. Sarah April 20, 2014 at 7:40 am - Reply

    Most of my friends don’t garden in quite the same way as me (!) so I often come home to a little pile of plastic pots that they don’t need. And egg boxes. Egg boxes come my way too as I sell my chickies eggs if I have too many. I am the neat freak’s perfect friend it seems! Your seedlings look so lush and full of promise!

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 10:55 am - Reply

      I wish I knew some neat freaks..
      Egg boxes getting collected here too at the moment, but for my chitting potatoes!

  23. Antoinette April 20, 2014 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Happy Easter! Square pots are definitely the way to go, but you never seem to get enough of them. Two of our roses [Snowball a rambler, and Shropshire Lad] have just opened their first blooms 🙂

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Whoa. Roses already!
      A very Happy Easter to you too. Hope it’s warm enough to spend time outside.

  24. Linda@arichtapestry April 20, 2014 at 10:38 am - Reply

    I haven’t had a chance to post about our UK gardening efforts lately, but it you were to visit you would see our covered yard is full pots of various sizes and trays with plants at different stages of growth and the beans and peas are in the ground in the small vegetable plot. You have to be very protective of yours with all your animal and bird visitors so I hope all your hard work pays off this year. Sending greetings for a happy Easter weekend and wishing you a relaxing time.

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

      It’s difficult to keep up at this time of year, there is so much to do. It sounds like you are well ahead of me.
      Have a lovely weekend yourselves, Happy Easter.

  25. Rosie April 20, 2014 at 11:11 am - Reply

    We have stacks of pots behind the shed but can never find the size we need when we are looking. We were given one of those wooden things that makes seeding pots out of newspaper – only trouble with that is that nowadays we rarely buy newspapers. I did notice that one of our local garden centres had a recycling place where you could take your old pots or take any that you wanted from there – a sort of free swap shop:)

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      What a brilliant idea from your garden centre. I wish they all did that!

  26. colleen April 20, 2014 at 11:52 am - Reply

    No greenhouse, insufficient light indoors so I have pretty much given up growing in pots, apart from runner beans which go into pots made with a rolling pin and newspaper, a remarkably therapeutic and all too sanctimonious lenten activity.

    Happy Easter!

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      How do you stop the newspaper going soggy and collapsing? That was my problem when I tried coir pots.

  27. Denise April 20, 2014 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    My greenhouse needs broken/missing panes replacing – thing is the blue tits fly through the spaces and eat the nuts I store there…..maybes an elaborate feeding station is on the cards?

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      The problem comes if a bird builds a nest in it. Then you won’t be able to repair the panes or, as once happened to me, shut the door!

  28. rachel April 20, 2014 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Same problem with jam jars – take up masses of space, then when the urge is upon you, and small batches – e.g. of lemon curd – are made, all you can find are the huge ones…. Sod’s law.

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      I’ve only really got into preserves since we moved here and inherited six redcurrant bushes. I thought we had enough jars, until I started making the stuff and discovered the quantity produced was rather more generous than I was expecting..

  29. snowbird April 20, 2014 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Ah yes, the mystery of the disappearing pots! I have the same problem, no matter what I don’t ever have enough. I’ve started planting things out too just to make a little more room and to have the pots….how I’d enjoy a pheasant peeping in my kitchen window!xxx

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      We missed a frost by a whisker last night… risky strategy but needs must. I think the forecast is for milder nights now. I hope!

  30. Sol April 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    I don’t have many pots. I lovingly washed them and tried to store them. I went to my cousins, and when I came back he had thrown them in the bin. ‘being helpful and tidying up’

    looks like it is all coming along lovely.

    Happy Easter

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 6:34 pm - Reply

      Washing out pots is a pig of a job. Because I use so many I don’t bother anymore, so I am probably living dangerously there too..

  31. frayed at the edge April 20, 2014 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Our last house was a new build, so I had to pant up the garden from scratch. A friend gave me lots of bits and bobs in pots – once they were planted out, I put the pots in a black bin bag, ready to return them …….. you know where this is going, don’t you. Yes, Malcolm put them in the bin!!

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 9:38 pm - Reply

      Mike would have done just the same.

  32. Linda April 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Hi Jessica….I certainly envy your seedlings! Still rather chilly here for anything like that….
    Of course, if I had a greenhouse, I could join the festivities! Hahaha!
    Enjoy your Easter!
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      The greenhouse should have been one of the warmest places to be today. But as it leaks, and it was raining… maybe not!
      Hope you had a good day.

  33. CJ April 20, 2014 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I get a bit panicky and overwhelmed at this time of year. All those needy little plants, water me, turn me, repot me, harden me off, bring me in, water me again. Eek. When they’re all safely planted out I breathe a sigh of relief. Luckily there’s a plant pot recycling point behind our local leisure centre, and there are always loads of spare pots there. I think the garden centre do them sometimes too. I hope you manage to find some. I’ve planted out my beans already. Early I know, but like you I was running out of room, and I don’t have a cold frame. It’s tough love.

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      You’ve done well with your beans. Mine are on strike I think..

  34. Mark and Gaz April 20, 2014 at 11:34 pm - Reply

    We cull the number of plastic pots we accumulate every year but somehow they still seem to magically increase in number, or at least go back to their original number!

    • Jessica April 20, 2014 at 11:54 pm - Reply

      They breed. I’m convinced of it. All except for the three and a half inch ones I use the most.

  35. Simone April 21, 2014 at 10:50 am - Reply

    It is all looking so productive and industrious with the watering system! I seem to be running out of correct sized pots too but yogurt pots can come in handy and they do some of those family sized ones too! I also use the plastic containers that mushrooms come in as seed trays or you could use the lid of an egg box as a seed tray too! Oh, just thought of milk cartons – the square ones or plastic milk bottle with the top part cut off! I will let you know if I can think of any more. x

    • Jessica April 21, 2014 at 10:34 pm - Reply

      Brilliant Simone, the plastic milk bottles are a good idea, I throw away tons of those.

  36. starproms April 21, 2014 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    I had to smile when I read your post today. I have lots of pots too and again, never enough. When I’m in the garden centre or even Sainsburys these days, I think ‘it’s Spring, better buy some more pots’. Not so much fun when you have to wash them all out though, is it… This morning I planted out my geranium babies. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the weather. Good luck with your peas.

    • Jessica April 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Apparently the advice is we no longer need to wash them out. I have to confess, out of laziness I’ve never bothered and been lucky so far. Let’s hope we’re as lucky with the weather. It’s worth a gamble sometimes.

  37. wendy April 22, 2014 at 9:34 am - Reply

    This is all so true about pots. For most of the year I have too many pots and they form plastic-pot mountains here, too. Then at this time of year I don’t have enough either. If I buy a new plant the pot is almost as valuable! There isn’t enough space, either – and then it all calms down in the summer.
    I love the though of Ptolemy peering at you through the window!

    • Jessica April 22, 2014 at 7:44 pm - Reply

      Luckily it has been fairly mild.. planting things out means the production line can go faster and more pots released. If we get a frost now I will be done for!

  38. Pauline April 22, 2014 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    I agree, where do all the little ones go to, I have loads of bigger ones, but when I came to sow my veggie seeds, I had to search to find enough! There must be a pot mountain somewhere!

    • Jessica April 22, 2014 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      It’s frightening to think how many pots there must be cluttering up sheds across the country..

  39. Marian St.Clair April 22, 2014 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    I admire your organization, as well as all those lovely things you are growing in the pots! Wish I too was close enough to bring you some extras, but I’ll have to content myself with supplying the local plant sales. They always need more:^)

    • Jessica April 23, 2014 at 12:16 am - Reply

      It’s all very exciting at this time of year, especially when growing something I haven’t tried before. But all those pots mean a lot of watering and a lot of work. It’s non stop!

  40. francesca kay April 23, 2014 at 7:23 am - Reply

    I think that plastic pots actually breed!

    • Jessica April 23, 2014 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Like rabbits!

  41. Sarah April 23, 2014 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    We always have too many plant pots lying around your greenhouse looks so full! It will wonderful to see everything as it grows. Ptolemy just wants to get closer to you! Sarah x

    • Jessica April 23, 2014 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      Ptolemy just knows where I keep his special bird seed..

  42. Anna April 24, 2014 at 8:02 am - Reply

    If only you were nearer Jessica I’ve a cupboard full of pots that you could help yourself to but maybe that’s not the solution. I’ve treated myself last year to a couple of sets of root trainers for peas, sweet peas and beans. They are brilliant and also most effective space wise.

    • Jessica April 24, 2014 at 3:21 pm - Reply

      I’ve been thinking about those. Especially for things that send down long roots. Will get some and give them a try.

  43. LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD April 24, 2014 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    For the last few years I’ve been trying to reduce the number of empty plastic pots I have as I don’t do seeds. Now I don’t have any pots and I need to dig up and pot a couple dozen plants for the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Soc. sale next month. Embarrassing situationa.

    • Jessica April 25, 2014 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Wish I could send you some… I’ve got stacks of the bigger ones!

  44. Caro April 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Gosh I’ve been busy and stepped back from the blogging world for a week and missed so much! I had accumulated dozens of pots of all sizes and our caretaker here found me a few shelves in his otherwise empty lockup. Then the management appointed a new cleaner who resented me, a mere tenant, having a key (Heavens, I might sneak off with her mop!! Unlikely.) So I’ve had to move everything out and a lot of my pots went into the bin. Within days I needed a pot the size of several that had been thrown. Wouldn’t you just know it! Your little stash is looking very lush with plants. I’ve also planted out my peas as they were getting over familiar with each other, and (so far) they’re fine.

    • Jessica April 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      If I read anything about mop stealing in North London I’ll know where to point the finger! How ridiculous. The planting out gamble has paid off so far, it’s continued to be mild. Long may it continue.

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