Young maple trees growing in a plastic bottle (Willem)

I am really happy with the good results of my experiments with growing young trees in plastic bottles.

Here are a couple of images of young maple trees (Acer pseudoplatanus L.), grown for a couple of months in my garden. I want to take it to S.W. Algeria as a present for my friends the foresters of Tindouf, who are building up an arboretum.

Have a look at the nice development of this young tree :

p1010329-crop.jpg Young mapple in abottle

(Click on the photos to enlarge them)

Young maple tree growing with a minimum of water and fertilizer in a plastic bottle, ready to be transfered to the arboretum of Tindouf (S.W. Algeria).

Mahonia seedlings in selfwatering containers (Willem)

The mahogany shrub (Mahonia aquifolium) in my garden has been flowering and fruiting.  Its dark blue berries are normally eaten by the blackbirds, but this year I collected them in time, kept them drying for a couple of weeks and then planted the dry berries in a tray.  Other berries were opened and their little 2-3 kernel were taken out and washed.

Last week some of the berries in the tray germinated (the kernels did not yet).  I have planted some mahogany seedlings in a small coca-cola bottle, transformed into a self-watering container (see my photo below).  I expect that these seedlings will grow well, so that I can take the young trees to S.W. Algeria, where I want to introduce them as thorny shrubs to form a strong living hedge around the small family gardens in the refugee camps.

Mahonia seedlings in selfwatering container
(Click on the photo to enlarge it)

My self-watering containers with the mahogany seedlings :

(1) In front, a leaf of my mahogany shrub.

(2) Two yoghurt pots in which I can easily pour some water (serving as a mini water reservoir or tank).

(3) In each pot, an inverted coca-cola bottle of which I cut the bottom, filled with potting mix and TerraCottem soil conditioner, with a mahogany seedling planted on top.

(4) I left the lid (stop) on the bottles, but perforated the neck, close to the lid, at two opposite sites.

(5) The bottles are sucking up water from the yoghurt pots through the holes in the bottleneck.

(6) Water is stocked in the TerraCottem soil conditioner.

(7) Mahogany roots are growing towards the gel lumps of the swollen polymers.

(8) With a minimum of water and fertilizer the seedlings will be growing into nice young trees.

(9) The bottles will be cut vertically in two halves and buried in the plant hole at the moment of tree plantation (avoiding pollution of the environment with plastic).

Tree seedlings in a plastic bottle (Betula alba)

Since some months, I am experimenting growth of tree seedlings in transparent plastic (PET) bottles.  It’s a real success for a number of reasons:

(1) The potting mix, to which I have added a very small amount of water stocking soil conditioner TerraCottem (5 g per liter of soil), is kept continuously moistened (less evaporation, less heating effect than in the classical black plastic grow bags, used in nurseries)

(2) Individual watering of the bottles has a beneficial effect on plant growth.

(3) I can keep my seedlings in daily sight by having the bottles on the terrace.

(4) When the young trees are tall enough for plantation on site, I will dig a plant hole, cut the bottle vertically in two halves, tear the two halves apart and leave them on the bottom of the plant hole when filling the pit with local soil (to which I will add again some TerraCottem).

(5) This way I will take care of the environment by reusing the plastic bottles and finally burying them.

Here are a couple of photos of a young birch tree (Betula alba) growing in a plastic bottle :

Young birch tree in bottle   Birch tree and succulent in bottle

Young birch tree (Betula alba) and a succulent plant growing together in a plastic bottle. (Click on the photos to enlarge them).

Grow your own crops in pots (BBC Gardening)

Read at :

BBC Gardening (see my Blogroll)

Grow crops in pots

You may not have room for a vegetable patch or time for an allotment, but you can plant up pots from early spring onwards with edible crops and enjoy fresh, tasty, homegrown produce all summer. Lots of varieties are happy in pots if you look after them well. Many delicious varieties of salad, vegetable and fruit will thrive in containers and don’t take up much space – follow our guide to growing crops on patios, balconies, windowsills and roof gardens. Continue reading Grow your own crops in pots (BBC Gardening)

Recycling plastic bottles and pots (Charlesash / Willem)

Today, I received a constructive comment of Charles ASH on my former posting :

Transparency of recycled bottles a problem for root growth ?

(J. TOLLEDOT / Willem) August 1, 2007

“Some years ago we used to grow loads of plants in used transparent bottles, here in England, with great success. No real problem with algae. But if left in strong sunshine, the roots that where visible would suffer scorch marks. No detriment to the growth of the plant, just looked unsightly. So we either shaded the containers mid day or covered the plastic container with black plastic cut from waste bin bags. Today we use plastic plant pots that have been discarded by garden centres and nursery growers as these are free and, of course, made for the job.

Just another form of recycling in action!




I am wondering what would be the best material to cover transparent bottles for plant growth :

a. black plastic cut from waste bin bags (see above)

b. white plastic (or paint) to keep the roots cooler ?

But after all, maybe we do not need to cover them !

Recycling used plastic flower pots from a nursery seems a good idea too, particularly to grow young trees.  Once tall enough, the pot can be  cut vertically in two halves (in order not to damage the rootball, like it happens regularly with the classical  black plastic grow bags used in nurseries).  I suggest to put the two halves of the plastic pot at the bottom of the plant hole at the moment of planting the young tree. An easy way of getting rid of that plastic.

How to plant a Tree or a Shrub in a tub (selfsufficientish)

Read at :


How to plant a Tree or a Shrub in a tub

You may have been attracted to this site as you are an urbanite and you don’t have that much room to grow things. …………….

My previous article on container gardening may have given you some ideas, but here a few more for those of you with a small yard or who want to grow things on a patio.

Many plants can be grown in Tubs including edible ones such as apple trees like crab or compact dwarfing apple trees. They won’t grow to the same sizes as they would if planted straight into the ground, but they will still crop and if you ain’t got much room that’s ideal.

Choose a large pot or tub with an inside diameter of at least 38cm (15 inches). To ensure that the Tree or shrub does not topple over in high winds (or just from gravity) you should not use a plastic tub, ceramic or clay tubs are ideal.

Place bits of broken crockery, broken clay pots or chipped bark over the drainage hole.

Part fill the tub/pot with loam-based potting soil, do not use any heavyweight alternatives as the weight is required for sustainability.

Get the plant you wish to pot and knock it out from it’s original pot. If the roots are tightly wound around the root ball then it is a good idea to gently tease out a few so that they will readily grow into the surrounding pot.

Stick the plant into the pot and make sure that the root ball is 2-2.5cm below the rim of the pot. This allows for watering.

Lastly firm the compost around the roots, give the plant a liquid feed and a good watering.

Keep well watered in dry weather. For bigger trees and shrubs make sure that the tubs are packed around some other hefty pots to ensure that they don’t blow over.

Container gardening for all (selfsufficientish)

Read at :


Container gardening

So you live in a flat or a house with a small back yard and just don’t have room for gardening? Many people will take one look at this site and think, “I live in a small flat in Bristol (or wherever) I can’t be self sufficient”. This is true but you can be selfsufficientish. With a bit of lateral thinking you will surprised how much room you actually have. I was very impressed when I took a trip around Primrose Hill in London the other week. I saw an abundance of plants all growing in limited space. I also saw potential for many more. Whether it is just a window box, hanging basket or just a few pots on the patio you will soon find that you too could be self sufficientish. Continue reading Container gardening for all (selfsufficientish)

How to plant container trees ? (Google Alert / Gardening.ygoy)

Read at :

Google Alert for Gardening


How to plant container trees

You can’t keep your plants in containers forever. Just like you can’t keep your children in kindergarten forever. You have to shift plant your container trees out in the garden to help them grow better. If you have planned to plant your container trees, how will you go about the process? It’s very simple. You will need:

  • Garden fork
  • Tree ties
  • Spade or Shovel
  • Two wooden stakes
  • Mulch


  • Choose the site where you want to plant your container tree.
  • Put your container right at the centre.
  • Mark out a planting hole with your shovel that it about three times the width of the container.
  • Start digging the hole. Make sure it is about 1-1/2 times the height of your container.
  • Once you have dug your hole. Loosen the sides of the hole with your garden fork so that it gets easier for the roots to penetrate the surrounding soil.
  • Plant 2 wooden stakes at outward facing angles such that it has enough space to accommodate the root ball in between. The stakes support the tree while it grows up.
  • Take the container and water the tree thoroughly before removing it from the pot.
  • You would notice that the roots are bent and sticking on to the sides of the root ball. You will have to ease them up with your hands.
  • Fill in some soil into your hole before placing your tree in the center of the hole. This would ensure that the tree grows at the same level as in the container.
  • Position the tree well in the hole and start filling in the rest of the soil and seal the plant with the soil well.
  • Its time to water your plant.
  • Spread the mulch over the soil so that it helps retain moisture while the tree is establishing itself.

There you go… your tree is all settled at its new place.



It’s recommendable to create a funnel-shape or cup-shape cavity around the tree, so that rain or irrigation water can easily be collected in that cavity.  Such a cavity can be created with local soil before the mulching.  Mulch is then spread over the bottom of the cavity.

Brazilian rhapsody in PET blue (J.C. Guimaraes)

Today, I received a very interesting comment from Brazil.  Thanks to Joao Carlos GUIMARAES we can now set up some experiments with PET bottles to limit irrigation.  Should this system work well, a lot of water can be saved.  Please read his suggestion to keep the rootball of young trees moistened :

Dear Sir

Since 2 months ago, I  have experimented to use 2 liters PET bottles to make irrigation of baby trees. Where we live, in Brazilian Amazonia, it is now summer season, meaning 6 months dry with high temperatures, until next December.         

It is very simple:

* Just perforate a little hole –  2 mm – at bottom of the bottle.

* Excavate a hole in the soil with the diameter of the bottle,  more or less 20 cm deep, near the roots.

* Put bottle in the hole. Cover side with soil.

* Fill bottle with water before putting it in the hole.

* Close well the  bottle cap. (If you keep bottle open or badly closed, water will infiltrate quickly in the soil).

* When soil is dry, it pulls water from the bottle (via capilarity,  or percolation, or vacuum,  I don’t know  very well).

* When soil is humid, the level of water in the bottle stays almost intact.

* Depending on soil and sun, I  completed the water level once to 3 times a week.

It’s interesting to see that some bottles get deformated, crushed,  because of the vacuum force of soil suction.

Now I’m going to set up an experiment with 2 or 4 bottles per tree. Then, I don’t need to wait for the rain season to plant more trees.

As I said before, this is a new experiment. Maybe others could share it and upgrade it.  If you want some photos of it, I will be glad to send them to you.

Best regards

João Carlos Guimaraes
State of Pará


Isn’t this a marvelous idea ?  I know that, when planting trees in urban areas, perforated tubes are put in the plant pit close to the stem to facilitate watering.  But this quite simple technique to use PET bottles was unknown to me.  Should you know more about it from literature,could you please send me a comment ?

I intend to set up some experiments with this “system for water use efficiency” for our UNICEF project in the Sahara desert.

Looking forward for your reactions.

Kids gardening at school or at home (Willem)

Already published on my desertification blog on March 17, 2007

Nice comment Hans STROCK (Great Big Plants) March 17, 2007

Posted by willem van cotthem in success stories – best practices, horticulture/gardening, food / food security, hunger / famine, capacity building, desertification, water, forestry, rural development, ecology – environment, poverty. trackback , edit post

I received this nice comment from Hans STROCK:

Thanks Willem! I’m glad you had a chance to check out the site! Sorry about the delay in response, things have been hectic lately. It’s good to see other people who agree with keeping kids involved with gardening. It’s always important to give children some culture and experience they can take with them when they get older. I think all children should have something fun and creative they can do. It helps them feel good about themselves. Keep up the good work!”

Well said, Hans ! In the western countries, so many people are complaining about the fact that young people are only interested in TV-programs. Why don’t we offer them a chance to do something useful and fun, instead of leaving them hanging (or laying) around in front of the TV-set? Impossible to change their attitude ? Yes, if you start early enough (e.g. with pubers). And what if you start even earlier, let’s say in primary school? I am sure kids love to do practical gardening in a very simple way. As a biology teacher I always got fantastic reactions when my pupils (12-18 years old) got an individual project to grow different plant species from seeds. They did it in plastic bottles at the window sills in my classroom ! They learned how to grow things with a strict minimum of water ! And they loved to write their personal report with observations and drawings. That is: EDUCATION WITH A PRACTICAL SENSE.

I am currently working out a similar project for the kids in the refugee camps in Algeria. Those children will most certainly be happy to have a “useful task” to grow vegetables in plastic bottles. There is not only the educational aspect of learning something about gardening, but one can also imagine how proud the kids will be to bring from time to time some vegetable (lettuce, parsley, onion, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, etc.) home. An later on they can always use these new skills (capacity building) to start gardening for their families. Wherever they are or will be! Continue reading Kids gardening at school or at home (Willem)