I buy bottled water and recently I've started hoarding all the empty bottles because I'd like to find something to grow in them.

I have access to soil so I'd like some ideas for what I can grow in the bottles that will continue to give food until the soil needs to be changed.

I know I could grow beans but my understanding is that they are not sustainable (won't continue to give food).

  • Are you looking for a plant that grows forever and feeds you while growing in a PET bottle? Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 8:21
  • Yeah, something that only requires water + sunlight + soil change, rather than something that I have to keep replanting
    – user21351
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 8:42
  • 1
    What are the recycling symbols on the bottles? There should be a triangular shape with a number in the middle and maybe some letters beneath... some plastics are not suitable for growing food....
    – Bamboo
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 9:05
  • 1
    Thanks. It says PETE (#1). I read that this type of plastic is only safe for 1-time use and can leach toxic chemicals when exposed to heat, so I'll get some plastic pots and make sure they are HDPE (#2), which I read is safe. But I still want to find out what are some of the smallest plants I can grow that give regular food.
    – user21351
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 9:18
  • Thinking outloud: I wonder if you might plant alfalfa? You would not harvest at the sprout stage, but let them grow larger. I have never done this myself, but the thought occurred to me because they are nutritious. You could make a salad with them. But do not go overboard on one day because they are intense.
    – Gordon
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 12:56

3 Answers 3


You need to check the recycling symbol on the bottles - that should look like a sort of triangle with a number in the middle. If the number is 1, 3, 6 or 7, you should not grow food plants in them, see here https://themicrogardener.com/choose-safe-containers-for-growing-food/

As for something permanent that gives fruit every year, that would be a fruiting perennial, like an apple tree or a blueberry bush. Clearly, either of these will outgrow the container fairly quickly; the material of the bottle will also degrade quite rapidly outdoors in sunlight/cold temperatures, so I don't think you can plan on planting something in one of the containers and still have it fruit and grow for, say, 3-5 years.

If the plastic the bottles are made of is not one of the numbers mentioned above, you'd need to put drainage holes in the bottom; you could use them to grow annual vegetable or fruit plants, such as tomatoes, but that would mean replacing them every spring. Alternatively, you could plant some hardy herbs like chives - not precisely a food plant, but useable for culinary purposes, though you will still need to replace the containers every 2 or 3 years as they degrade, possibly sooner.

In regard to your comment re 'access to soil', garden soil should not be used in containers, it should be new, sterile potting medium.

  • Bamboo, he wants to never have to plant seeds again...excellent info on the BPA percentages, cool site BUT but my goodness, potted plants will never make a 'sustainable' no work garden...even for one season. Someday our scientific name will be HOMOSMARTIESTPANTS LAZYPLASTICOIDES. Why do people want to improve on something...they don't quite know much about?
    – stormy
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 0:26
  • @stormy - its a learning curve, everything in life, ain't it - what looks easy when you know very little is always much more intricate and complicated when you look more closely, especially anything to do with living things...
    – Bamboo
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 8:15
  • Sustainability was his question. Great question. The answer is a huge NO. I don't think he likes that answer. I also think he needs to understand perennials from annuals such as beans?
    – stormy
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 23:18
  • This answer taught me the difference between perennials and annuals, I didn't know about this distinction and it's really important for me because I wanted to know what are the options for plants which keep giving fruit without having to replant seeds. I researched it more and found many kinds of berries that I had never heard of which is cool, but also now I have a way to determine whether something is suitable or not
    – user21351
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 3:48

Those bottles would work as pots for plants as long as you make sure they have a big drainage hole at the bottom and that you do not use your garden soil for soil in these bottles. The only soil you should think about using is the cheapest sterilized potting soil available. A little fertilizer is critical. Proper watering; not too much not too little...and yes you could grow food in them.

Have you ever grown vegetables in the garden? In regular pots? These bottles are 1 gallon. Way too big to grow tiny plants or seeds at first. Way too small for some vegetables such as tomatoes as an end pot. The pot you will harvest from...tomatoes require at least 5 gallon, 10 gallon pots...using only potting soil. There are huge reasons for this rule.

What have you got going for property? Patio? Experience. You will not be able to shovel garden soil in these bottles, put a seed in them and grow food. There is a bit more work involved to ensure you don't waste your time, not much!

Fill us in with more details, where you live, your experience, what you would like to grow, will these plants be indoors or will they be out of doors?

  • Jimmy do you know about BPA in plastics? What do you mean 'sustainable'? Come back every year? Or just successful. I was thinking milk cartons, the 1 gallon kind for the bulk of my answer. You might be talking about the smaller, thinner water bottles? Lots of BPA this toxic stuff that leaves the plastic and enters the water or food. Don't believe the government too readily on this issue. Black plastic containers with drainage are so inexpensive brand new and very very cheap used at a big nursery.
    – stormy
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 6:03
  • Yes I mean sustainable as in producing food every season without having to start again with new seeds. I could use better containers but I still don't know what I could grow. Maybe I'll see what I can get from a nursery and grow it from there
    – user21351
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 6:39
  • Hey Jimmy, sigh, in that case you should know that the answer you are looking for is NO. We humans are unable to grow 'sustainable' or 'on your own resources, buddy' crops. Never. Not happening. Has never happened. Everything we humans want to grow is always and totally artificial. To dump garden soil in this plastic removes that soil from all the rest of the soil and benefits that come with a large body of garden soil, out of doors: drainage (movement of water away), beneficial and not so beneficial organisms yet a balance, protection from freezing.
    – stormy
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 0:17
  • So you are going to a nursery, a good thing, but you think they can tell you a better answer than what I've given you? Would you remake the wheel? Waste of energy huh. If I knew more what you would like to happen I could definitely help. But, no. these plastic containers will never should never be a sustainable crop of anything.
    – stormy
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 0:20

Try strawberries. They are perennials. Need plenty of water and sunlight, but not a huge amount of dirt (i.e. small plants with shallow roots). In addition, even if they don't produce in huge amounts, each small fruit is a beautiful treasure that you could enjoy even one at a time, if that's what you end up with.

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