The corn and soybeans so abundant in Iowa could someday replace many of the plastic pots and flats at your local garden shop.
Researchers at Iowa State University set about to create pots for plants that were not made from petroleum products and that could biodegrade. They started with a corn-based bioplastic and tried a number of different formulas. Some of those included a polymer made from soybeans.
"The plastics that had a soy component were consistently leading to plants with darker green leaves or to growth that was enhanced compared to containers that didn't include a soy component," says Bill Graves, an ISU horticulture professor and associate dean of the graduate college. He says further study revealed that microbes from the plant and soil placed in the pot worked to release pent-up nutrients in the soy ingredient.
"In addition to the nutrients themselves benefiting the nutrition of the plant," Graves says, "they also led to a structurally better root system."
Graves says the biodegradable pots work at least as well as traditional plastic ones and they break down in compost, which petroleum products do not do.
Graves says market research showed customers are interested in a biodegradable pot from renewable materials and a couple of companies are already working to commercialize products based on the research.