Living Columns & Blogs

Use a ‘cowpot’ to eliminate transplant shock in your garden

Horsetails are perennials; uncontrolled they will grow to 4 feet or so.
Horsetails are perennials; uncontrolled they will grow to 4 feet or so. McClatchy

Seems like garden innovations are coming at us with ever-increasing rapidity. Thankfully, many of the new or improved products take into account the environment. Thus it is with the newest find: “cowpots.”

Every year I raise hundreds of plants and annually reuse plastic pots of all sizes. I’ve never had a problem with them, and steadfastly disregard the oft-repeated mantra to sterilize all used pots before reusing them again. I don’t do it, and have never had a problem.

Still, this new game in town is called cowpots because — no surprise — they are made of 100 percent renewable composted cow manure.

And no, they don’t smell of cow poo.

The real benefit of cowpots is they are completely biodegradable, so any plant you raise in cowpots can be planted directly in the ground. Let nature do the work of breaking them down.

Best of all, the plant roots will grow freely through the cowpot, eliminating transplant shock. And to all the gardeners who routinely find storage space at a premium, there is no need to store all the pots!

So get your cowpots online:

QUESTION: My yard and garden have been under attack from horsetails. How do I control them? I pull them when I see them, but they keep coming back.

ANSWER: Horsetails are also known as “scouring rushes.” They contain a high amount of silica, and cooks in old railroad days used them to scour pans. When the job was done, the water and plant remains were tossed out the window. True to their nature, they would immediately take root in the railroad bed — and begin their travels to your yard and mine.

Horsetails are perennials and uncontrolled will grow to 4 feet or so. The green stems shoot up from underground creeping rhizomes. The cone-like caps produce spores.

They are the dickens to control, much less eradicate. Because their stems are so tough and are coated with waxy silica, most herbicides are of little use.

I have found that pulling up the stalks every time one appears, and continuing to pull up any you see, is about the only way to keep them at bay.

At least they aren’t the tree-sized horsetails of dinosaur days. And really, aren’t they kind of pretty?

If you’re more into wanting to try something that works as well as pulling horsetail by hand, see the next question about flame-throwers.

QUESTION: I want every non-chemical method of controlling weeds at my disposal, and just heard about burning weeds with a flame thrower. Does this really work? Sounds like fun.

ANSWER: Yup, it works and it is fun! Take that, you nasty weed!

While you’re working with the flamer, you can pat yourself on the back for not using nasty chemicals but using something that does the job better, and quicker.

Since plant cells are mostly sap, which is mostly water, the heat of the flamer boils the sap, causing the plant’s cell walls to burst, and the weed is history.

Flamers come in a couple of sizes: a huge one that is much too large for gardening chores, a smaller hand-held one that uses a standard propane tank for fuel, and a 10-foot hose with all the fittings. If you want something even smaller, there is a flamer that hooks up to any disposable propane cylinder, such as the type used on camping trips to run a small stove.

One thing to remember. Your desirable plants are every bit as vulnerable to being killed by a flamer as your weeds. In other words, do be careful not to cook anything other than weeds. And be careful where you use the flamer. There was a story recently about an Everson man who was flaming close to his house, and set it on fire. Oops. Don’t flame any area covered with wood chips. It would be a very roundabout way to cook hot dogs!

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to For more gardening information online, go to