Packing Pearls

Yes, not my day to post, but I just received an email with a link to a new product called Packing Pearls.  These are polystyrene balls that fill the bottom of large containers so they aren’t so heavy.  They are promoted as “improving water drainage and oxygen flow.”  You can find a link here

The “pearls” are separated from the soil and plant roots with a pot liner (composition unknown).  We’re told that the roots can’t grow through the pot liner.  So now my question:  can a material that “improves water drainage and oxygen flow” be impervious to root growth?  Doesn’t it sound as though you’d be waterlogging the soil by installing this liner?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, and the web site is not detailed (nor does it contain any links to research).  The emailed advertisement states “Tests show that flowering plants bloom two to three months longer when grown in containers with a base of Packing Pearls. Plants are also visibly healthier and hardier.”

Anyone used this system before?

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

29 thoughts on “Packing Pearls”

    1. No, it does not interfere with drainage, the pearls are large, a bit bigger than a golfball.., then you take the liner and line the pot, the pearls have spaces through out.. and the kit also comes with a drain sheild.

  1. Oh yes, Jeff, that’s what I think too! That’s why I was hoping for some kind of research link, but alas it was not to be. (And what is “visible hardiness”????)

  2. For $19.99?! Good grief. Here’s a tip to “improve water drainage and oxygen flow” and “make the container less heavy” for FREE: stick some old nursery pots and cell packs upside down in the bottom of your container before filling. Guess what those lightweight pots and cell packs are made of…yep, polystyrene.

  3. You see, Tim, I was trying to be open to alternative information. And now you’ve gone and tipped my hand! (You’ll have to read the long comment section on IAL from Feb. 17th to see why.)

  4. There is a product by the name of the “Ups-A-Daisy” that was created here in Illinois that I tested that works pretty well. Basically, it creates a false bottom (dividing your pot in half) in your pot so you don’t have to fill it with soil or re-purposed plastics.

    When you have a lot of pots to do I like Holly’s idea the best.

  5. I never understood the whole “gravel at the bottom makes it drain worse” thing. I get that water moves from the small pores of the media to the large pores of the gravel — but aren’t the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot essentially even LARGER pores? I can’t see how gravel would be worse, unless your pot bottom was microperforated.

  6. Joseph, the water doesn’t easily move from one texture to another, and yes, I imagine that means you have a temporary impasse between media and the interior of the pot where the drainage hole is. The problem with adding gravel or some other alternatively-textured material is that you add yet another barrier to cross – so now you have two, rather than one, barrier. I can assure you that this textural difference exists (I wrote about this in 2000 and you can read it at

  7. Based on what they’re saying, why not just put a block of wood or a brick in the bottom and put a preplanted nursery pot on top of it? Plus, you have a limited root area now. And I don’t understand the drain shield. A coffee filter is cheaper and would probably work just as well.

  8. CP, that sounds like a rational approach. I imagine they include the drain shield to keep the “pearls” from obstructing the drainage hole.

  9. I forgot to mention that I really liked this statement, “Eliminates mildew and root rot”. Really? If you have soil that retains moisture, how is a bunch of polystyrene balls going to “pull” that excess moisture out?

  10. It just means there won’t be any mildew or root rot in the polystyrene balls! Just in the perched water table created by the liner.

  11. I developed Packing Pearls primarily to solve a problem for my clients who wanted lighter-weight pots. I specialize in container gardening in Portland, Oregon, and tried various conventional methods and products to keep pots light, but each fell short for us; either they did not fit all sizes of pots, they impeded drainage or we were unsure of its composition. (ie: fro growing vegetables in)

    Packing Pearls is a complete system composed of 3 important elements. The drain shield is a riser that keeps the drain hole open and keeps the pearls from sitting on the hole. The solid pearls give a firm foundation for the plants, yet allow for water to drain through and out the drain shield. The pot liner is a landscape fabric that allows the water to drain, but keeps the majority of the roots within the soil which makes for easier plant pull at the end of the season. The material is porous for liquids and does not sit in the soil.

    Packing Pearls work well for our clients, and consumers who have tried them like them. Packing Pearls lighten the load of heavy pots, and our experience has been over the past 2 years, that plants grown in pots with Packing Pearls grow well and tend to bloom longer. We never claimed that our method is the only way to solve the problem of overly heavy, water-logged pots just more improved, to many of the current methods.

    We want our clients to be successful with their container gardens which is why I was inspired to develop Packing Pearls in the first place. If another method works well for a gardener, than that’s a good thing.

    Please feel free to contact me directly with any additional questions or thoughts.

    Joanna Guzzetta
    4888 NW Bethany Blvd Suite K5-312
    Portland, OR 97229
    503-466-2772 fax

    1. I have a really large, round pot with 5 small drain holes (about 1″ each) in the bottom. The pot is about 38″ across and about 2 feet high….I was going to order these, but as I’m typing, I hear my husband dumping gravel into the giant pot……wish I’d read this earlier!

  12. It always bothered me when soil ran out the drain holes onto my deck, so I started using a piece of green (or any other colour) scrubber as a soil filter. The water can still drain but without taking (much) soil with it. As for really heavy pots, I do as Holly suggested and put in upside down pots to displace some of the soil.

  13. I have been looking for a light-weight product that could act as a large-scale aggregate to mix with compost for use in big rooftop containers. My (possibly un-sound) idea is to create a ‘scaffold’ that will keep plants from sinking in their pots as the organic matter decomposes and is replaced, and allow smaller soil particles and decomposed organic matter to occupy the large voids. Am I crazy? Will this product work?

  14. PK, wouldn’t this cause the soil to pull away from the roots, which would be held above the subsiding media? I think the replacement would be a very labor-intensive process. Or am I missing something?

  15. I’ll try to be more clear. I would like to create a medium with relatively large pore spaces using a large light-weight aggregate, and fill those pore spaces with small soil particles and other light-weight medium and compost. I think the large aggregates would displace 50% of the soil (and weight), but still allow a relatively big root run. I would ‘replace’ decomposed organic material just by adding 2” of compost to the top each year.

  16. After seeing the cost of the Pearls, I realize it is impractical for my purposes. But could you please still comment on the idea? Thank you. Love your blog.

  17. Yep, now I get it! I think it’s an idea worth pursuing (if it hasn’t already been done – maybe Holly or another GP could comment?). I think you can find the materials you need cheaply and might even be able to use recycled material. This isn’t really my area of expertise – which is why I want one of my colleagues to weigh in!

  18. Great, I look forward to their input. I am mostly considering this approach when dealing with large shrubs and trees when confining the roots to the top 14″ of the planter is not realistic.

  19. PK, if you are just looking for something to take up space (as in lighten the pot yet provide support), any inert material would do (nursery pots; beer cans are excellent also, just whatever). Roots will just grow around the material. Adding some kind of organic matter each year (as you noted) will help maintain soil level. Sounds like a plan!

  20. If the major reason for use of these pearls is to lighten the weight of a heavy pot by replacing the bottom third of soil with the pearls, it seems to me all you need is a pot one third less in size which automatically means it’s lighter weight. If the soil mix is correct it will be well draining without the need for additional bottom materials.

    Some roots are going to get down into the pearls eventually. What happens if you decide to repot and find a bug problem in the roots. What a sticky problem that would be to unentangle them from the pearls and then you’d have to wash and disinfect the roots, the pot, the pearls, the liner and the drain shield. Too muchy work for me!

    You may save the cost of one third soil in the pot but the pearls are way more expensive than the soil.

    The reason for having a large pot is to accommodate a large plant. If the plant is a heavy one, the weight of the pot with the soil is
    what keeps the plant upright. If the plant is heavier than the pot it can tip over.

    Polystyrene (otherwise known as styrofoam) can in time break into small pieces that can be dangerous for children and animals. It is created from benzene and other chemicals that can be bad for humans and contribute to smog and global warming. It is NOT biodegradable and contributes to landfill pileup because it never deteriorates. These pearls, in fact, are far more environmentally unfriendly than the grit and most other products we currently use to help with drainage.

    In 2007 in the city of San Francisco, restaurants were required to switch from using styrofoam containers and any other forms of polystyrene because they were environmentally unfriendly. Oakland, Berkeley, Portland, Santa Monica, Santa Cruz and Seattle are some other cities that have banned styrofoam containers.

    Finally, with regard to the claim …. “Tests show that flowering plants bloom two to three months longer when grown in containers with a base of Packing Pearls. Plants are also visibly healthier and hardier.” I would be interested to know what tests were conducted, over what period of time and who conducted them.

    The other claim that using the pearls eliminates mildew and root rot, I think any knowledgeable gardener will agree that claim is pure humbug!
    To move big pots a plant dolly is not that pricey. It lasts forever and is a one time expense.

  21. I have been using a cocoa lined plant holder to set my pots that I buy athe a nursery into my huge ceramic pots. Because they are smaller at the top than the bottom I cannot use ups I daisy. I would like to use something that I can just set the nursery plants on and not a pile of balls that might be unbalanced…any ideas.?I am open to all suggestions as planting is ready to start in michigan.

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