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No Diapers for Houseplants!

There is a video circulating these days (How Can Diapers Help Your Plants Grow?) that several people have sent me. It suggests that you can cut open a disposable diaper, retrieve the absorbent crystals inside and add these crystals (hydrogels) to the potting mix of your houseplants. And it seems to make sense: after all, hydrogels are said to absorb 500 times their weight in water. Thus, the crystals ought to absorb water and release it slowly, keeping your plants moist longer. The video claims it cuts your watering needs in half… and who doesn’t want great results with less effort? Plus the video seems very professional, the narrator is compelling and enthusiastic, the video seems to show you exactly what to do… so far, so good! But there’s a catch: it simply doesn’t work!

You should know hydrogels absorb water very well, but are not so good at releasing it. After all, disposable diapers are designed to absorb liquids but not with the idea that you’ll then expect them to dry out for future use. Thus, a plant treated with these crystals will have approximately the same watering needs as a plant growing in a more traditional growing mix. This is confirmed by test after test: there is little to no difference in the frequency of watering when you compare ordinary potting soils and the same soils with added hydrogel crystals. In fact, in some tests, the plants growing in hydrogel mixes dried out more quickly than those without the mix. (The difference was minor, but still!)

I tried a very small-scale experiment with hydrogels about 20 years old, when hydrogels first came on the market. Only two plants, so it wasn’t a thorough test. Still, I saw no difference in either the amount of water needed for the two plants nor any difference at all in frequency. I haven’t used hydrogels since!

Of course, that may be a mistake. There are modern hydrogels designed for horticultural use that are likely better for plant culture then chopped up diapers. Even so, though, if you read scientific reports on the subject, the results are not very conclusive. It would appear hydrogels work (a bit) under some circumstances and not at all in others.They seem to operate best when used in the ground (and not so well in pots) using very drought sensitive plants. Plus there are questions about what happens to them when they degrade (they don’t last forever).

My conclusion? Keep diapers for baby and use normal potting soil for your houseplants…

Colored hydrogel crystals at a trade show: they’re being used here for houseplant cuttings.

But what a minute! Just because crystals harvested from diapers are essentially useless as a watering agent for container plants doesn’t mean they have no useful functions. In the video, you’re shown how to use hydrogels to keep cut flowers moist and that will work. Not mentioned is the fact you can root cuttings in them as well, although eventually you’ll have to move them to real soil. And you can color hydrogel crystals as per the video with food dyes, turning them color of your choice. You’ve probably seen hydrogels, often in the form of gelatinous beads, used this way in plant shows and county fairs, but crystals extracted from diapers will give a similar result.

There are a few other inconsistencies in the video; you see plants potted into containers with no drainage holes (not very good horticulture!), a strange tip about mixing seeds with a hydrogel/potting mix blend (you’d get the same results in potting mix alone… and what a waste of seeds too!), and a few others.

The most surreal point in the video is when it recommends not adding food coloring to the crystals in potting soil so “your plants won’t turn funny colors as they grow”. Well, actually, you can pour all the food coloring you want into soil with or without hydrogels and the dye simply won’t change the plant’s color. Plant roots cannot absorb food coloring directly, they must wait until it is broken down into simpler molecules, and by that stage, the color has been lost. So your plant will keep its original color regardless of any color added.

Cut flower carnations soaking in colored water will change color.

That said, you can do a neat little experiment by coloring flowers, not plants. If you put cut flowers in hydrogel or water stained with food coloring, the flower will take up the food color. That’s because the colored water passes directly into the flower stalk where vascular tissues carry it to the flower’s petals: there are no roots to act as filters. This phenomenon is observed more easily with white flowers, as they have no pigments to mask the dye. This technique is widely used in the floral industry: you’ll find plenty of dyed flowers in almost any florist shop.

So, a fun video to watch and very thought-provoking, but somebody forgot to do their homework!

There is a video circulating these days (How Can Diapers Help Your Plants Grow?) that several people have sent me. It suggests that you can cut open a disposable diaper, retrieve the absorbent crystals inside and add these crystals (hydrogels) to the potting mix of your houseplants. And it seems to make sense: after all, hydrogels are said to…

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Try this easy water saving tip to use fresh disposable diapers to help keep your container plants moist all summer. It works great and saves money!

Why I Use Disposable Diapers In The Garden!

Did you know you can save time and money by using disposable diapers in the garden! They are not dangerous to your plants — The water storing crystals in diapers are the same stuff that is packaged and sold as garden watering crystals, only a lot less expensive.

When I lived in Kansas, it would get very hot in the summer. Our deck didn’t have any shade and some of my plants needed to be watered twice a day. I was going to buy the granules that hold water from the garden center, but I discovered small container of the water granules was $25!

Even though I really needed it to keep my plants going that summer, I just couldn’t come to bring myself to pay that much. One day, I was thinking about it as I was changing my son’s diaper. Then it dawned on me! The same stuff is in baby diapers.

I tore open the center of a diaper and scooped out all the cotton with the granules in it into a bowl. Out of curiosity I wanted to see just how much water it would hold. I was hoping for two cups. It held NINE cups of water! That means I could use this stuff in 3-5 containers of plants, depending on the size. I was able to get diapers for .20 each so the cost wasn’t huge.

Using disposable diapers in your garden or in container plants, you can save a LOT of time because you don’t have to water nearly as often and the plants have a more even supply of water. You can even use these for plants that are already planted as I demonstrate in our disposable diapers in the garden video!

You can even use used diapers (GASP!), but not dirty ones. If you have diapers that have only urine in them, they are fine to use in the garden if you’re willing to mess with them. Some people are horrified at the thought, but consider this:

Gardening is an outside activity. Squirrels, rodents, dogs and cats and other various animals pee in your garden all the time, but it just goes back into nature. I’m assuming your baby doesn’t have some hideous disease that would make their urine more dangerous for you or your plants than the urine from these animals.

Nature has a wonderful process of using chemistry to convert various substances to other completely different things so if you use manure, compost (rotted food), or something with baby urine, even to grow food plants, it’s not like you’re eating manure, rotten food and urine! Good grief!

We have had a question about the safety of using these in your garden pots. I personally don’t have a problem with it. I didn’t use these in my vegetable plants only flowers. Use your own judgment regarding whether or not you want to use them with vegetables.

If you’re curious about the safety of using disposable diapers, here are some details:

  • The external liner for some diapers is plastic. It will not hurt the soil and the plants won’t eat it, so you can use the diapers and later, when you’re re-doing your garden, you can simply throw the plastic away.
  • Diapers also contain the water storing crystals, which break down naturally and harmlessly over time (and are also sold specifically for gardening with different packaging).
  • Some diapers also have cotton or wood pulp, which decomposes naturally. Some people are concerned about how these item are processed when diapers are made, but there seems to be little substantiated concern and if you’re using them in the garden, the environment provides several layers of “buffer” that will convert them through chemistry as I mentioned above, so I’m confident any substance that might have posed a minuscule threat would be neutralized.

Remember, Always Think Outside the Box!

Try this easy water saving tip to use fresh disposable diapers to help keep your container plants moist all summer. It works great and saves money!