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5 Ways to Repurpose Recyclables for Your Garden

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Dig through the recycling bin to find materials you can use in your garden.

In my household, 2013 is going to be the Year of the Garden: My husband Chip spent the winter reading books on square-foot gardening, we cleared out a sunny corner of our front yard, and we've been making lists of the vegetables and fruits we'd like to plant (who knew there were so many varieties of tomatoes?!). Chip has made me promise that I'll do my part in weeding and watering, and I've made him promise that the raised-bed frame he builds will not look disreputable.

It took a trip to the supply store for reality to set in: As we tallied up the cost of the soil, plants and seeds, tools and other gear, we realized that that idea of free veggies all summer long was actually going to cost a little more than we thought.

We started putting back all the extraneous tools and gadgets, and decided to get creative. At home, we dug through the recycling bin and poked around the house to find items we could reuse in the garden.

If you're planting a garden this summer, save yourself a bundle by repurposing household items for these garden items. Not only will you save money, but you'll also divert some of your waste from the trash or recycling bin!

  1. Plant Markers: Since we're garden newbies, I'm worried we won't be able to tell a zucchini seedling from a tomato seedling, so plant markers are a must. Don't waste money on the cute but pricey ones at your garden store, because you can easily make them with found materials. I wrote the plant names on small plastic yogurt or sour cream lids, cut two slits into the plastic, and poked chopsticks through for the stakes. I've also seen ones made from wooden clothespins, plastic knives, or wine bottle corks. Check out some of these pretty ideas at Apartment Therapy.
  2. Raised Beds: Leftover wood or plastic lumber, cinderblocks or other building materials, can all be repurposed to make a raised bed garden. There is some concern about the chemicals used to pressure-treat wood, but if you suspect the wood you want to use is pressure-treated, you can line the inside with heavy plastic. Ask friends, neighbors and nearby construction sites if they have building materials that they want to get rid of; you'll be saving them from having to dispose of them, while saving yourself some expense.
  3. Newspapers for Mulch: Save those Sunday papers… they are a natural way to keep weeds under control. Spread them over the open spaces of the garden, leaving an opening around each plant, and cover with a thin layer of compost, soil or mulch, just enough to cover the newspaper and keep it from flying away. The papers will let water sink into the soil, but will block weeds from growing.
  4. Seed Starters/Greenhouses: Cut up paper towel or toilet paper rolls to use as seed starters. Line them up in a shallow container (a cleaned disposable aluminum casserole, or a large plastic package works great), fill them with soil, plant the seeds and add water. You can fashion a mini greenhouse by cutting open large clear plastic bags or using clear plastic packages (such as the big clamshell packages that salad greens come in). The best part is, when it's time to plant your seedlings, you can plant the whole bundle, cardboard tube and all, since the cardboard will eventually biodegrade. For more detailed instructions on how to make the seed starters and mini greenhouses, check out
  5. Compost: Compost is the ultimate recycled gardening material: You can turn all of the food scraps you'd otherwise throw away, into soil that's richer and more nutrient-packed than anything you could buy at the garden center. Composting also has many environmental benefits ; less food in landfills means less methane gases and other pollutants. But it's not just as simple as throwing your potato peels and coffee grounds into a corner of your yard. Be sure to consult a book or a reliable website for instructions (I like the composting article on — you don't end up with a stinky, bug-infested pile of trash! If composting on your own sounds scary, there are a few alternatives you can look into, too (like freezing your compost until you can drop it off at a greenmarket!).

By using recyclables to create some of these DIY projects for my garden, I'll be saving money, cutting down on waste, and giving my garden real personality.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • janet i. 2 years ago
    darn,, great ideas everyone! I've started an indoor "garden" this year with only two items and so far have had a small problem with spots on the leaves of my green beans. Def,, going to do more reaserch in the future, thanks all this info has been very helpful... : )
  • shelia w. 2 years ago
    I haven't read through the posts so someone may have already suggested this....but old Venetian Blinds can be cut to any length as plant markers. The old metal ones are especially good!
  • Dona E. 2 years ago
    Darn! I've already planted 3 tomato plants in pots before this post reminded me of this tip!! I'm planting in pots this year to rest the soil in my raised beds.
    The tip is...when planting in containers...use several layers of news paper to circle the inside of the pot before you fill them with soil. This will help "insulate" them (shelter them from the sun and keep them cooler like mulch) and help the pots retain moisture. pots dry out much more often and need to be watered often. That's not too good here in Ca. where we're on water meters and in a drought!
    This also recycles paper and in the end enriches the soil!
    • Dona E. 10 months ago
      It's summer 2017, we had a wonderful winter of rain and are supposedly out of our drought, but I am still being VERY water aware!
      Wooden paint stirrers make excellent plant markers for bigger pots, to be found at hardware store or Lowes or Home Depot.
  • dolores s. 5 years ago
    My mother used to say "whatever you take from the soil must be returned to the soil." When you trim your bushes dig around them and bury all the leaves and trimmings you can. Turn your flowers over and bury them in the fall.
  • dolores s. 5 years ago
    I have two sink holes in my back yard. All of my yard waste is going into them. Previous to this, when I was cleaning up a garden and had leaves and other garden waste, I would rake it into a pile, dig a hole and bury it.
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