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Good Gardening Habits: Garden Recycling

By Diane MacEachern |
Plant your newspaper — but grow a seedling in it first.
Originally Published: 05/11/10

If you've never thought of your garden as a "recycling center," think again. You can recycle any number of household items in and around your yard to help bring it to life. You can also recycle much of the waste your garden generates. Here's how:

Inside Out

To add some decorative elements to your landscape, check your basement, storage shed, attic and garage. Do you have a ladder you no longer use? Convert it to a decorative trellis for climbing roses or sweet peas. That brass headboard just collecting dust? Turn it into a backdrop for a colorful display of tall annuals. In the winter, when the flowers are gone, it will add character to your dormant yard, and keep you thinking about what to plant next year. Getting ready to sell old china at a yard sale? Think about how you might reuse it first. I once saw a delightful garden fountain made out of old teacups and saucers, with the water pouring down from a beautiful pitcher. Unusual elements like these add fun and whimsy to the rows of tomatoes and beans you might otherwise be growing. Don't be afraid to be creative!

On The Ground

If you like to plant young seedlings rather than full-grown plants, use gallon-sized, empty milk jugs to protect them. Cut off the bottom and the pour top, then place the new plant protector over the seedling to shield it from the elements until it has the chance to take root.

If you’ve never thought of your garden as a “recycling center,” think again.

You can also start seedlings in "pots" made from recycled household materials like eggshells and toilet paper rolls, though I think making them from newspapers is more effective. Wrap a piece of newspaper around an empty jam jar or other bottle so that it's a little longer that the width of the jar. Cut the paper on the vertical line, then tuck the top of the paper along the edge inside the planter. Flatten the bottom, but don't tuck the bottom flaps up inside the planter. They need to fan out flat towards each other. Fill almost to the top with dirt, then add a seed and water. Place all the pots on a water-proof tray. The pots will get damp, but the tray will protect the surface they're sitting on. When the seedlings are ready for the outdoors, you can plant the entire container, newspaper and all.

To enrich your soil, recycle your kitchen scraps into rich (and free) compost. As you are composting, you can add shredded paper, which will boost its nitrogen levels. The paper can be recycled from documents, newspapers, paper bags, and junk mail. Make sure to first remove plastic, staples, or plastic window inserts in envelopes.

And General Good-Gardening Behavior

How else can you recycle in your garden?

Recycle plastic pots:

  • Recycle pots through your municipality's recycling program — check for a plastic identification code on the bottom and see if your town accepts it.
  • Ask your nursery or garden center if they accept used pots for reuse or recycling.
  • Re-use your own pots for starting seedlings.
  • Give the pots to another gardener in your community, or to a vendor at the farmer's market.

Choose eco-friendly alternatives to plastic pots:

Recycle wood chips. If you or your neighbors are trimming trees, grab the leftover wood chips and use them to line garden paths.

Compost. The food waste you generate can be recycled into rich new organic material you can use the following year. Don't know where to start? Start here:

Got any additional good gardening tips? Share them in the comments below!

Diane MacEachern is the author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, and a popular blog, Big Green Purse.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • joanna l. 1 year ago
    The plastic container that a rotisserie chicken comes in makes a great "terrarium"
    Put some soil in the bottom part, plant some seeds and use the transparent top to let in the sunshine
  • Elaine F. 5 years ago
    good to know.
  • Laurel K. 6 years ago
    I tried the newpaper for my seedlings. It was not a good idea. I start my seeds in Rubbermaid trays in your utensil drawer for dividers. 6"x8" They last for 20 plus years. I bought flats that hold 72 seedlings for my plants many years ago. I have used them over and over. I take great care of them. Some of my 4" pots that I transplant into are more than 20 years old. The clear domed lids for the flats make wonderul sauces to the plants in pots before I plant them. Great for bottom watering the plants. Another idea is to reuse the dryer sheets in the bottom of pots with hole. This allows you to fill the pot with drainage mater like broken clay pots or fish tank gravel before you are the potting soil and the plant. No need to buy screen if you have used dryer sheets.
  • Sarah J. 6 years ago
    I buy cottons, linens, and wools, and when they are past using any more (I include sheets) I use them as mulch and as wicking material in and out of pots (Planting in the ground I drive a rolled up piece of fabric as far down as I can go, then plant the plant. The fabric gives that much more water to the roots, and the roots will follow the fabric down to where there is more water. Sometimes I leave a space and jam a wad of fabric (wool is best) to make a reservoir for water (how long does it take a wool sweater to dry? now cover it with mud. How long now? See?) Fabric that is earth colored can be a top mulch, crazy stuff you'd never see (say, purple) goes underground or should be covered with dirt and leaves.)
    It is amusing to see how long some stuff lasts, and how sometimes only buttons remain to tell you where you used a certain shirt. (I take away plastic stuff.)
  • heidi e. 6 years ago
    I liked this article great ideas! : )
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