You could spend a fortune on garden tools, but you already have a bunch of junk lying around the house. Why not save money and recycle some of that stuff to repurpose your trash into treasure?
So, what can you use recycled materials for in the garden? You can use recycled materials for seed storage and germination, containers, plant supports, plant ties, plant protection, landscaping, irrigation, drainage, garden art, tool storage, harvest baskets, and compost.
Of course, there are lots of different ways to repurpose your old junk for use in the garden. This list is just a start to get your imagination going.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some ways to use recycled materials in the garden.
Let’s get going.
11 Garden Ideas Using Recycled Materials
No matter what kind of old junk you have lying around the house, there is probably a use for it in the garden. From a makeshift plant supports to last-minute cold protection, recycled materials can really help out a gardener.
Here is my list of 20 garden ideas using recycled materials.
1. Seed Storage & Germination
Some seeds need to be started indoors, especially in areas with cold winters and short growing seasons. Here are a few ideas to help you with seed germination.
- Paper Envelope Seed Storage – use an envelope to store seeds. Be sure to label the envelope first – it will be hard to write on it when it is full of seeds. Record the plant name, type, and date.
- Paper Towel & Plastic Bag Germination Setup– wet the paper towel so it is damp, and then use it to wrap the seeds. Then, put the damp paper towel & seeds in a plastic bag. The paper towel acts as a “growing medium” in place of soil, and the plastic bag retains moisture so humidity stays high.
- Egg Carton Seed Tray – an egg carton is not just for holding eggs! After you finish your dozen eggs, put a little seed starting mix in each of the cells in an egg carton. Then, plant a seed in each cell (perhaps two if you are worried about low germination rates). The best part is that the egg carton is biodegradable. You can get more ideas for seed trays in my article here.
- Plastic Container Humidity Dome – any type of plastic container that can form a “dome” over plants can act as a sort of humidity dome. The plastic will retain moisture for the seeds, and any heat from sunlight will be trapped underneath (sort of like the greenhouse effect on a small scale).
If you don’t want to spend money on pots for your plants, there are lots of alternatives. Here are just a few ideas for making plant containers from recycled items.
- Fabric Grow Bag – if you have some old fabric lying around, you might be able to sew it together to turn it into a fabric pot or grow bag. Depending on the size, you might be able to grow houseplants, small tomato plants, dwarf citrus trees, or other plants in your grow bags. Just be sure to use a tray underneath the grow bag to catch water.
- Trash Bin Container – use a trash bin to hold soil as a makeshift pot for plants. Depending on the size, you might be able to grow one or more potato plants inside a trash bin with soil inside. At the end of the grow season, simply tip it over and sort out the potatoes, or sift out the soil to leave the tubers behind.
- Plastic Bottle Container – you can also use plastic bottles of every size and shape to grow plants. Small bottles could be used to start individual seeds (or just a few), while larger ones could be used for indoor plants and more established vegetables. You have the option of cutting out the top of a bottle to get a taller container, or cutting a hold in the side to get a shorter but wider container.
- Hanging Planter – you can use a small or medium plastic or fabric container and hang it using 3 to 4 pieces of rope. You might need to drill some holes in the container to make a place for the ropes to attach.
3. Plant Supports
Many plants grow so tall that they need support as they climb, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and vining flowers like clematis. Here are some ways to support plants with recycled materials.
- Poles into Stakes – stakes are useful for supporting tomato plants (especially indeterminate varieties) as they climb and bear more weight from fruit. You can use wooden stakes (such as the handle from an old shovel or rake), plastic stakes (such as an old PVC pipe), or metal stakes (such as an old metal fence post or railing).
- Recycled Cages – a cage is used as support for peppers and tomatoes (especially determinate varieties). You can create a cage out of any metal wire including chicken or rabbit wire.
- Pallet Trellis – you can use an old wood pallet as a trellis for vining flowers (such as clematis) to climb up. You can place the trellis against a wall or fence, or you can put two together at an angle to make an A-frame trellis with two sides for climbing. You can make a trellis out of lots of old materials.
- Rope Trellis – you can also use several lengths of rope in a weaved pattern to create a trellis for plants to climb.
- Door Frame Arbor – if you or someone you know has done renovations, they may have an old door frame that you can use to make an arbor. The roof will be flat unless you modify it, but it can provide an entrance to your garden and a place for plants to climb.
4. Plant Ties
Plant ties are used to attach plants to their supports (stakes, cages, trellises, or arbors). Here are a few ideas for plant ties that you might already have lying around the house.
- Twine – a length of twine is perfect for tying tomato vines to stakes or other supports. Of course, you can use jute, sisal, or hemp twine of various thicknesses. It is also possible to use longer pieces of twine to mark off entire rows for planting.
- Thin Cloth Strips – you can cut a thin piece of cloth and tie it like rope to attach plants to their supports. In a pinch, you can also use a piece of cloth to mend a plant with a broken branch or stem to see if it will heal.
- Zip Ties – plastic zip ties are easy to adjust to the correct tightness, but leave enough space for plants to grow later in the season.
5. Plant Protection
Plants need protection from all kinds of outdoor threats: cold, wind, insects, and birds are just a few. Here are some ways to use recycled materials to protect your plants.
- Hanger to Scare Birds – hanging shiny objects from strings provides light and movement to scare away birds (it might also work for squirrels and other animals). You can use a bicycle reflector, an old CD, or a pie tin and attach it to a piece of string or twine. Then, tie it to a branch so that it swings in the wind and catches the sunlight as it moves.
- Plastic Bottle Cloche – a cloche protects plants from cold, wind, and pests. To make one, take a clear plastic bottle and cut out the bottom. Put the bottle over the plant, and open the cap on top as a vent if it gets too warm. The plastic will trap heat underneath and keep pests out.
- Cutworm Collars – cutworms like to go through gardens cutting down tomato plants and other young plants before they have a chance to grow. You can prevent this with a cutworm collar made of cardboard. Just wrap a piece of cardboard around the entire stem of the plant at soil level (plus a little bit below the soil) to deter cutworms.
- Homemade Greenhouse or Cold Frame – a greenhouse keeps plants warm by trapping heat underneath glass or plastic. You can make a greenhouse out of old windows or pieces of clear plastic. You will probably also need some wood to make a frame. A large greenhouse could be a big project, but you could make a cold frame (almost like a short greenhouse) if you are pressed for time or don’t need as much space.
You probably have more landscaping materials already in your possession than you think.
- Recycled Edging – you can use a series of old bricks lined up neatly to form edging for a garden bed. You can also use stones that you dig up from the garden itself. Another option is to use an old fence rail or plastic pipe to mark off the edge of a garden bed.
- Compost as Mulch – instead of paying for expensive wood mulch, try using compost to fill in some of the volume, then use a thinner layer of wood mulch above it.
- Cardboard as Mulch – you can lay down pieces of cardboard to smother weeds, then cover them with soil, compost, or mulch to improve the appearance. Cardboard has other uses as well.
7. Irrigation and Drainage
There are lots of ways to water your plants if they are dry or to carry water away if the soil is too wet. Here are just a few ideas using recycled materials.
- Old Hose Irrigation – if you have an old hose with holes in it, don’t throw it away just yet. You might even want to put more holes in it! The holes along the length of hose will release water for an entire row of plants. Just don’t put too many holes in one end of the hose, or else no water will reach the other end.
- PVC Pipe Drainage – you can use a PVC pipe to direct water away from your plants if they are getting too much water. This is helpful if your plants are near a downspout, or if they live in a patch of wet soil.
- Gravel and Pipe for French Drain – all you need to do is dig a trench (channel), put a pipe with holes inside, and cover the pipe with gravel. This will give you a French Drain, which can divert water away from areas of your yard that are prone to flooding.
8. Garden Art
There are lots of ways to turn old junk into pieces of art for your garden.
- Repurposed Wind Chimes – take some old pieces of metal (keys, silverware, etc.) and tie each one to a length of string. Then, tie each string to a central piece to create a wind chime. You can also decorate them with colorful pieces of plastic, glass beads, or whatever else you have lying around.
- Overgrown Bicycle – if you have parts of an old bicycle (such as a tire with spokes) or the entire bike, you can mount it in the yard. Then, plant some vining plants and let them climb right up the frame.
9. Tool Storage
It doesn’t take long before you get enough gardening tools to make it difficult to keep track of them all. Instead of misplacing tools, why not store them in a central location and make it easy to find them?
- Old Mailbox – if you replaced your mailbox (due to vandalism or just for curb appeal), you can use the old one as a place to store small garden tools. You should be able to fit pruning shears, trowels, scissors, twine, and other small hand tools in a mailbox. This will keep them from getting rusty in the rain, and will provide one easy location to put everything when you are done for the day.
- Plastic Containers – these aren’t just useful for growing plants! You can also use plastic containers to hold garden tools. Just use a larger container for larger tools. You can also use plastic containers to store potting mix, fertilizer, and other materials you need for growing.
- Trash Bin Tool Chest – use a tall trash bin to hold taller garden tools such as shovels, rakes, and hoes. Store them with the “business” end up so that you can see what you are grabbing.
10. Harvest Baskets
After all of the hard work of growing is done, you will still need to harvest whatever your garden produces. A basket is helpful when you can’t carry it all by hand.
- Plastic Container for Harvest – this is a common use for plastic containers. If you have a plastic container that won’t hold water due to a small hole, it will still work fine for harvesting garden vegetables.
- Makeshift Mesh Basket – all you need is some wire mesh and some plastic or wood for a handle. This will allow you to make a mesh basket so that root vegetables stay in, but some of the soil falls out. You will bring that much less dirt into the kitchen!
- Fabric Grow Bag Repurposed – you can also use a fabric grow bag to harvest vegetables, as long as it is still strong enough to hold weight.
11. Compost and Mulch
There are lots of garden waste materials and kitchen scraps that you can recycle to make compost or mulch for your garden.
- Mulch – you can use grass clippings, fallen leaves, straw, or even cardboard as mulch. All of these materials will help to smother existing weeds and prevent new ones from growing, at least temporarily. They are cheaper than wood mulch or gravel, but they will decompose faster. This can actually be a benefit if you use these mulches to control weeds in your garden.
- Compost – there are lots things you can put in a compost pile, and some things you should not. Some of the most common materials that you can put into a compost pile are grass clippings, fallen leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, sawdust, wood ash, and cardboard. There are many more materials you can use, though.
Now you have some ideas about how to use recycled materials to help with your gardening. Hopefully this list gives you some inspiration about how to use some of the junk you have in the attic, basement, or garage.
If you want to learn how to get more plants from the ones you already have, check out my article on plant cuttings here.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.