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4 easy DIY gardening ideas with recycled items

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

We're big fans of recycling here in our family, whether it's upcycling with various thrift store finds or totally giving an old piece of ‘garbage’ a new life.

They do say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. When it comes to gardening, that trash becomes money-saving treasure.

We gardeners are naturally creative people. Wouldn’t you agree? And we obviously have a love for nature. That’s why the idea of recycling and reusing materials should play a bigger role in gardening.

There’s enough plastic in the world already. Why bring one more plastic pot into it?

If the environmental impact isn’t enough to convince you, how about I talk to your wallet? Instead of spending money on seed trays for your seeds, start using things you already have in the house. Forget splurging on a fancy weed carpet, old cardboard boxes and newspapers will do the trick.

You can use:

  • Milk cartons

  • Plastic meat trays

  • Toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls

  • Newspapers

Take a look below at my quick ideas for giving everyday items a new life in your garden. These are also great activities to do with kids. I use all of these in the kindergarten’s garden every spring.

How to use old milk cartons in your garden

I use milk cartons (paper ones, although plastic would work fine) when germinating seeds because of their sturdy shape.

My father-in-law uses paper juice cartons to cover blueberry plant seedlings as they start to grow. And he does this on a massive scale. He never removes the carton, either. As the plant grows, the paper will slowly break down.

Here's how it looks in his field.

For my little garden, it’s a way smaller project.

Note: It is important that you thoroughly wash the milk carton before using it. And make sure that you put drainage holes in the bottom. Just use an ice pick or a knife to make a few holes. Without proper drainage, the roots of your small plant will rot.

  1. Make sure you wash/rinse your milk carton thoroughly with soap and water.

  2. Cut off the top with a knife or scissors. This works for both plastic and paper milk cartons.

  3. Remember to make some holes in the bottom.

  4. Fill the milk carton almost full with soil and moisten it.

  5. Put your seeds on top and cover them with a little soil. Remember to keep it moist until the seeds germinate.

  6. Add a popsicle stick with the name of the plant on it and put it in your greenhouse or windowsill.

How to use plastic meat trays to grow perennials

If you’re throwing the plastic meat trays that you get from the supermarket, stop. These are perfect for gardening. And you can use the same tray over and over, season to season.

While it’s sad that there’s an excess of plastic. The good news is that we can use them in the garden. These trays are incredibly sturdy and have a great shape — they’re not too deep — for sprouting seeds of summer flowers and perennials.

Be sure to wash the tray thoroughly with soap and warm water. And add drainage holes in the bottom.

  1. Make sure you remove any plastic film or foil from the lid of the meat tray. Use a small knife if necessary.

  2. Wash the plastic tray very thoroughly with soap and water.

  3. Leave the trays to dry.

  4. Always remember to make holes in the bottom of the meat trays so that extra water can drain off later.

  5. Fill each tray halfway with soil and moisten.

  6. Add your seeds and sprinkle with a little soil on top.

  7. Only plant one type of seed in each tray. Add the name on a popsicle stick so you'll know what’s growing.

How to use toilet paper rolls in your garden

Today is the day that you can stop throwing away that mountain of toilet rolls and paper towel rolls.

The best part about reusing these rolls is that they break down naturally. I use them to sow individual plants and to repot smaller plants.

If you put a perennial or annual plant in one of these rolls, you won’t need to disturb it again later. You can put the roll directly in a larger pot or in the ground.

If you’re using different-sized plastic pots, you have to disturb the plant every time you move it to a larger pot.

It’s a win-win for you and the roots.

  1. To stop the soil from falling out, put a small wad of newspaper in the bottom of each roll.

  2. Fill each roll almost to the top with soil.

  3. Put seeds or small seedlings in the roll and then fill it up with soil.

  4. Remember to keep moist.

  5. Always add a stick with the name of the plant.

  6. When the plant is ready, stick it directly in the ground outside.

How to use newspapers in your garden

We still have the local newspaper that comes through the door every week. We enjoy reading it to see what's happening in our cozy little town.

Instead of throwing it away afterward, it can actually be recycled for projects out in the garden.

We use it in the same way as toilet paper rolls. And just like those, the newspaper will dissolve over time, keeping me from having to disturb the plant as it grows.

For this project, you’ll need a glass jar or glass and newspapers.

  1. Take a page from the newspaper and roll it around the jam jar.

  2. Fold in the bottom.

  3. Cut 4 strips with scissors at the top. (From the top of the newspaper down to the start of the jam glass.)

  4. Carefully remove the jam jar from the top.

  5. Bend the strips inwards.

  6. Fill the rolled newspaper ¾ with soil.

  7. Put seeds or a seedling in and fill the roll with soil.

  8. Remember to add a stick with the name of the seed or plant.

  9. Keep the little newspaper pot moist until you’re ready to plant it directly in your flowerbed or container.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This has been the battle cry of the environmental community for forever. And now it’s time for gardeners to join the fight.

And it’s not just giving everyday items a new lease on life. You can also compost to reduce the waste that you’re tossing out.

Whatever small step you can take is worth it. Not only will your garden benefit, but also the gardens that we’re leaving behind.

So three cheers to the creative gardeners who are putting this all into practice.

I’d love to know what recycling tips and tricks you use in your garden. Share your ideas in the comments below.


Welcome to my garden

Hi! I'm Lars (Denmark).

Thanks for joining me as I share tips and inspiration for perennial gardening. 

Click below to see what's growing in my garden right now? 

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