10 Ways to Reuse and Recycle Materials in the Garden

A major goal of gardening sustainably is to cut off the waste stream, and one great way to do that is to reuse and recycle materials that others may see as trash. Here are a few first-hand ideas shared by gardeners.

1. I use an old plastic mesh bag to round up leftover slivers of soap. I rubber-band the bag so it’s tight and hang it next to the hose. The combo of the slightly abrasive bag and the soap scrubs off garden dirt.

2. I made row covers out of tomato cages, old rebar I got free, and used blankets I got at the local thrift store.

3. Instead of purchasing expensive weed-blocking landscape cloth, I use free old tarps from my local lumber store that they used to cover wood during shipping.

4. I gather pieces of concrete to use as stepping stones in my garden.

5. I recycle drink cups to grow tomatoes from seed. When they’re ready to transplant, I simply remove the bottom inch or so of each cup and plant directly in the ground. This prevents cutworms from making a meal of my transplants.

6. I was given some heavy-duty metal “for sale” sign frames, and I placed them in my raised beds to support bed covers in early spring.

7. Old pantyhose are my friends: They make garden ties, and I use them to “bag” cantaloupes growing on trellises so the melons have extra support.

8. I make all my garden fencing with scrap wood and build my veggie trellises and arbors with fallen branches and saplings.

9. My plant tags are twigs with a shaved-off area to write on.

10. For a cold frame in late winter, we prop old windows against straw bales. When I know we’re in danger of a frost, I take old bean poles and jab them into the ends of my beds, throw old sheets over them, use stones or bricks to hold down the edges, and voilà! I have a makeshift tent in my garden.

For many more ideas on eco-friendly gardening—including those on saving water and energy, attracting pollinators, and using sustainable tools and amendments—check out 82 Sustainable Gardening Tips. If you like these ideas, you’ll also appreciate the creative tips in Use Your Christmas Tree in the Garden.

Illustration by Keith Ward

54 comments

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Garnet Jenny Fulton
Past Member 3 years ago

This is so inspiring, keep up the great work and thanks for sharing this so we can all make a garden that is green-friendly in every possible way.

Lynn Thompson
Past Member 3 years ago

Liked the branch plant tag idea. I can do that!

Sergio Padilla
Sergio Padilla3 years ago

Thank you

Miranda Parkinson

A truly sustainable garden. Well done!

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W.4 years ago

it sounds like you have a beautiful garden Shelly. Thanks for the tips

Elaine Bainbridge
Elaine B.4 years ago

This is very useful advice, although the shade I need is to be able to shade the plants from the blistering sun as we live in the Caribbean, so far, I have been using old net laundry bags, on old patio umbrella that now has the. DIY dream fix of duct tape on several patches. I still like to experiment so have tried using seeds or cuttings from local plants, eggplant and spinach (the large leaf variety) do particularly well.

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Belinda E.
Belinda E.4 years ago

Marvelous! I've got some great ideas for next year.

I'd like to share one, too: to make automatic waterers for my tomatoes, I cut the neck and part of the side out of gallon milk jugs, poked holes in the bottom with an awl, and planted them about an inch deep between every two plants while planting the garden. Then I covered the ground with water-permeable landscape cloth and bark mulch, watered deeply and filled the milk jugs...and went away for a week. The weather was hot and dry that week, but every plant pulled through it, although the ones next to slower-draining jugs did not grow as much, so they definitely made a difference!

Marie W.
Marie W.4 years ago

Good tips.