Spring is quickly approaching, and two things seem to be on our minds at this time of the year: getting out into our gardens and spring cleaning. Whether you’re thinking about starting a garden this year for the first time or you’re a seasoned veteran, you may be looking for some fresh ideas to keep costs low or redesign your layout.
So before you donate that pile of unwanted items you found while cleaning, take a minute to imagine each item in a new light. How could you repurpose some of these items to be used in your garden? Could that old lamp shade act as a structure for stacking? How could you reuse that bent spoon? You can upcycle just about anything you already have, as long as you think creatively. To get you started, we’ve created an extensive list of several ideas and DIY projects for you to try out this year, both from things you can find while cleaning your home and those you can salvage elsewhere.
Makeshift Starter Pots: Tin Cans, Broken Cups, and More
Did you accidently chip a cup or bowl while running around during the holidays? When mistakes like this happen, we often feel the item has been ruined and is, thus, worthy of being trashed. While it’s true you might not prefer to serve guests with a chipped cup, the item can still be used to hold a small plant in your garden.
Almost anything around your house that once held liquids or food can be upcycled into pots for your starter plants, as long as most of the item is intact. The list is endless, but consider the following ideas:
Old candle containers: These glass or acrylic containers are often the perfect size to get small plants started. This picture shows a glass candle container upcycled into a terrarium, though you can plant seeds in them to start herbs or sprouts.
Empty tin cans: After you’ve finished that can of beans or soup, make a pot out of it. Because the metal is soft enough to drive a hole through it, you can use these cans to build your garden vertically. You can nail them into a post or even hang them on some twine.
Used light bulbs: Every once in a while, we have to replace our light bulbs. These can be difficult to recycle, so instead use them as tiny pots to start some seeds. Learn how to upcycle an incandescent bulb with this tutorial.
Plastic food containers: Yogurt cups, tubs that held your hummus dip, and coffee ground containers are all able to be upcycled into mini pots. Here’s a tutorial for reusing your coffee ground containers.
Egg carton seed starter: This trick has been used for years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if you made one of these yourself in grade school. Simply pour rich soil or compost into each compartment of your carton, add seeds, water them, and watch them grow. If you want to get even craftier, grow your seeds in broken eggshells. This will provide added nutrients to your sprouts as they grow and will help reduce food waste in your kitchen!
Wooden Pallets: Plant Vertically & Organize Your Tools
Wooden pallets, used to stack and transport product at our favorite stores, can be incredibly useful in making the most of your space, if you can get your hands on one.
Pallets can be placed flat on the ground to help divide space, though they are best when propped up on their sides. The inner support beams act as shelves to stack pots or even as planters themselves, as shown in the picture at right. This structure is especially valuable if you have an apartment with a small deck as your only outside space. Click here to see how this apartment dweller did it.
These handy structures can also be used to organize your garden tools, another reason why pallets are great for small spaces. Read this page to learn how you can build your own.
Utensil Plant Markers
What’s a lad to do with a bent spoon? Many things, we say! If you’re new to gardening or still have a hard time telling which plants are which, mark them with worn, bent, or chipped kitchen utensils. Cut up some used paper for the labels, attach them to the utensils, and stick them in the soil. Depending on the material and weather conditions, these markers could stand up to time a lot better than some store-bought alternatives. See how it can be done here with spoons. The prongs on a fork can also be bent to hold a piece of paper without tape (if you want to avoid the plastic); just make sure the paper is securely placed between the prongs so it doesn’t blow away.
Metal spoons can be a great tool for those who need to build up rather than out, as they can be bent into hooks for hanging plants. Spoons are the best option, because the based can be hammered into a wall or post and act as a stable anchor for the rest of the hook. Click here for an example.
Keyboard Herb Garden
Every once in a while, an odd item like your computer keyboard breaks, and you’re left wondering what to do with it. Though the idea originated as a funny office prank, turning your keyboard into an herb or grass garden is a smart way to upcycle it.
You can simply pour seeds into the crevices without cleaning them out or removing the keys like this prankster did, but we suggest you give it at least a little wipe down first. Simply pour some soil or compost into the keyboard along with your seeds of choice, water them, and watch them grow!
Milk Carton Tools
Plastic milk cartons can be turned into many different tools for your garden. It you’re having trouble finding a quality, well-priced watering can, look no further than your fridge. When you’ve finished your milk, screw the cap back on and poke holes through it to create your own watering can. Safety pins, needles, and knives can be used to poke the holes through. Check out this page for a more detailed list of instructions. Please be very careful with this project, and do not let your children do this.
Many jugs come with a built-in handle. Get out some scissors and cut away the bottom of the jug at an angle to make your very own garden scoop. Here’s a picture of a DIY carton scoop for you to model yours after.
Viney plants, like peas, beans, squash, melons, and cucumbers, can be grown more predictably with the help of some kind of trellis or lattice to encourage upward growth. Here’s a list of old items that can be upcycled into these useful structures:
Worn bike wheels: These can be repurposed into many different things, but have you ever considered using a bicycle wheel as a support structure? This picture shows a series of wheels secured to a tall post with vines growing through the spokes.
Old bed parts: It may seem a bit odd to put a headboard or mattress spring outside, but many of these parts offer great structures for vines to latch onto. Click here for an example of how you can use these parts to create your own vertical garden.
Unwanted chairs: Many chairs have a grid-like design on the back or legs that would be ideal for viney plants. The other perk of using a chair in your garden is that you can stack some pots or planters on the seat and store some tools underneath it, as shown in this picture.
Tires & Their Many Uses
Tires are incredibly versatile when it comes to garden projects. They can be used to divide space horizontally and can also make great use of vertical space. Here’s a few ways you can upcycle an old tire into a new structure for your garden:
Stackable planters: If you have several tires on hand, you can stack them high, as shown in this picture. Not only is this great for small spaces, but it can also be a great ‘living fence’ for larger gardens that need some division. To plant inside the tires, lay down cardboard so the plants stay put when stacked.
Hanging tires: Tires can be hung from a sturdy wall with nails, staples, or a heavy-duty hook, like the one in this picture. Several small cups with starter plants or a large planter can be placed inside. This is yet another great way to make use of little space.
Do you have any creative upcycling tricks that have proved useful in your garden? Please share them with us below!