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How to Reuse Amazon Boxes and Cardboard in the Garden | Almanac.com

How to Reuse Amazon Boxes and Cardboard in the Garden

Subhead

Don't throw away your Amazon packaging!

Are you an Amazon Prime member? Don’t throw away Amazon boxes and packages that come to your door. Wondering what to do with them?

Bubble wrap, polystyrene, and packaging can all be recycled and used in the garden. (Cardboard returns to the Earth—literally!) See how to use those Amazon boxes (or, really, any leftover box).

Think Outside the Box

Almost everything arrives in a box, meaning lots… and lots of cardboard. The great news is that cardboard is incredibly useful in the garden, so much so that I save every scrap of cardboard to use out here. Reusing packaging of any kind is, of course, an environmentally savvy thing to do and has the potential to save you money, too—now we’re talking! 

Weed Membrane

Cardboard is made from plant fibers, which naturally biodegrade only after several weeks. We can use this to our advantage by deploying cardboard to cover over weeds, just long enough to exhaust them into submission and see them off for good!

Only ever use plain cardboard like this in the garden. Anything with a glossy coating may introduce unwanted plastics, which we don’t want. Many boxes are now sealed with this biodegradable tape, which can be left, but if there’s any sticky tape like this, peel it off before using it. You’ll also need to remove any staples.

With cardboard prepped and flattened out, it’s now ready to lay. I use cardboard to line new beds and paths. This way, it will deprive weeds of light, enabling the soil, compost, or wood chips to be laid on top without fear of vigorous weed growth bursting through. 

Generously overlap the cardboard so there aren’t any ‘gaps;’ if you have lots of cardboard, consider a double layer for extra peace of mind. Remember that the cardboard and wood chips used to cover paths occasionally need replacing as they rot down into the soil.

We can use cardboard to cover large areas held in place with a thick layer of wood chip mulch. Push the mulch aside, and then lay down cardboard that’s cut and folded open to create individual planting spaces for fruit bushes. 

Weeding through this area by hand would have taken a lot of unnecessary hard work – the cardboard did 90% of the weeding for me! Then, as the cardboard has rotted down, it has helped add organic matter to the soil, contributing to its structure and the soil life.

WASHINGTON DC, USA - MARCH 15, 2018: A large Amazon Prime delivery consisting of several packages delivered to the front door of a home.
Are you inundated with Amazon Prime packaging? We can help you sustainably reuse it in your garden!
Photo Credit: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

Breathable Storage

Left intact, boxes are an excellent breathable storage option for onions, potatoes, and other root vegetables. Store produce-laden boxes somewhere cool and well-ventilated, and keep them up off the ground, out of reach of vermin. 

Combine boxes with polystyrene packaging, and you have a superbly insulated solution for overwintering frost-sensitive bulbs and tubers such as Dahlias. If you don’t have any polystyrene but still want that same insulating effect, nestle a box inside a larger box, then fill the gap between them with straw or hay. Some deliveries come with natural sheep’s wool insulation, which would also work well for this, as does bubblewrap, those packing peanuts, or just scrunched-up paper.

Food for the Compost Heap

If nothing else, cardboard makes an excellent carbon-rich addition to the compost heap, helping to balance out fresher, green materials such as grass clippings. Tear it into smaller pieces before adding it. This is especially useful during the growing season when brown materials can be harder to come by. Keep a stash of cardboard to hand, and we’ll never be short.

If you can’t save enough cardboard because you’re not online ordering all the time, ask friends and neighbors to perhaps save their cardboard for you. Consumerism may not be great for the environment, but we can at least give something back to the earth – quite literally, in this case! Learn more about how to compost properly.

Cabbage Collars

Cabbage collars are just that – collars that fit around the base of cabbage-family crops to stop pests such as cabbage maggots or cabbage root flies laying their eggs in the soil around these host plants. You can buy cabbage collars… or make your own. 

Start by cutting our cardboard into 6-inch diameter circles. Make one cut from the outside to the center, then a series of slits at the center in a star shape will ensure a snug fit around the stem.

Install the collar by slipping it around the stem of the plant. As the plant grows, the slits at the center of the collar will open out, allowing the stem to expand. This works not just for cabbages but any related veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. It’s a simple trick to ward off those maggots and will even keep weeds around young plants in check as they establish.

Gather Bothersome Beetles

Most pests feed above ground, of course. But this doesn’t make them any easier to thwart. Take, for example, the cucumber beetle, a common pest of squash family plants in North America. It’s notoriously hard to pick off by hand because of its size. 

There is another option. Lay down some of your cardboard around affected plants and then shake them off. The cardboard can then be gathered up and removed in one go. 

Home for Wildlife

Many bugs are a gardener’s best friend – like the lacewing, which loves nothing better than to feast on pests like aphids! Corrugated cardboard has many nooks and crannies that make a cozy home for these beneficial bugs to overwinter.

You’ll need a waterproof cylinder, such as a bottomless plastic bottle, to keep the cardboard dry. And then it’s just a matter of cutting the cardboard to size and rolling it up to stuff into the bottle. 

Wedge the bottle somewhere sheltered from the wind and up off the ground, such as within the branches of a tree with the entrance pointed downwards so rainwater doesn’t collect. You could, of course, use rolled-up cardboard alongside other materials within an insect hotel to attract various beneficial bugs. It’s essential to clean out and replace the materials used in bug hotels every year or so to prevent a build-up of parasites and diseases.

Packing Materials  

Many items come wrapped in protective materials – from scrunched-up paper to bubble wrap – and these can also be used in the garden.

Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap is very effective at trapping air, making it a great material to use for insulation. The light can pass through, so it’s suitable for use around plants. 

Wrap cold-sensitive plants in a few layers of bubble wrap to keep them snug as temperatures dip. This is useful if you have a greenhouse or other cold protection and don’t want the expense of heating it but need that extra security to ensure you don’t lose plants to a cold snap. 

If you have lots of bubble wrap, you could even secure it to the frame or your greenhouse, creating a double-glazed effect, and the bigger the bubbles, the more effective it’ll be at trapping warmth. Not so much double glazing as bubble glazing! Or create insulated compartments or seedling trays for that extra protection.

Air Pouches

These pesky polythene bags filled with air are commonly found in big boxes that have been filled with small items. Did you know that they make excellent plant ties?  First, pierce the air pockets to let out the air, then gently twist them and use them between establishing trees and stakes to stop them from rubbing in windy conditions. 

Polystyrene

Like bubble wrap, polystyrene has excellent insulating properties, as mentioned earlier. Use polystyrene sheets to insulate sheds and outbuildings by securing them to the ceiling and walls, or use polystyrene packaging like a fixed box to create a temporary, portable cold frame to house delicate seedlings. (See video.)

Packing Peanuts and Polystyrene

These are really difficult to recycle, and although they are increasingly being replaced by biodegradable versions that will dissolve in water, the Styrofoam ones are still often sent.

Put a medium-sized box in a larger box and fill the gap in between with packing peanuts or polystyrene to insulate seedlings near a window. Or, if you need to knock in a few nails when repairing a garden shed or fence, instead of using your fingers to hold the nail – easy to miss – ouch! – put the nail through the packing peanut, hold that, and then hammer it in!

Brown Paper

Sections of brown paper are ideal for wrapping up produce such as apples. Individually wrapped fruits or roots reduce the risk of in-store rots spreading from one fruit to the next, keeping more of your hard-won harvests in good condition for longer.

Padded envelopes are great for storing seeds, and you can cut down large envelopes to make smaller packets. The padding provides both insulation and protection for your seeds. 

And save those little sachets of silica gel you often find in amongst the packaging. Their job is to suck up moisture to keep conditions nice and dry, so drop one of those in with your seeds, and you’ll keep them fresher for longer too. I also like to keep a few loose in my seed storage box.

There are many ways to repurpose just about anything, and if, like me, you hate to see things go to waste, you’ll love more nifty ideas to recycle everyday household items in the garden.

Do you have any tips or tricks? Let us know how you reuse shipping materials and cardboard boxes!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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Kathy Di (not verified)

3 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you for this article. Great ideas. I would suggest this be re-published near Thanksgiving each year, to remind gardeners purchasing holiday gifts to save boxes. . . . that's when the majority of MY boxes arrive. Thank you.

Cathy (not verified)

3 months 2 weeks ago

Using cardboard on the garden ground has attracted the slugs that have become overwhelming in my garden, loving to eat my vegetables. They go under, and in the mornings and evenings, I can turn over the cardboard and pick out large numbers of slugs. Sometimes leaving them for a few days, attracts even more. Works better than a container of beer, as it doesn't cost anything, and collects larger numbers of the slugs. And sometimes snails, but the slugs like the cardboard better than the snails.

Angelique (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

I am always looking for ways to repurpose and reuse.. thanks for sharing..

Jennetta (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

What a great article. Thank you!

Pamela Rackliffe (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

This article gave me a lot of ideas for using the cardboard we seem to collect. We have been breaking the boxes down and taking them to our transfer station which actually sells them for recycling but....I have a 1/2 acre garden and can easily incorporate some of these ideas. Thanks!