Recycling for a More Productive Vegetable Garden

Make the most of what you have at hand!

April 20, 2021

By recycling or repurposing garden items, you can make something out of nothing—and also garden for less. Here are a few ideas to re-use so-called “useless materials” and breathe new life into the old! (Article text included.)

Let’s identify common household items which can be reused and demonstrate how to adapt them to benefit your plant. By recycling or repurposing waste materials you can save money while doing your bit to go green—one man’s trash really is another’s treasure!

Seed Sowing and Labeling

Old yogurt pots are the perfect size for seed sowing – just puncture holes into the base for drainage. Old fruit punnets make excellent miniature seed trays, while toilet roll tubes are ideal for starting off deeper-rooted veggies such as peas, beans and corn. You can also sow rows of peas into surplus lengths of guttering. Polystyrene cups make fun-sized containers for kids to grow small salad crops such as radishes. Pinch holes out at the base of the cup to make drainage holes.

Newspaper can be easily made into pots. Fold one page in half lengthways and roll it around a toilet roll tube so that the tube sticks out above the folded edge of the paper. Gather up and push in the loose ends of the paper, remove the tube then fill with potting soil. At planting time, leave the paper pot in place – it will just rot away in the ground.

Make your own plant labels by cutting out strips of yogurt pot, or re-use lollipop sticks. Write on the labels with a permanent marker. Lengths of batten make excellent semi-permanent labels, ideal for marking out the ends of rows.

Protecting Plants

Many plants need protection from the wind, especially when first planted out. Cut clear plastic drinks bottles in half to make two miniature greenhouses to pop over individual plants. Keep lids screwed on during cold nights or remove during the day to prevent the seedlings from overheating. Bubble wrap from postal deliveries makes fantastic temporary insulation on frosty nights, while polystyrene fish boxes provide a cozy microclimate around seed trays, especially when combined with a heat mat underneath.

Old windows can be used to make a cold frame. Attach them to a wooden frame using new or second-hand hinges, then screw in handles at the front. Slant the window to face the sun. A lick of paint will spruce up the frame and gives a really professional finish.

Once in the ground, crops can be protected from pests such as pigeons by draping netting over canes topped with upturned pots. Alternatively, dangle old CDs on colored string, or cover young squashes or other plants with hanging basket frames. Make a low tunnel for protecting rows of crops by pushing down lengths of old plastic water pipe onto sturdy upright pegs to create the hoops. Fix netting, fleece or mesh over your hoops.

Creative Containers

Literally anything that holds potting soil makes a good container. Quirky pots include old pans, colanders, laundry baskets, chests of drawers - anything and everything, including the kitchen sink! Metal objects such as repurposed milk churns, coal buckets or water tanks can create a lovely rustic look. Recycle food tins as they are, lightly accessorized, or painted to give an injection of color. As with any pot, you will need to make sure your intended container has enough drainage holes, or add your own.

Use old potting soil sacks for root veggies such as carrots or potatoes, and enjoy a final crop from summer growing bags by sowing a flush of winter salads into them once your tomatoes or peppers have finished. Other ideas for recycled bag containers include sturdy grocery store bags, rubble or builders’ bags, and hessian sacks, which give a handsome natural look.

Recycled Wood

Old planks of wood are widely available. They come steeped in character, are less likely to warp than new wood and by reusing them you’ll avoid the need to cut down more trees. Untreated wood is best, as some older wood treatments may contain toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil.

Make a compost bin by nailing planks to corner posts, create a plant stand by securing timber onto A-frames, or screw battens together to form a crop protection frame. Make seed trays, fences, window boxes, or even the garden shed - the possibilities are endless!

Timber makes excellent raised beds, insulating the roots and providing a handsome backdrop for your vegetables. Simply fix thick planks to each other or screw thinner lengths of timber to corner posts hammered into the ground to anchor the bed.

Other Ideas…

Any number of scraps and garden cast-offs could be used to create a handsome hotel for beneficial bugs. Tires lined with garbage sacks make instant raised beds and can be stacked up for vegetables such as potatoes that need lots of root space. Salvage old pavers to create stepping stones or paths between beds, or box in compost heaps with corrugated metal sheets.

There are so many ways to make the most of what you might otherwise throw away! Here are even more ideas to upcycle projects that will turn your trash into garden treasures.

What do you recycle in the garden? Tell us by leaving a comment below. 

PLUS: Check out our Almanac Garden Planner for more gardening tips and techniques!


Reader Comments

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Trellis from sides of baby beds

My husband made a nice tall trellis for our clematis vines from the sides of a baby bed. He used some old metal pieces to secure the ends of the two pieces together, applied some sharpened sticks to the bottom, and now we have a re-usable, recycled trellis. Our first one lasted about 10 years before the wood weakened and fell apart. The ends of the first bed were the same as the sides, so we used those for garden trellises for peas until it came apart. And then we used the pieces for row markers.

vertical bed

We took some old 8 inch wide fence boards, screwed them together at the edges to form a 6 foot tall square, used weed cloth for the bottom to hold soil. Then drilled 1-1/2 inch holes in them. Used old 2x4's for feet. Added a piece of PVC ( caped one end ) and drilled with small holes/filled PVC with pea gravel and placed in the center. Then filled with potting soil all around and planted strawberries in the holes. Water through the PVC pipe. It kept the insects off of the berries.


My husband and I are making raised garden beds by taking tree trunks that we cut down from clearing out our property and fashioning them into garden beds. I am making terraced gardens up my hill in the back yard. The money I save I am able to buy more dirt for more garden beds. Win win for me.

Biogradable potting

Inspiring and thanks a lot

Box fan» compost screener

I removed the motor , blades, plastic screens from box fan. Then I put metal screening/ mesh on one side put plastic screen from fan back on over it and use it to strain compost. Light weight, works well, & doesn't matter if I forget it out in the rain.

Sleep number bed boxspring

We had a sleep number bed that came with a plastic box spring. We were able to sell the mattress inserts but the plastic was too heavy to sell and have cheap shipping. So, we just used the side and end rails to make 2 raised bed planters. The covers came in handy, too, as temperatures overnights went below 32 and my tulips and daffodils were putting on blossoms.

Recycle old mini-blinds by

Recycle old mini-blinds by stapling, nailing them in a grid pattern for square foot gardening, and cut the blinds 6" - 8" long to use as plant markers, writing on them in pencil. The cords can be used as twine and the "ladders" holding the blinds as netting for climbing plants.

When I was growing up, lots

When I was growing up, lots of people used railroad ties--but I can't remember why there were so many of them kicking around! Also, in Colorado you see people using old ski lift buckets for garden swings. They look amazing. Here in NH, of course, lots of people landscape around the old, pre-existing stone walls, which is a form of recycling too.

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We used a broken up concrete

We used a broken up concrete slab to make raised garden beds. The smaller pieces that were left over, we used to make an herb spiral. We have plans to make a raised bed out of wine bottles! We also have a cinder block raised bed.

Very good.

Very good.

kids swimming pool

I used a kids soft bottom swimming pool for a large container garden this year. I sliced the bottom in many places to facilitate drainage. Next year I will alter it to be more oval. At 8' round it is difficult to get to the middle of.


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