Household Trash to Garden Treasure
A garden trellis made of repurposed golf clubs
Photo by Rebecca Cuthbert
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We’ve had this mantra drilled into our heads since elementary school, and it’s become a way of life for many of us. But you can do more than bring canvas totes to the grocery store and put your plastics out at the curb, especially if you’re a gardener. There are many ways to keep household waste out of landfills and turn it into useful material for your flower beds and veggie patches.
Instead of tossing all of your kitchen trash in the garbage, start a compost pile. You don’t need a fancy bin or barrel. In a corner of the yard that is far from the house, pile up waste like banana peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, past-fresh vegetables, and grass clippings. You can even add the leaves you rake in the fall. Just make sure your compost isn’t too wet. After you let your mixture decompose for several months, you will end up with a free beneficial soil conditioner. Mix it into your flowerbeds, fill in low spots in the yard, and scatter it around shrubs and trees (just don’t pile it up around trunks; that leads to suffocation and rot). You will save money on fertilizer while reducing landfill waste.
There are a few ways you can safely “recycle” water for your garden. One of which is to buy or construct a rain barrel with a downspout feeding into it. If you want to save water on a smaller scale, there are plenty of options. If you run a dehumidifier in your home, don’t dump that water down the drain. Instead, pour it into an easy-to-carry watering can and use it to water outdoor plants and hanging baskets. Even using a few gallons of recycled water a month will add up, saving money and resources. Get creative! Freshening a pet’s water dish? Changing the fish bowl? Soaking tired feet? All of that used water can quench your flowers’ thirst. Be careful about water that has a cleaning solution in it, though—you don’t want to poison your garden with harsh chemicals.
Don’t waste your money and prop up the plastics industry by buying dozens of seed starter trays every season. You have free alternatives at home. These include reusing the small nursery pots you buy annuals in, which already have drainage holes and ample space for seedlings’ roots; making your own biodegradable seedling pots out of toilet paper tubes (stop up the bottoms with strips of brown paper bag or cardboard), cardboard egg cartons (these work well for herbs and flowers), or newspaper (see a tutorials on YouTube); and reusing other recyclable containers like yogurt cups (punch a hole in the bottom for drainage and recycle after transplanting). If you start your seedlings indoors, protect surfaces by setting your pots or cups into old cake pans or plastic food trays that can do one more job before getting tossed into the recyclables bin. (Bonus: mark your sprouts-to-be with reused popsicle sticks—since they’re wooden, they are biodegradable, too.)
Think “outside the pot” with your containers in the garden. An old washtub, coffee can, or toolbox can offer quirky charm as a planter when it has outlived its original use. A discarded washing machine drum makes an especially great home for flowers or veggie plants, given that it has plenty of drainage holes! Retired golf clubs, lashed together in a lattice pattern with garden twine or strung with plastic netting, can make a nifty trellis. The same goes for rickety metal shelving, splintered wooden chairs, and lonely bike wheels. Add personality to your outdoor living spaces, upcycle your castoffs into garden gold, and save the environment by keeping those items out of the junkyard.
This season, be a “green thumb” in more ways than one. Reuse your household trash and detritus in the garden for beautiful blooms, nutritious veggies, vibrant lawns, and style your neighbors can’t steal. Then, kick back in your favorite lawn chair and give yourself a pat on the back for being a friend to Mother Nature. She needs all the help she can get!
Rebecca Cuthbert lives, writes, and cares for shelter dogs in Dunkirk. She is a frequent contributor to Forever Young.