Don't throw it out, use it in the garden

2013-09-11 09:09
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Looking for a cheaper way to fertilize flowers or keep pests at bay? A better tool for planting tiny seeds?

The answers may lie in your home, where common household items like coffee grounds or old pie tins can become easy, eco-friendly tools to give your garden a boost without breaking the bank.

Turn old boots or shoes into planters, or reuse packing peanuts by laying them at the bottom of large flower pots to aid in drainage and make for lighter lifting, suggests Stacy Tornio, editor of Birds & Blooms magazine.

"You can take anything you have and upcycle it," she says.

Some simple, easy ways to repurpose household items for a bargain backyard:

Creative containers

It's easy to spend a fortune on pots and vases. But one easy way to start "upcycling" in the garden is by planting herbs, flowers and houseplants in everything from worn boots to old teapots and even bathroom sinks.

"They contribute a touch of whimsy and even a 'settled' look to a garden scene," Tornio says.

Cristin Frank, a 38-year-old author and gardening blogger from Williamsville, New York, uses yogurt cups and other recyclable plastic containers as small pots for her "starter" plants in the spring.

Old take-out coffee cups serve as starter watering cans with their smaller, perforated plastic tops.

Birdbaths can also be made from household items like an old glass light shade mounted on copper tubing.

Justin Cave, an Atlanta-based landscaper and former host of HGTV's "Ground Breakers," recently turned old shipping pallets into a vertical garden by covering the backs and sides with landscape fabric, stuffing them with dirt, and planting succulents and flowers in the slated openings.

"It turned out awesome, and was very cost-effective," he says.

Tools of the trade

In need of some new garden tools? Save yourself a trip to the hardware store and check your kitchen drawers.

Table utensils like spoons, forks and knives are tough and sharp enough to do many gardening jobs without causing damage, according to Tornio.

Use them to separate flats, lift seedlings and tease apart dense root balls. Knives can also make a slim path for tiny seeds to fall into.

Tornio says she's also seen people repurpose utensils as garden markers and borders for flower beds.

Even something as innocuous as old nylons can be reused in the backyard to tie up floppy plants or line the bottom of pots so water can get through but dirt cannot.

Packing peanuts are also a good drainage medium, and lighten the load when large pots need to be moved around, Tornio says.

Homemade remedies

Old wives' tales abound for solving all kinds of garden problems, from pesky deer to acidic soil, but many of them actually work.

And much of what you need may be sitting in your kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Coffee grounds, for example, can be sprinkled at the bottom of any plant to improve drainage in clay soils, and especially plants that like rich, moist organic soils like azaleas and blueberries, Tornio says.

Tornio says soap can keep deer from feasting on trees and plants. She suggests breaking a bar of soap into pieces and hanging them from strings or in old nylons or net bags on trees or other structures near prime deer feeding areas. The scent could also keep other pests away.

Terry Grahl, founder and CEO of the Michigan-based nonprofit Enchanted Makeovers, uses the guts left over from her husband's fishing trips as fertilizer for her gardens.

Finely crushed egg shells can be used as compost or a way to add calcium to soils, while larger pieces keep snails and slugs at bay, according to Florida's Manatee County Extension Service.

Whimsical decor

Household items can also add a touch of whimsy to garden decor. Use an old musical instrument like a tuba to build a water fountain, or create a "bottle garden" by placing empty soda bottles over tree branches with your kids, says Sara Jenkins-Sutton, vice president of Chicago-based garden and floral design firm Topiarius Urban Garden.

"When your cheese grater starts to turn rusty, turn it over, hang it on a deck and fill it with flowers, plants or outdoor chalk," she suggests.

Scatter vintage chairs or old farm equipment throughout your garden to add height and depth, and make a funky wind chime out of old wine bottles.

Worried about your reused junk looking like, well, junk?

Tornio suggests covering old containers with wallpaper or tying a ribbon around them to freshen them up and keep your front stoop looking good.

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