17 Recycled Gardening Ideas

pair if shoes upcycled to be used as planters

One man’s trash is another gardener’s treasure. These recycled gardening ideas give a whole new meaning to the term “green thumb.” They’ll benefit the environment and set your backyard apart from the rest.

In 2018, 146.1 trillion tons of waste were dumped in landfills in the U.S. That’s enough to fill over 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Using recycled materials in your garden might seem like a small step, but it can make a big difference in our personal footprints. Who knows — you might inspire your neighbors to recycle more, too. 

17 ways to recycle items for gardening

1. Repurposed seedling containers

Buying a bunch of plastic containers to start your seedlings often feels like a huge waste. Instead of getting something new, reuse the old. You’ll find a few options for recycled seedling containers in your kitchen and bathroom.

Things you can use as seedling containers:

  • Paper cups: Poke a small hole for drainage. If you don’t have any laying around, check with your local coffee shop for discarded ones.
  • Eggs and egg cartons: Plant the seedlings in empty eggshells and keep them organized in the carton.
  • Plastic cookie or cupcake container: Not only is the shape of these clamshell containers perfect for starting seeds, the lid creates a humid environment to help them grow.
  • Toilet paper rolls: Cut and fold one end to form a bottom, and you’ve got a great pot for seedlings. Because the roll is biodegradable, you can put the whole thing in the ground instead of disturbing the sprouting plant. 

2. Water bottle as a mini greenhouse 

Most people don’t have a greenhouse sitting in their backyard, and building one can be costly. A lot of us do have plastic water bottles, though, which can be turned into mini greenhouses.

Take a large water bottle or water cooler jug and cut the bottom off so it fits over the top of your plant. It’ll keep warm air and moisture in, giving your tropical plants a summer environment in any season. Leave the cap off so your plant can get enough fresh air. 

3. Paint can turned birdhouse

Are you looking to attract more birds to your yard? You can’t go wrong with offering them a nice place to grab a snack. Save money by turning an empty can of nontoxic paint into a recycled bird feeder.

Use the last bit of your paint to decorate the can itself. Tie a ribbon or string around the can and glue a 6-inch-long peg near the top for birds to perch on. Hang it from a tree branch, fill it with seed, and enjoy your new chirping friends. Just be sure to clean the can thoroughly at least once a week and any time the seed gets wet.

Pro Tip: Birds are especially attracted to bright colors like red, orange, and blue. 

4. DIY soda bottle sprinkler

Sprinkler systems can be expensive. Why not use what you already have? A soda bottle sprinkler works great for small lawns or garden beds.

You’ll need:

  • 2-liter plastic bottle
  • Electrical tape 
  • Garden hose
  • Screwdriver

Rinse the bottle well, then make 12-14 evenly spaced holes using the screwdriver. Attach it to your garden hose by screwing it into the bottle’s neck and securing it with electrical tape.

You’re ready to water. If you want added height, you can attach it to a stake or torch holder. 

5. Reused items turned planters

Who says a terra cotta pot from the garden store is the only thing you can put your plants in? There are tons of creative ways to recycle what you already have in your home and turn it into a planter. 

Passed down planter ideas:

  • Don’t throw away your sinks and bathtubs after the renovation! You can fill them up with soil and sprawling plants for a show-stopping centerpiece.
  • Old colanders also work well as planters, especially for plants that need plenty of drainage.
  • Tires used as planters create a rustic touch for your yard.
  • Kick new plastic pots to the curb — literally — by using boots as planters. 

If your found object doesn’t have drainage holes to begin with, drill a few at the bottom or use plants that don’t mind sitting in wet soil.

6. Wooden pallets for yard projects

Wooden pallets are a recycler’s best friend. If you don’t have any laying around, you can usually find a way to score some for free. Businesses like hardware stores, garden shops, pet stores, and grocery stores use a lot of wooden pallets for transporting items and end up tossing them. There may be some sitting by the dumpster, or you can ask a friendly employee if they have any at the back of the store. 

Pallets can be used for all kinds of DIY projects. A few pallet project ideas are:

  • Compost bin
  • Raised garden bed
  • Porch swing
  • Potting bench 
  • Patio furniture

For most of these projects, you’ll need some basic tools including a drill and screws, and can find instructions online. 

7. Old furniture as garden features

Instead of tossing old furniture to the curb or throwing it in a landfill, salvage those old dressers and desks to create a charming garden space. Sure, furniture will take some wear and tear from the elements, but a quick coat of polyurethane will lessen UV and water damage. 

If you have a dresser, drill a few holes in the bottom of every other shelf, then fill those with soil and a plant of your choosing. 

Need a place to prepare for planting? A vanity or desk makes for a perfect potting station. Fill the drawers with garden tools and pots, and bags of soil can go in place of the chair. 

8. Glass bottle edger

Put those empty wine bottles to good use by repurposing them as a garden edger. Turn them upside down and bury them shoulder to shoulder in gravel or soil. The bottoms of the bottles form the boundary. Now you’ve got a beautiful, functional divider for your flower beds.

9. Garden hose wreath

Spread a little garden cheer with a DIY garden wreath! It’s a perfect gift for the green thumb in your life, or you can display it as garden art in your own outdoor space. 

All you need is a garden hose you no longer use, a twist tie to hold the hose in place, and a few decorative touches. A set of silk flowers and colorful gardening gloves tied together with a bright ribbon and a butterfly clip makes for a lovely addition to your shed door.

10. Broken eggshells for compost or nests

We know eggs contain nutrients, but did you know the shells do too? Instead of throwing them away, use them for your garden. Eggshells are a super boost for your compost; they contain a lot of calcium, which helps plants build cell walls. 

While you might not have a use for eggshells, birds do. Help your local ecosystem thrive by leaving eggshells out for them to use for nesting. Sanitize the shells by baking them for 20 minutes at 250 degrees (or use shells from hard-boiled eggs), and then break them into dime-sized (or smaller) pieces. Leave them in a tray outside for your feathered friends. 

11. Milk jug watering can

If you’re someone who makes sure to get their daily dose of calcium, you probably have a lot of empty milk jugs sitting in your recycling bin. Rescue one from the trash by turning it into a watering can. Rinse it out thoroughly, poke about 10 small holes into the cap with a screwdriver, and voila! You’ve got a brand new watering can. If you’re feeling creative, paint a special design on the outside. 

12. Gutter garden

A gutter garden utilizes vertical space and can conceal an unattractive fence or area of siding. Plus, you’ll get another use out of broken or old gutters. Once you drill a few drainage holes into the bottom, you’re ready to attach old gutters to the wall of your choosing. Stagger them or stack them parallel like a bookshelf. A gutter garden is great for microgreens. 

13. Wine cork garden markers

You might find an abundance of wine corks rolling around after a girls’ night. Instead of tossing them in the trash, repurpose them as garden markers. 

Write your plant names on the corks, then press bamboo skewers or plant stakes into the bottom of the corks. To protect your markers from the elements, finish them with a polyurethane seal or a coat of clear nail polish. Once dry, stick them in your vegetable garden and you’ll never have to wonder if you’re picking parsley or cilantro again. 

14. Coffee grounds for fertilizer

The next time you enjoy your morning cup of Joe, save the grounds. Coffee grounds are an excellent way to alter the pH of your soil to be more acidic for acid-loving plants. They’re also great food for a worm bin if you have one. 

Plants that like coffee grounds: 

  • Roses
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Rhododendrons
  • Hydrangeas
  • Cabbage
  • Lilies
  • Azaleas

15. Homemade self-watering planter

A self-watering pot can cost anywhere from $30 to $100. An empty wine bottle and jar that you already have, however, is free. Cut the wine bottle in half, turn the top half upside down, and rest it in the jar filled with water. Then you’ve got yourself a planter!

The hardest part is cutting the wine bottle. An easy way to do this is with twine, acetone, and some kind of torch. 

How to cut a glass bottle:

  • Wrap twine four or five times around where you want the break to be and tie it. 
  • Pour a little acetone on top. 
  • With oven mitts on, hold the bottle over a large container of ice water. Have someone else light the twine on fire. 
  • When it burns out, submerge it in the ice water and twist off the top half. 
  • Sand the edges down to ensure there are no sharp edges. 

16. Shoe organizer as a vertical garden

When you can’t go out, go up. Vertical gardens are a great way to utilize space in a small landscape. A shoe organizer happens to be the perfect structure for housing plants, and it’s a breeze to hang on a fence or wall. 

Each pocket gets filled with soil and a seedling. Create a kitchen herb garden for a culinary flavor station or plant vibrant flowers for a wall of beautiful color. Water slowly from the top row down to make sure the bottom plants don’t get too soggy. 

17. Kitchen scraps for compost

Our final tip for recycled gardening is a classic: Composting. An age-old way of turning our kitchen waste into nutritious fertilizer for plants, compost is a fantastic way to help the environment and make your garden the envy of the neighborhood. 

Read more about home composting, its benefits, and how to create your own compost bin here.

What to put in your compost:

  • Teabags
  • Eggshells
  • Leaves
  • Coffee grounds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

What not to put in your compost:

  • Meat
  • Grease or oil
  • Pet waste
  • Bones
  • Anything treated with chemicals

Environmentally-friendly landscaping techniques

If you’re feeling inspired by reusable redecorating, consider turning your whole landscape green. Not only will you be helping the environment, but you’ll also reduce your water bill and time spent maintaining your landscape.

Eco-friendly landscaping practices:

  • Planting a rain garden to utilize stormwater
  • Replacing broad-spectrum insecticides with Integrated Pest Management
  • Using an organic fertilizer that’s more beneficial for your soil
  • Maintaining your sprinkler system to reduce water waste
  • Planting a native garden that benefits pollinators
  • Xeriscaping to conserve water 

If those techniques sound great but you’re not sure where to start, contact a pro. A landscaping company in your area can help you design, install, and maintain any changes to your yard. That means less time with your hands in the soil and more time enjoying your outdoor paradise.

Main Photo Credit: goumaniwaed | Pixabay

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.