Your recycling bin and closets are likely full of stuff you can repurpose in minutes to tackle almost any gardening task.
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Gardening can be an expensive undertaking, particularly if you hire a pro to help out. The average hourly rate for professional gardening and yardwork services ranges from $50 to more than $100, according to HomeAdvisor. Digging into the dirt yourself can help you cut costs, and it's also good for your health (the benefits of gardening range from burning calories to strengthening your heart)! Another way to garden on a budget is to skip buying a bunch of pricey tools and instead, find clever ways to turn your trash into treasure. Here are several easy ways to save some cash by repurposing ordinary household items into handy gardening tools.

woman holding cut gallon milk jug plant seedling pot indoors
Credit: Carson Downing

Reusing Milk Jugs in the Garden

For sheer versatility in the garden, nothing comes close to the humble plastic milk jug (or iced tea or juice jug if that's more your speed). Clean out and save both half-gallon and gallon sizes to create all sorts of garden helpers.

Seed flats. Starting your own seeds is the easiest way to cut your gardening costs because a packet of seeds is much cheaper than buying a single plant in a pot. To save space, start seeds in shallow trays filled with potting soil, then transplant the strongest seedlings to pots later on. To make free seed-starting flats, cut off the bottom three inches of a gallon milk jug and punch a few holes in the bottom with a nail. Fill with potting mix, and use a pencil to create two or three shallow furrows for sowing. Then plant your seeds according to the packet directions.

Mini greenhouse. In northern zones, young transplants and seedlings often get zapped by spring and fall frosts. Protect them with their own personal greenhouse. Just cut the bottom off a gallon milk jug and, when a cold snap is in the forecast, place the jug over the plant. You can regulate the temperature somewhat by putting the cap on or taking it off. Just be sure to remove the cover on warm, sunny days to prevent turning your greenhouse into a steamer.

Flexible scoop. A simple scoop made from a half-gallon plastic milk jug makes it easy to distribute fertilizer granules or potting soil in tight spaces. To craft it, make two horizontal cuts on the sides adjacent to the handle, and two forward-slanting diagonal cuts in the other sides.

Liquid fertilizer dispenser. Mix up liquid fertilizer right in a plastic milk jug, then punch a hole or two in the cap with a nail. The handle makes it easy to deliver a dose of plant food to even the smallest pots or plants.

Temperature regulator. If you use a cold frame to extend your growing season, place a few plastic milk jugs filled with water into it. The water will be warmed by the sun during the day, which will help reduce temperature swings inside the cold frame at night.

Garden Uses for Yogurt Containers

Close behind milk jugs for the "most versatile" award, empty yogurt containers (and their cousins, plastic sour cream and margarine tubs) have plenty of uses in the garden.

Cutworm collars. Protect young seedlings from night-crawling cutworms by surrounding them with a collar made by cutting the bottom off a yogurt container. Sink the rest of the container an inch or so into the ground, leaving 2 to 3 inches above ground. You can remove the collar, if you like, when the plant's stem hardens.

Simple scoop. Small plastic tubs are perfect for scooping and broadcasting granular fertilizers as well as de-icer pellets or sand over the driveway and sidewalks in winter.

Cheap flower pots. Tubs that are at least 3 inches deep make free flower pots if you poke a few holes in the bottom with a nail. Save the lid, and you have a tray to catch drips (if you water carefully). You could even get fancy and paint the outside if you like.

Stack of folded green towels
Credit: G. Thomas Furgerson

Throw in the Towel (or Tablecloth)

Give worn out towels new life in your garden. Old tablecloths, blankets, or sheets work, too. There are almost endless ways to turn these rags into riches, but here are a few of the most useful ones.

Plant ties. Cut old towels into strips to make secure ties for supporting plants. They may not look good enough for your front yard perennial bed, but the gentle caress of the terry cloth is perfect for holding up heavy vegetables, like beefsteak tomatoes or melons.

Planting tarp. When digging a hole, spread out an old vinyl tablecloth nearby to contain the mess. That way, you won't lose precious topsoil, and clean up after you've done your planting will be a snap. You can also use this makeshift tarp instead of a wheelbarrow to move heavy or bulky items like plant divisions, bags of mulch, or piles of pulled up weeds around your yard. Just hold on to a couple of the corners and pull firmly to slide your load over the ground.

Frost protection. A lightweight blanket, towel, sheet, or tablecloth can save your tender annuals and other plants from certain death when a frost is forecast. Make sure to tuck the edges around your plants to prevent cold air from sneaking under.

Newspapers Have the Garden Covered

Weed barrier. Newspapers are a key ingredient for "no-till" garden beds, also known as lasagna gardening. To create a new planting space without the work of digging, just mow the area as short as possible, spread with 6 or more layers or newspaper, and top with enough compost, soil, or mulch to hold the papers in place. Over a few months, the newspaper sheets will smother weeds and grasses, then decay into the bare soil. You'll then have a pristine planting bed ready to receive trees, shrubs, or flowers.

Carbon source for compost. Shredded newspaper in your compost pile counts as a "brown" material that supplies carbon. It's especially good to add whenever you need to balance out the addition of "green" nitrogen-rich materials to keep the decomposition process working as it should.

Seed pots. Wrap strips of newspaper around a small jar and tuck under one end to create handy biodegradable pots for starting seeds.

person holding scissors and basket of cut herbs in garden
Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Creating Garden Tools from Repurposed Household Junk

With a little imagination, several bits and bobs around your kitchen, bathroom, and garage can become very useful for your gardening endeavors. Not only will this save you money, but it's a great way to garden more sustainably. Here's a few ideas to help you look around with new perspective.

Old baskets. Lay a paper towel in the bottom of a flat basket and use it to hold your vegetable or herb harvests until you can get them inside.

Spare dish pans. Fill with some potting mix, containers, and labels, and you have a portable potting bench that you can take anywhere.

Jelly jars. Clean glass food jars can make simple containers for small bunches of cut flowers. Or use them to hold and organize small garden items such as seeds you've collected or plant labels.

Coffee and tuna cans. Use these straight-sided containers to collect and measure rain and sprinkler water. That way, you can be sure that every part of your garden is getting at least an inch of water per week.

Chopsticks. Whether new or used (and washed), chopsticks come in handy when you start seeds in pots. Add one or two sticks to each pot, then cover with a clear plastic bag to boost humidity around your tender seedlings. The chopsticks will prevent the bag from collapsing and smothering your plant. Just be sure to keep your "greenhouse" away from direct sun so it doesn't get too warm. You also can use these sticks to poke holes in soil for seeds and as stakes for small plants that need a little extra support.

Egg cartons. These are long-time favorites for starting seeds, one or two per soil-filled cell. To reduce the risk of bacterial contamination, use well-washed Styrofoam or plastic egg cartons with a drainage hole punched in the bottom of each cell.

Shower caddy. Repurpose an old plastic shower caddy into a gardening tool caddy, suggests Andra DelMonico, lead designer for Trendey. "They are durable and water-resistant, thanks to their original purpose," she says. And because caddies come in a variety of sizes, from compact to oversize, it's often easy to repurpose one that adequately accommodates gardening tools. "Keep your trowel, clippers, knee pads, gloves, weeder, and cultivator in it," says DelMonico. 

Cardboard. Look for non-shiny cardboard, like the kind used for packaging large appliances or shipping watermelons and pumpkins, says DelMonico. Break down the box and remove any tape and staples. Then lay the cardboard down on the ground around your plants before you add mulch. "The cardboard is biodegradable and acts as a great weed barrier," she says. 

Bamboo torches. Bamboo is eco-friendly and incredibly durable. And it can also be useful for gardeners. "If you have old tiki torches that aren't getting the use they once did, then turn them into gardening stakes. You can sink them into the earth to stake tomatoes, cucumbers, or peas," says DelMonico.

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