Celebrate Earth Day in the garden: Reduce, reuse and recycle

Rain barrels, compost and using organic matter for mulch are some excellent ways to go green in the garden.

But, there also are endless ways to upcycle outdoors to attract wildlife, while reducing, reusing, and recycling more nontraditional items into creative and fun, and practical items.

As Earth Day 2019 approaches, which is officially on April 22, consider using those old nylons to tie up newly planted trees or stake a tomato plant.

Egg cartons are great for growing transplants. (Courtesy of the University of Florida)

A milk jug with multiple holes poked in the lid makes an excellent watering can for gently sprinkling flower pots.

You can also cut a milk jug in half and use the bottom half as a planter for seeds (just cut a few slits in the bottom for drainage) and the top half as a soil scoop with a built-in handle.

Have some old mini-blinds that you just can’t bring yourself to throw out? Cut the slats into 6-inch strips and use them for plant labels in the garden.

Plastic or foam drinking cups make great seed starters (again cut a few slits in the bottom for drainage), as do fabric shopping bags, which look beautiful hanging on a porch or along a wall with trailing flowers flowing out and over the top.

Or, you can take paper towel or toilet paper tubes, partially roll them in a few sheets of newspaper and fold over the bottom, slip out the tube and voila! You have instant biodegradable seed-starting containers that you can plant directly into the garden without having to remove the seedling.

Old newspapers and cardboard boxes make outstanding weed blockers. Simply layer them over weedy spots in the garden and overlap them slightly to block the sun from reaching the ground, top them with some soil or mulch to hold them in place, and you’ll have months of excellent weed control. Just avoid the glossy or waxy paper products, as they might leach things into the environment that don’t belong.

Egg cartons are great for growing transplants. And, for a splash of color and whimsy, old wine bottles can be partially buried upside down, one after the next, along paths and flower beds to make beautiful borders that will add an enchanting decorative touch with many colors and heights.

Got an old mailbox? Don’t throw it out. Remove the door and add a block of wood to seal the opening. Cut a central hole cut out of the block for birds to enter and exit. No need to add strings or nesting material as these can be harmful to wildlife. The birds will do the heavy lifting on move-in day to build their nests inside.

Or, remove the mailbox door and add dozens of various widths of bamboo shoots to create a bee abode. More pollinators mean more flowers and fruits in your garden, and a healthier environment.

Plastic drink bottles can be turned into mini-greenhouses by simply removing the bottom and using the top half as a cover to protect tender seedlings from cold, with the bottom becoming a planter.

Old glass plates or chinaware make pretty “puddlers” for butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators needing to rest and drink from shallow water. Even an old boot can make a great garden planter that will surely get some attention.

Most anything that seems like it has lived out its useful life can be helpful in the garden.

Place old dryer sheets or the lint from the dryer lint trap in the bottom of a pot to prevent soil from flowing out of the bottom of the pot.

Old T-shirts work well for this, too.

Not listening to those old CDs anymore? String them together and use them to harmlessly ward off birds from using your garden as a buffet.

Find an old wooden pallet or gutter? These can easily be turned into great planters for shallow rooted plants, such as strawberries or ornamentals such as petunias.

Lean a pallet up against a tree or barn and let the plants flow down like a trellis. Beautiful and functional!

Arrange three or four pallets, turned on end and tied together to form a square and you have a compost bin.

The possibilities are endless.

Going green is easy, cheap and environmentally beneficial for us all.

Upcycling household items to something with a useful, new life can be rewarding and fun. Let the creative juices flow, get the kids or grandkids involved and make a difference this Earth Day.

By Whitney C. Elmore and Emily Carter

Dr. Whitney Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension Director and an Urban Horticulture Agent III. Emily Carter is an intern from the University of Florida.

Published April 17, 2019

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