Gardening New Uses for Old Things
Secret substitutions to help with planting, watering, and more.
Fill a terra-cotta pot with builder's sand (sold at hardware stores), then stir in some mineral oil—just enough to dampen the sand. The mixture will clean the tools and prevent corrosion and rust. (If the pot has a hole on the bottom, cover it with duct tape.)
A spare golf bag can carry unwieldy rakes, shovels, and hoes from the garage to your own green fairway (er, backyard).
Just flatten a banana peel and bury it under one inch of soil at the base of a rosebush. The peel’s potassium feeds the plant and helps it resist disease. Consider it a nutritional boost for you and your buds.
Add marbles to the bottom of a vase to keep your daisies in the drink and make arranging, well, child’s play.
For a handle you can comfortably handle: Snip off a section of an old garden hose, make a slit down its length, and put it over a skinny bucket wire.
Try this pretty display that isn’t just for the birds. Plant shallow-rooted succulents in the birdbath with soil. The lack of drainage will keep the soil moist, so you’ll need to water even less frequently than usual.
To get more bang for your bouquet, add a few drops of bleach to the water to prevent bacteria growth and keep stems from mildewing.
For cleaner cuts with less elbow grease, rub a little paste on the hinge of a pair of garden shears so they don’t get jammed.
A leftover backyard-party balloon will help keep freshly cut flowers from wilting when you’re bringing them to a friend’s house. Fill the balloon with a bit of water, then slip the opening over the stems.
Help hollow-stemmed blooms, like daffodils, delphiniums, and amaryllis, soak up water and stay hydrated longer with this fresh idea: Cut the bottom of each stem at a 45-degree angle, turn the stem upside down, fill it with water, and stuff it with a piece of cotton.
Make an arched pathway from the waterspout to the flower bed, then feed the hose through the wickets. Now the hose can’t migrate and crush your impatiens.
Coil strings of holiday lights round and round for knot-free hall decking. Your reward: You won’t blow a fuse trying to hang next year’s light show.
Cut stems short and add water to keep blooms upright for a night. (Alas, beauty is fleeting.)
To remove weeds, use the curved blade in container gardens or tight spaces where traditional tools are too big for the job.
To keep all types of flowers in place in a wide-mouth vase, stretch a clear hair elastic around the stems, then let the flowers fall naturally. Your beautiful blooms will be styled in a snap.
A seldom-used bread plate from your grandmother's formal china set, placed under a small houseplant, will dress it up while serving the practical purpose of catching excess water.
Put your cake dome to good use as a terrarium. Covering small potted plants will help speed their growth. And when birthdays roll around you can remove the plants and use it for cake.
Once the little ones are potty-trained, give your changing table new life as a potting bench. A coat of semi-gloss or high-gloss paint will protect it from the elements. Stack pots on shelves and stash seeds in drawers. Fill an easy access hanging nylon or canvas diaper bag with shears and gloves.
Place one filter over a flowerpot’s drainage hole to prevent soil from leaking out.
Encourage green growth on your house plants by applying a solution of 2 tablespoons salt to 1 gallon water once a month.
Because it's resilient, dental floss is ideal for training vines on a trellis. Be careful not to tie the floss too tightly or it will dig into the growing stem.
Attract new neighbors by nailing an old mailbox to a branch and watch house finches and wrens flock to feather their nests.
Add a few pops of color to the topsoil of a potted plant.
When autumn comes and the temperature dips, outdoor decorating becomes more challenging. Collect pinecones and pile them in an empty flower box for a pretty, no-maintenance display.
Insulate potted plants with a layer of decorative pebbles on top of the soil.
Grow herbs or other diminutive greens. Layer large shells with soil and plant seeds inside.
Funnel seed into a bird feeder through the top half of a bisected bottle.
A sweet flower vessel. Your (topless) sugar bowl is just the right size to hold a single head of hydrangea or a half-dozen sweetheart roses. Crop the stems very short so the bouquet is tight, full and spilling over the sides.
Keep your plants hydrated. If you’re going away for a week or so, place a towel in a bathtub or sink and fill with about two inches of water. Then thoroughly water the houseplants, and place them on top of the towel. They’ll soak up the water.
Assemble an herb garden. Fill the bottom of the vase with pebbles (for drainage) before transferring small potted greens.
Poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of a yogurt cup and start growing seeds there before transplanting them to larger pots or garden beds.
Dispense yarn or twine at a craft station by placing the spool inside the funnel and pulling the end through the hole.
Wish your new houseplant's container was as pretty as the plush green leaves on top? Upgrade the nursery pot’s standard green or terra-cotta vessel by swapping it for a brightly colored mixing bowl or coffee mug. Here's how to do it:
- Step 1: Choose a vessel that is taller than it is wide and a plant, such as a fern or a philodendron, that flourishes in damp soil.
- Step 2: Unless you want to break out the drill, fill the bottom third of the container with pebbles to allow for drainage.
- Step 3: Spread a layer of potting soil on the pebbles so the roots won’t touch rock. Set the plant and top off with more soil.
Hang unbreakable ornaments on tomato plants early in the season. When pesky sparrows or blue jays come to peck, they’ll find the hard bulbs (instead of juicy treats) and abandon their attacks by the time the real fruits ripen.
Supplement your assortment of occasional tables by bringing a tall planter indoors and topping it with a piece of glass.
Need to kneel in your garden to pull weeds, or on the street to change a tire, but don't want to preserve the memory eternally on your pant legs? Grab a couple of plastic bags and tie one around each knee, covering the area that will be exposed to dirt and grime.
Crumple bags to fill the bottom of a large pot that's too deep for your plant (but be sure not to cover the drainage hole, if it has one). You can cut down on the amount of potting soil needed, and since plastic packs less heft than dirt, you'll be able to move a big planter around with a bit less grunting.
Fact: There are some things you'd just as soon not touch with your bare hands. Use bags as gloves to handle what's messy (say, chicken carcasses) or just plain gross (like the little "presents" the dog leaves in the front yard), then turn them inside out to trap the offending matter within for easy disposal.
Keep nails clean when gardening by scraping your fingers along a bar of soap before digging in. The soap stays under the nail and keeps everything else out. Wash with a nailbrush to remove.
Supplement potting mix by filling the bottom of a planter with leftover packing peanuts. They are lightweight and improve drainage, which promotes healthy roots.
Bail out a waterlogged plant by suctioning excess water from the pot's base.
Keep your houseplants well–hydrated. Most club soda contains a phosphate, which promotes growth—but be sure it’s flat.
Save your coffee can's lid from the recycling bin and use it to dispense twine. Simply poke a hole in the lid and run the twine through.
Keep soil contained in a planter by lining the bottom of the pot with a sponge.
Using a pin, poke a hole in the bottom of an empty eggshell half, put it in an egg carton (for stability), and fill with soil and seeds. Once your seedling appears, plant the whole thing in the ground. The eggshell will disintegrate and nourish the soil.