A lone shovel was left behind in one garden bed at the Bangor Community Garden on Essex Street on May 13.

In the gardening world, there are many tools and strategies that will help your plants thrive. The breadth of gardening equipment can seem intimidating — and expensive — to first-time gardeners. However, gardening doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you are just getting into gardening this year. In fact, you can use a number of items from around your house in the garden to help you save a little bit of cash.

Here are some of the common household materials you can upcycle and use in your garden. Instead of tossing them in your trash or recycling bin, save these materials until you are ready to use them. These tips can be used for a range of gardens, from container gardens to raised beds to giant backyard plots.

Cloches made of soda bottles.

Plastic bottles

If you can’t kick your soda habit, transform it into something productive. Two-liter soda bottles can be used to make cloches — a protective covering for plants to help them withstand unseasonably cold temperatures — watering cans, make-shift drip irrigation systems or self-watering planters. If you have other plastic bottles around the house, you can also use those as slug traps or seedling guards.

Bangor, ME — May 22, 2019 — Empty milk jugs can be repurposed in different ways. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

Milk jugs

Got milk? Plastic milk jugs can also be used as cloches and watering cans, as well as hanging planters if you’re handy and willing to get creative. Milk jugs can also be cut into a scoop for soil or compost, or the bottom of milk jugs can be separated and repurposed as saucers for houseplants. Just make sure you clean the jugs thoroughly before using them.

Ice cube trays.

Ice cube trays

Ice cube trays are secretly one of the handiest items you can get from the thrift store. When it comes to gardening, the compartments of an ice cube tray are ideal for starting small seeds if you drill small holes in the bottom for a little bit of drainage.

A stack of old newspapers.


You may have already used newspapers to create seedling pots. After your seedlings are ready to transplant, you can use your old newspapers as a weed-preventing, moisture-retaining mulch in your garden. You can also use other kinds of paper as mulch. Shred brown paper bags, printer paper or any other non-glossy paper and scatter it across the surface of your garden.

Wet newspapers can also be used to attract pests that are bothering you in the garden. Place a soaked newspaper out at night to bring the bugs in and crumple it up in the morning to get rid of them. Newspapers are also great for wiping dirt and debris off of your gardening tools. If all else fails, you can add shredded newspapers to your compost for an added boost of organic matter.

Colander with cucumbers.


In the kitchen, colanders are the perfect tool for draining pasta and washing vegetables. In the garden, that drainage can be put to use in a container garden as a planter.

Mesh produce bags holding various forms of produce at the Hannaford’s on Union Street in Bangor.

Mesh produce bags

Mesh bags — the kinds that hold onions, citrus, potatoes and other produce in the grocery store — can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. If you have a container garden, line the bottom of your containers with mesh produce bags to keep soil from escaping from drainage holes. If you trellis heavy vining fruits and vegetables, such as melons or gourds, tie a produce mesh bag to the trellis around heavy produce to protect and support them as they ripen so they do not break your trellis structure.

PORTLAND, MAINE — 11/21/14 — A styrofoam food container stops on a pile of leaves while on an afternoon’s windblown journey on Friday through Portland’s Parkside neighborhood. Troy R. Bennett | BDN


If you have old Styrofoam or other plastic foam products lying around the house from all that curbside takeout, use them in your garden instead of throwing them away. Add broken-down pieces of polystyrene (packing peanuts also work well here) to the bottom of your pots before you add soil in order to promote drainage while taking up space to conserve potting mix. If you are making your own soilless mix for non-edible plants, you can substitute perlite with firm polystyrene.

If you happen to have a bunch of polystyrene cups floating around from an office party that never was, poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of the cups, add potting soil and seeds and place in a nice sunny spot until the seedlings are large enough to transplant to larger containers.

Single-use plastic bags can actually be reused in many ways.

Plastic bags

A plastic bag can create miniature greenhouse conditions around your potted plants to help them thrive if you are going to be away for a week or so. If you hear rumors of an upcoming frost, you can also tie a plastic bag around your plants to protect them from the unexpected chill.

If the bag is large and the plastic is a little sturdier, you can grow potatoes in plastic bags instead of transplanting them in your garden. Roll the top of the bang down and fill it with soil and compost, plant your seed potatoes and continue to cover them as they grow.

Cardboard boxes

Ordering online more than usual? Cardboard boxes have many useful purposes around the garden. They can be used as planters in container gardens with the addition of a plastic lining, growing medium and drainage holes, or you can unfold them over weed-prone areas and douse them with water to use them as a weed barrier.

Also, most any kind of shredded cardboard can be added to your compost pile as brown material. If you don’t have a shredder, tearing your boxes into tiny pieces will do if you soak the chunks in a little bit of water before adding it to the pile.

Toilet paper rolls

If you aren’t already repurposing them as toilet paper, you can reuse cardboard toilet paper and paper towel tubes in your garden. You can make seed-starting pots out of toilet paper rolls by cutting the rolls in half, folding them on the bottom and filling them with soil and seeds. Once the seedlings are big enough to transplant, toilet paper rolls can be placed around the plants to fight cutworms, moth larvae that feed on young plants from below the soil. Because they are cardboard, they can also be composted if they are broken down into small pieces.

Quail egg, carton, tray, stock photo

Egg cartons

Even if you don’t have chickens, save your cardboard egg cartons — they have many uses in the garden. You can plant seeds in the biodegradable cartons and once they start to sprout, cut the individual cups out and plant them in soil outside. And, of course, there’s compost. Torn up paper carton pieces are great for composting. If the soil is too wet, you can even add the pieces dry to soak up the moisture.

Wire hangers

If you don’t need them for your clothes anymore, wire hangers can be reused as a trellis in your garden. Simply stretch and shape the frame, unfurl the hook and stake it in the ground next to your pole beans or peas.

Willette’s Automotive Owner Jeffrey Willette displays wear on a tire on Friday, April 10. Willette said that if there is substantially more wear on one part of your tire than another, there may be an underlying issue with your vehicle.

Car tires

Once the treads are worn down beyond repair, car tires can be reused in the garden with a few caveats. Tires are the perfect size for a few potted plants in a container garden. However, tires contain a number of harmful chemicals and metals, some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, that can leach into edible plants, so reserve them for ornamental plants in your garden.

If you are not having any luck repelling mosquitoes while you work in your yard and are willing to try just about anything to get them off your back, you can also try making a mosquito trap out of old tires. Watch this video DIY to create your own ovillanta and test it yourself.

heather’s tea bag SL JP (EDSCAN, style/grandparents) 6-year-old Heather Bonsey has lived with her great grandmother Irene all her life. She calls her grandmother MiMi and has her own special way of spelling it, “MieMie.” She says, “That’s the easiest way.” PHOTO BY SUSAN LATHAM

Tea bags

Tea bags and tea leaves can be reused in many ways around the house and garden. Tea is a great fertilizer for plants that need acidic soil; dump used tea bags or sprinkle used tea leaves around the base of your plants to fertilize the soil and deter garden pests, especially mice. You can also rebrew used bags in a bucket of water and use the resulting weak tea to water your plants and protect them from fungal infections.

Tea is yet another thing you may not have known you could compost, as long as the bags are made of paper or muslin, and not polypropylene, which will not decompose (you can check the box to find out, but these will typically have a waxy coating and won’t tear). Be sure you remove the metal staple from bags as well.

Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds can be used in many ways around the garden. They are a productive fertilizer because they add nitrogen, potassium and magnesium to the soil. The consistency of coffee grounds is also handy for soil health because it retains water.

Coffee grounds are also a useful repellent for pests such as ants, snails and slugs. Certain compounds in coffee such as caffeine and diterpenes are toxic to insects. They also effectively deter mosquitoes, fruit flies and beetles.

Watch: How to make seedling pots from newspaper