Zero waste living shouldn’t just apply to what you do in your home, but what you do in your gardens too. What most people realise only after they begin gardening, is that for an activity that embraces nature, there’s a surprising amount of plastic waste involved.
So here are some zero waste gardening tips for a low-impact garden:
If you are one of those who frequent the nursery often, you’ll notice that you’ll end up taking home more plastic pots than you really need. However instead of throwing them out, there are a bunch of ways to reuse them and still keep a sustainable garden.
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Plastic pots can be reused over and over to grow seedlings or for repotting other plants. So can plastic and paper tags that come with plants purchased from the nursery.
Small plastic containers can be used to shake and disperse fertilizer since the bottom feature holes that can be used to sift the pellets on to the ground.
Gardening requires a lot of tools so use your plastic pots for organizing and sorting equipment, tags and materials.
Use as Liners for Pots
There are some beautiful pots out there that have no holes for drainage. If you have plastic pots that fit these containers, use them as liners and just pop them inside your stylish ceramic, metal or concrete containers and just remember to empty them if filled with standing water.
2. CHOOSE BIODEGRADABLE POTS
Aside from the obvious reasons of biodegradable pots being more eco-friendly because they break down safely, there are other reasons why biodegradable pots are a better choice than the traditional pots:
- No waste will be absorbed by the soil as it is made from sustainable raw materials.
- When using traditional pots, roots will usually coil, fold or have some type of root deformation. Biodegradable pots, on the other hand, allow the roots to push thru the pot and are able to spread naturally as the pot breaks down.
3. USE EGGSHELLS AS POTS
While most people use peat pots, small plastic containers or trays to sprout seeds, simply recycle eggshells and use them as planters instead. It’s free, waste-free and more importantly, it is a good source of calcium so they add nutrients to the soil as they are planted into the ground along with the sprout.
4. USE ECO-FRIENDLY LABELS
Labeling plants is important as you’ll need to remember what you’ve planted and when so as it identify when a plant is, and if it is edible, when it is needs harvesting. The more popular labels are the plastic plant labels but there are better, eco-friendly alternatives to use for labeling your plants such as:
- Biodegradable paddle pop sticks
- Hand painted rocks used as plant labels
- Reusable eco-friendly blackboard paint pots where you can write the name of the plant on the pot itself with a chalk
5. MAKE YOUR OWN FERTILIZER
Home gardeners often purchase soil mixes and fertilizers that are packaged in plastic. Instead of buying these in bottles or bags, you can simply make your own compost or even swap with a local farmer or a fellow gardener to gain these materials (check out sites like Facebook marketplace). Learn more about improving soil structure using natural resources in our previous article on replenishing your soil.
6. GROW FOOD FROM SCRAPS
Instead of buying new plants or seeds every time you want to update your garden, you can easily grow food from kitchen scraps. Here are just a few of the vegetables that you can grow in your backyard:
- Sweet potato – this humble crop is easy to grow. The leaves grow from sprouts called slips. For you them to get started, place the sweet potato in warm water. Once sprouts appear, plant them in soil.
- Lettuce and Asian greens such as bok choy – probably the easiest to regrow among the many varieties of lettuce is the romaine, just pop the end in water and watch it form new leaves.
- Onions and Spring onions – since onions are a staple in everybody’s kitchen, learning how to regrow them should be a must – and it’s super easy too. Do not discard their tips and set them in water instead. When roots start sprouting at the bottom, plant them in soil.
Related Post: 7 Reasons Why Your Veggie Scraps Won’t Regrow
7. HARVEST YOUR OWN WATER USING WATER BARRELS
One of the smartest things you can do to create a lush garden is to water it free of charge by harvesting your rain water using water barrels. There are so many places around the globe that are experiencing drought or are subject to droughts so water harvesting is important; particularly if you want a thriving garden even if your municipality imposes water restrictions. Here are some tips to harvesting water with a barrel:
- Make sure to install rain barrels on a flat surface so water evacuates properly.
- Wrap the barrel in mesh as shade will prevent algae from growing in it.
- Put a screen on your barrel so rain gutter debris won’t shoot inside and so mosquitoes won’t be able to breed in the water.
8. USE NATURAL WEED BARRIERS
Weeds are a constant in a garden and they will be sprouting everywhere to choke on your edible plants but instead of using plastic weed matting, there are natural materials you can use to prevent these pesky weeds from growing and overrunning your garden beds. Here are some things you can use as weed control that are cheap and organic:
- Wood chips – wood chip mulch will still maintain the beauty of your garden while preventing weeds from sprouting. It insulates the soil and helps maintain the moisture in it which also helps conserve water as you won’t need to water your garden as much.
- Wet newspapers – put your old newspapers to good use by using them as weed barriers. Laying down thick layers of wet newspaper on your garden can prevent weeds from growing there. They are biodegradable and can block light. It won’t harm your plants as it is porous and will allow water to seep through it and down your soil.
- Cardboard – using cardboards as a weed blocker has its pros and cons. For one, it takes a long time before it breaks down so the absorption of water will definitely be compromised. However, using cardboards also attracts worms which your soil needs and even if it takes a long time to break down, you are still certain that it will soon compost into the soil.
Investing in good quality gardening tools with a warranty is a sustainable approach as there’s less risk of breaking and having to be replaced and thrown out. Get ones that are guaranteed to last for several years or better yet, source excellent quality second-hand ones.
USE RECYCLED ITEMS
There are also second-hand shops around your neighborhood or online sites such as Gumtree, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace that you can find used gardening products and equipment such as pots, gardening tools, compost, chicken manure etc. Most of all, be creative. There are so many items that you think you don’t need which can still be used for other purposes like an old stainless steel bucket for a pot for a tree or reclaimed wood that can be turned into raised garden beds.
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Cover image by Arina P Habich.