Frugal Gardening – 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas

Published by at 9:48 pm under Container Ideas,Frugal Gardening

Need some money saving ideas for the tools of your trade? I’ve started with a list of some of the items we use most often in our gardens.  Pots and Containers, Seed Starting Pots, Plant Labels, Watering Cans and Sprayers.  These tips should inspire you to start saving some of the items you have been recycling or perhaps inadvertently throwing out in your rubbish bin without realizing their real value!  Implementing even one or two of these tips will keep your money in your wallet for longer.


Recycled chest of drawers, boots & kettle -

Creative cost-saving containers are only limited by your imagination!


1.    Cost-saving Plant Pots: Ever bought a plant and tossed out the plastic pot afterwards?  Think again!  Although these plastic pots are often not very attractive, depending on the size, they may be perfect to raise another plant in by adding more potting mix.

If you really don’t like the look of the pot, put it inside a decorative outer cachepot for a creative and attractive new look – there are lots more inspirational ideas on the Small Garden Design page.   Let’s face it, finding the perfect container for your garden is only limited by your imagination.

  • Virtually any container can be used to plant in just so long as it has adequate drainage (this includes sufficient holes for water to seep out).

    Plastic pot with good drainage holes

    Pots with good drainage holes can be filled with potting mix straight away.

  • Cheap creative ideas for containers include: tin cans, plastic bottles with the tops cut off, old drawers, baskets, colanders, funky old boots, icecream tubs, polystyrene fruit boxes and old canvas bags filled with soil.
  • Outgrown kiddie pool/sandpit clam shells make great container gardens, ponds or edible gardens for water loving plants.


“Before you throw something out, can you give it a new life on your balcony or in your garden?”


2.    Salvaged Seed Starting Pots: Next time you want to plant some seeds, instead of buying a seed raising tray, keep your money in your pocket!  There are plenty of alternative seed raisers that are good for the environment and your garden that won’t cost you a cent.

  • One of my favourite seed raising trays is an cardboard egg carton.  Wet thoroughly first, add your seed-raising mix and plant away!  Because the egg carton ‘pots’ will dry out in warm weather, make sure you keep them well moistened on a daily basis, keep them out of direct heat and windows where warm air blows in.  Use the rectangular egg carton ‘lid’ as the new tray.  When the seedlings are ready to plant out, simply use scissors to cut out each egg cup and plant the whole biodegradable ‘pot’ in the soil!  The microbes in the soil will compost the pot for you – they are great little workers and get a free feed at the same time.


Egg Cartons make great seed raisers

Raising seeds in egg cartons is fun, cheap and easy.

  • Try raising sprouts in egg carton ‘pots’– they are a great easy crop to grow in just a few days.  Make sure you only use organic seeds such as alfalfa or sprout mix from a health food store as commercial seed mixes are often sprayed with chemicals.  At some of the Kids workshops I’ve run, the children have grown ‘hairy caterpillars’ in egg carton ‘bodies.’  We’ve cut the egg carton segments in half and decorated the front with ‘eyes’ and a ‘mouth’ and then filled them with seed raising mix and seeds.   We add a fine layer of seed raising mix over the top and using a spray bottle, gently water them in.  The children find it great fun to watch their ‘caterpillar’ grow ‘hair’ as the sprouts get taller and taller.  After a few days, they give their caterpillar a ‘haircut’ with scissors and enjoy eating the sprouts they’ve grown!

    Egg carton & toilet roll seed raisers -

    A great way to recycle every day items and turn them into useful free seed raisers and pots.


  • Another super seed raiser is the humble toilet roll!  I’ve saved hundreds of these and used them to raise uncountable seedlings over the years.  Rather than going to waste, these are perfect for seedlings that grow a deeper root such as tomatoes.  Kids can also decorate the toilet rolls to grow sprouts – we’ve made these in workshops too and the children grow Grasshead Guys and Girls.  They simply draw their ‘guy’ or ‘girl’ onto the outside of the toilet roll and sow the sprout seeds in the top.  A few days later they snip off their ‘hair’ – a fun way for kids to decide if they want to be a hairdresser!
  • Used takeaway paper coffee cups (especially if you’re a regular coffee drinker), shallow cardboard boxes and cardboard milk cartons with one long side cut out are some other free seed raisers you can save from landfill and releasing greenhouse gases.


Growing herbs & veggies in a cardboard box -

Small cardboard boxes are amazingly resilient as short term containers. Intending to replant 3 capsicums & some coriander seedlings out later, this became their permanent home!


  • These biodegradable salvaged seed raising ‘pots’are perfect for fussy seedlings that don’t like being transplanted.  This method of growing avoids damage to delicate roots especially with veggies and herbs that are prone to transplant shock.  I often show school students and children at workshops how to grow seedlings in these recyclable containers as it not only helps them learn the 3R’s of recycling (Reduce; Re-use and Recycle) but also helps protect delicate seedlings and roots from accidental damage while they learn how to nurture young plants.

    Raising seeds in toilet roll & egg carton pots -

    Recycling every day biodegradable materials for use in the garden makes sense and saves even more cents!


  • Plastic meat trays from the supermarket or butcher make excellent free seed raisers.  Wash out well, use a sharp knife to slit the bottom of the tray carefully in a few places for drainage and fill with seed raising mix.  Then plant away!   I also use the foam meat trays as a base to collect water from pots.  Better to put to good use than ending up in landfill.

3.    Low-cost Labels: Beginner gardeners in particular go through lots of labels while learning to recognise the plants and seedlings they are growing. Even experienced gardeners need labels, especially while raising seeds.  You can save money on plastic labels by making your own and save the environment at the same time.

Plastic plant labels made from milk bottles -

These free durable plant labels were made in minutes from plastic milk bottles.


  • Simply take a 2 litre plastic milk jug (washed well) and on each of the four square ‘faces’ of the bottle, cut it into rectangular strips.  While holding each long rectangular piece of plastic, snip the two corners off one end to make the spike to stick into the soil.
Making plant labels, a funnel & saucers from recycled milk bottles -

Making plant labels, a funnel & saucers from recycled milk bottles


  • Other sturdy food safe plastic containers can also be used such as:  large yoghurt tubs, plastic soft drink or juice bottles, butter tubs etc (just avoid using plastics with the recycle numbers 3, 6 & 7 as these can leach toxic chemicals into your soil and food).
  • Use a permanent marker or wax chinagraph pencil to write on your labels.  This lasts well in the weather and won’t wash off when you water your plants.
  • Reuse old labels – If you have already invested in some plastic labels and want to re-use them, just clean up the old ones.  There are lots of ways to remove permanent marker but here are a some to try:  a little mentholated spirits on a dry cloth; some bicarb soda or cream cleanser on a wet cloth or simply retrace over the writing with a whiteboard marker – dry well and they’re ready to re-use!

4.    Free Watering Cans & Inground system: I encourage people to make their own (MYO) garden tools and materials wherever possible.

  • A 1.25L drink bottle makes an efficient in-ground watering system – just punch some small holes around the base with a skewer or nail, then bury in the hole beside a new plant with the lid showing just above the mulch. Unscrew the lid & fill up with water (or nutrients such as seaweed) – you have a slow release watering system to help your new plant establish. It also is an alternative way to provide drought-proof irrigation. The plant gets the water right where it needs it – at the root zone!
  • You can use this method in reverse for pot plants by putting a few holes in the lid and cutting off the bottom of the bottle so it acts like a giant funnel. Up-end the funnel and balance it in the pot making sure the lid is in contact with the soil. Fill with water or diluted seaweed and allow to slowly feed your pot plant.


Recycle bottles & containers for use in the garden -

Recycle bottles & containers for use in the garden – it saves you money and reduces landfill


Plastic bottles with handles such as 2 litre milk bottles, large 4 litre purified bottled water containers and some juice bottles all make suitable watering cans with virtually no effort!


Milk jugs can be made into simple watering cans -

Why waste useful containers like milk and large water bottles when you can MYO free watering can?


Wash out your bottle, punch a few holes in the lid with a skewer or nail and fill with water!  Easy as that!


Making holes in the plastic milk bottle lid for a watering can -

Making holes in the plastic milk bottle lid only takes a minute and converts a plastic bottle into a useful garden watering can


  • These are particularly suitable for children to use as they are lightweight and can be painted or decorated with permanent markers with their name or own design.  It also encourages kids to do the watering for you and nurture their own plants!
  • You can also use the same concept for watering in your organic fertilisers.  Simply draw a line down the bottom close to the base of the bottle watering can so the children know how much concentrate to add.  When they reach the line, they stop and fill up with water.  This is a great exercise for measuring and hand-eye coordination too.
  • These are a fantastic money saving ‘make your own’ idea for schools, parents, kindergartens and early childhood centres to use.


5.    Recycle Spray Bottles: There’s no need to buy a plastic spray bottle for your garden needs – simply recycle your empty domestic cleaning sprayers and re-use.  It is safer to use environmentally friendly sprays rather than chemical ones. Make sure you wash them out extremely well, so no residue is leftover before using the sprayer on your plants.  When you have cleaned the spray bottle (including the nozzle), fill it with clean water and pump the sprayer around 20-30 times so clear water sprays out.

Recycled domestic spray bottle

Pre-loved spray bottles have many uses in the garden. With a good clean out, it will save you buying a new one.

  • Sprayers are very useful in the garden.  Fill with water and use to mist delicate seeds and seedlings to keep them moist or clean indoor pot plant leaves.
  • Re-label the outside of the spray bottle with a permanent marker and then add your favourite liquid fertiliser such as seaweed or kelp.  Full of minerals and nutrients, this is an ideal fertiliser and ‘Pick-Me-Up Tonic’ for your plants.  Add the desired amount of concentrate according to instructions, dilute with water and you can now foliar spray the leaves of your plants (the fastest way to feed them).
  • Another use for these sprayers is to fill with your own homemade pest sprays.


Related posts: Clever Plant Container Ideas, Sensational Shoe Planters, Turn Trash into Treasure, Ten Benefits of Using Repurposed Planters and DIY Repurposed Garden Projects.

Have you got some frugal gardening tips you’d like to share?

What sort of containers and materials have you used to save money in your garden?

I’d love you to share your tips here.


Frugal gardening tips help save money!


For more Frugal Gardening tips, check out these easy ways to get plants for free and how to re-use ‘old’ potting mix or visit the Frugal Gardening category.

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17 responses so far

17 Responses to “Frugal Gardening – 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas”

  1. […] Frugal Gardening – 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas | The Micro Gardener […]

  2. […] with kelp/seaweed will give it a quick ‘pick me up.’  Use a spray bottle for this – see Frugal Gardening: 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas on how to get one for […]

  3. […] more Frugal Gardening tips, check out these thrifty ideas to make your own garden toolbox out of recycled materials – Containers, Seed raisers, Labels, Watering Cans and Sprayers. […]

  4. Gardens for Kids | The Micro Gardeneron 19 Feb 2011 at 3:46 pm

    […] with larger seeds like beans.  Check out the article on Frugal Gardening – 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas for inspirational ideas and photos for making your own pots for free. Plant starter pots can be as […]

  5. […] more photos and ideas?  Check out these clever design ideas, tips on frugal gardening, thrifty recycling ideas for the garden and more on repurposed […]

  6. […] more photos and tips?  Check out these clever design ideas, tips on frugal gardening, thrifty recycling ideas for the garden and more inspiring repurposed […]

  7. […] My mom (obviously my #1 tipster) brought the rice pots to my attention. I always appreciate any product made out of recycled and/or recyclable materials. About a year ago, I blogged about biodegradable (and nutrient-rich) cow-pots….but there are even cheaper options for seed starter pots: Like making your own out of newspaper, or even using egg cartons or toilet paper rolls! […]

  8. […] check out these easy ideas for repurposing toilet rolls and milk bottles from Dani Hurst or visit 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas for more projects like […]

  9. […] want more information on pots?  Check out some Tips for Growing a Garden in Pots, 5 Thrifty Recycling Ideas for making your own and consider the Benefits of Using Repurposed Planters.  You will also find a […]

  10. […] shallow container for about 15-30 minutes with a strong solution of seaweed (kelp) or add some to a recycled spray bottle and mist the seedling roots before planting (this takes longer […]

  11. […] for labels (ice cream lids etc) or even old plastic picnic cutlery – just poke in the soil. Follow my tutorial to make your own labels from plastic bottles plus other money saving garden […]

  12. Tara Mon 04 Jun 2013 at 11:15 am

    There is a lot of good ideas that is very good to keep out of the landfill. It is using the three R’S of reduce, recycle and reduce waste that would go into the landfill. Landfill’s are getting to high in price to open up more. The more we do the three R’s of reduce, recycling and reduce the less that goes in the landfills. We have to help good old Mother Nature repair the damage that is been going on for years. It is up to us to help Mother Nature out with doing the three R’S of reduce, recycle and reuse a lot in landscaping and gardening. Mother Nature need are help more then ever. Please Help Mother Nature out by doing you part in three R’S. Thank You for this article.

  13. nargeson 13 Jan 2014 at 4:24 pm


  14. Sianon 13 Jun 2014 at 7:30 am

    Thanks for sharing such fab ideas! I love the idea for making plant labels & was inspired to make my own ( x

  15. Jesson 14 Jun 2014 at 10:47 pm

    I’m concerned about the to ducts used here, we are told not to use plastic bottles for the older they get the more they break down & release toxins. Would these leach into the seeds? They would no longer be organic. What is safe and not safe?

  16. Anne Gibsonon 15 Jun 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Jess,

    As I mention in the post on Choose Safe Containers for Growing Food, some plastics are safer than others. At some point in their lives, it is possible for most plastics to leach to some degree. I reuse food grade plastics (with recycle numbers 1,2, 4 & 5) in a new and undamaged condition, then recycle them back through our local council bin service to minimise our household waste. I suggest you avoid leaving plastics in the sun for too long as this degrades the material faster.

    Even ‘BPA Free’ plastics have now been found to leach chemicals, so it’s difficult to know what to trust! At the end of the day, we have to do our own due diligence and personal research to make decisions we are happy with. I’ve answered a lot of similar questions in the comments section at the end of the Safe Containers article above, which you may like to read. I hope this helps. 🙂

  17. Brian @ LawnAndPond.comon 28 Dec 2014 at 4:56 am

    Never would have thought to use egg cartons to raise seeds! Great idea.

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