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My recycling bin is kept outside near one of my gardens. One day I was taking a few plastic bottles out to be recycled when I wondered if there was something I could use the bottles for in my garden. After all, upcycling is even better than recycling, right?
Plastic bottles can be utilized as planters, cloches, vertical hanging arrangements, birdfeeders, seedling trays, and so many other gardening projects. Recycling them for these garden projects can save you money while reducing landfills but not at the cost of beauty and functionality
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Vertical Gardening Systems
Vertical planters are becoming increasingly popular with gardeners, particularly those who are short on space. Using upcycled plastic bottles can provide you with ample more growing room, especially for plants that don’t need much real estates, such as many herbs and lettuce.
Consider even branching out and growing radishes in them. Carrots wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility if you plant them carefully in a deep bottle.
1. Vertical planters with bottles on their sides
One of the easiest ways to garden vertically is taking plastic bottles and cutting a hole into the side for you to plant in.
If you are going to put these new pots on the ground, it’s best if you use ones that won’t roll around, such as milk jugs. Make sure you place a few holes for drainage and plant away!
2. Vertical planters with bottles right side up
Cut a plastic bottle in half and you’ve got two possible options for planting. One is pretty straightforward, just planting in the base. Drill a few small holes as drainage spots and fill them with your potting mix.
You can plant a variety of options in these containers. Hang them from a set of strings to take up less space on the ground.
3. Vertical planters with bottles upside down
You can also plant in the other half of your bottle. You should leave the bottle cap on and drill a few small holes in it, or consider making a self-watering system with a string connecting each part of a plastic bottle to ones down the line.
You will need to add water periodically, but you won’t have to water them too often, as moisture will wick down the string to water your plants.
4. Vertical planters on pallets
A creative and clever way to add to your garden aesthetic, particularly if you happen to be going with a rustic theme or upcycled chic, is to use a wooden pallet and secure plastic bottles on the pallet, leaning it against a wall or hanging it up.
You can paint the plastic bottles before you plant in theme if you want them to match your outdoor furniture, just make sure to only paint the outside.
5. Hanging garden
Combine multiple hanging plastic bottles that have been recycled into a beautiful hanging garden. You can space the bottles out and color coordinate them (or even paint them).
Many people string several like rungs on a ladder and hang them over a fence or wall, so you make the most of your limited gardening space.
6. Hanging planters for flowers with a milk jug base
For larger plants, you can still create vertical gardening space, you will just need to use bigger containers. Milk jugs cut off at the base and washed out well can be wonderful planters, whether they are painted or no.
You can hang cascading plants, including certain varieties of cherry tomatoes, and hang them around your porch or patio.
Growing Your Plants
A cloche is a great way to protect young seedlings, particularly during the early spring. Plastic two-liter bottles and milk jugs make excellent cloches, so you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg for them in your garden.
Making a cloche is as simple as carefully cutting off the bottom of your bottle or jug and removing the lid to help the bottle recycle the humidity around the plant and preserve the temperature for your seedlings.
To help keep these from blowing away in the wind, you can secure them to the ground with wire, such as from coat hangers.
Keep in mind that some people recommend carefully melting the edge of your soda bottle to create a rounded and firmer edge.
While this makes the structure of the cloche more secure, you do need to melt it over a hot stovetop and mold the base, typically over a structure such as a measuring cup.
This will expose you to plastic fumes, so it should be done in a very well-ventilated area.
8. Holder for compost tea
Hold on to that milk jug before you toss it. It happens to be a great holder for compost tea or mixed liquid fertilizer. With the lid on after mixing the amounts needed, give the container a shake.
You should use the contents within a few days, shaking them each day to mix and help evenly distribute components. It’s a great way to help provide your plants with the nutrients they need.
9. Seed starting container
Take your milk jug or plastic bottle and cut it roughly 3 inches from the end. You can save the top to make something else, such as a cloche for your plants.
Poke or drill a few holes into your container bottom and add seed starting mix or potting mix. Plant your seeds in the mix and water as needed. This is a great, low-cost way to start seeds with minimal fuss.
10. Propagate cuttings in a container
Other people use gallon-sized containers for propagating cuttings of different plants. After removing the top of the container, fill it with the planting medium you need to use for your cuttings.
You can view the progress of your roots through the container, and when your plant is big enough, just cut away the container and plant your cuttings.
11. Plant saucers for your planting pots
You can use plastic two-liter bottles and milk jugs for saucers to put underneath your indoor and outdoor pots, as long as they’re small enough to fit in them.
For low-maintenance planting, you could even put a wick in the pot down to the saucer and fill the saucer with water periodically. Watering from the ground up will help preserve your plant’s foliage and conserve resources.
One of the more popular things to do with plastic bottles is to create a self-watering mechanism. This is especially handy if you are going to be traveling out of town for a few days and don’t have anyone to water your plants.
The simplest way to work this magic is just to take a rinsed-out bottle and fill it with water.
Bury it quickly upside down beside your plant, with the neck covered several inches. The water will seep out over the course of several days, and you won’t have to worry about watering your plants.
You can also take a bottle and punch a series of holes into the bottle. Remove the lid and plant the bottle down beside the root system of your plant, ideally before the roots have gotten very large, so you aren’t disturbing them.
Bury the bottle completely so that only the mouth opening of the bottle is accessible and fill it with water periodically. The water will drain out to your roots, watering your plant.
13. Decorative pots
Another incredibly popular thing to do with upcycled plastic bottles is to make and decorate pots with them.
You can even use the saucers you made earlier and put them under the bottle. Upcycling for the win! Make these pots in just about any style you can imagine, and get the whole family involved!
Consider the ever-popular friendly feline pot that you can design from a 2-liter container.
Just remember to only paint the outside or make sure you are using non-toxic paint so that your plants (and you) are not harmed by this process.
14. Lettuce or herb growing planter
An array of plastic bottles with holes cut into them and filled with the potting mix are a great way to save your gardening real estate for large plants.
Plants that tend to grow shallow roots are, in particular, suited to growing in recycled plastic bottles.
Keep a few inside the house and some in your backyard so that you have lettuce and herbs all year round.
15. Onion container
If you have a five-gallon plastic bottle or jug, you have the perfect place to grow some onions. Remove the lid and potentially the neck of the bottle, to make your job easier.
Cut holes into the sides of the bottle at intervals, making sure your holes are large enough for your onions to grow into. Start adding soil and position your onion bulbs, gradually working your way up to the top. Add water periodically from the top.
You can harvest green tops from your onions or harvest smaller onions from the container, as long as it stays warm enough. This is a great way to grow onions indoors during the winter.
16. Miniature greenhouses
Like the clothes, you can make miniature greenhouses with milk jugs and plastic bottles, so you can get a jumpstart on the growing season.
Typically, you only want to cut part of the way into the side of the jug or bottle and pull the lid back. Punch some holes in the bottom, and add seed starting mix or potting soil.
Water and let the greenhouses sit outside. They will help regulate the temperature of your plants, allowing you to start seeds outside, even in snowy weather.
17. Make a wall around plants as a heat sink
If you have enough plastic bottles, you can make a wall around certain areas of your garden. Fill the bottles with water and set them around the plants you want to provide extra heat too.
During the day, the water will absorb heat and will radiate it out to the plants as the sun goes does and temperatures cool off.
While several large jugs can be protective, even a variety of smaller bottles can add some temperature regulation for your plants.
Bird Feeders and Pest Traps
18. Bird feeder
One style of bird feeder involves cutting holes in several sides of your plastic milk jug, usually about two to four inches in diameter. These are the feeding holes.
Drill smaller holes below the feeding hold and insert wooden dowel rods into the jug, poking through to the opposite side. Consider also placing several very small holes in the bottom of the jug for rainwater to drain out.
Once everything is done, hang your bird feeder from a nearby branch and enjoy all of the feathered friends who flock to your yard.
19. Other designs for bird feeders
There are a variety of different designs for bird feeders made out of plastic bottles and milk jugs.
A simple way to make a bird feeder is to simply cut a strip out of the side of the jug that is opposite the handle. Consider adding some drainage holes for rainwater in the bottom. Just fill the jug with birdseed and hang it from a tree, set it out on a bench, or put it on an old tree stump.
You can also take a plastic bottle and make a hummingbird feeder. There are a few different ways to do this, such as connecting the lid of your plastic bottle to a small plastic plate.
Hang the bottle upside down with a mixture of sugar water, which can be dyed red to attract hummingbirds. Sit back and watch these lovely little birds flock to your yard.
20. Watering bowl
If you don’t have a birdbath, you can still set out a watering bowl near your bird feeder to allow birds to get a sip of water and even clean themselves.
The smaller size can prevent some of the really messy larger birds like blue jays from making a huge mess in your birdbath.
You can even keep the bottom of a plastic dish handy to set out beside you when you work so that your dog always has access to clean, freshwater.
While you might have a dish on the patio, you’ll sometimes find that man’s best friend doesn’t want to leave our sides while we dig in that awfully fun patch of dirt to play in.
21. Slug watering hole
If you have a slug problem, it’s time to break out the beer and a plastic bottle or two. Cur the bottom of the bottle off so that you are left with a shallow dish.
Plant it in the ground, so that the lip is even with the level of the soil, specifically placing it in areas where you’ve had a slug problem.
Add a little beer or make your own mixture with water, a pinch of yeast, and a bit of sugar. Slugs will flock to the area and drown.
22. Use as a container to hold plants when purchasing or travelling
If you happen to be purchasing plants and don’t want to risk them tipping over in your car, especially if you are getting numerous small starts or seedlings, you can always cut some plastic bottles to hold the plants in.
This is especially effective with large plastic bottles or milk jugs. Simply take the plants out when you get home.
23. Cut strips for markers
Cutting strips out of a plastic milk jug (or even a plastic bottle) is a great way to make reusable strips to label your plants.
After you cut the strips, label the plant type or species with a permanent marker or Sharpie. If you need to erase the name, a little rubbing alcohol will take it right off.
24. Watering can
As simple as it sounds, a plastic jug makes a great watering can for those that are budget-minded.
You can remove the lid entirely or drill several small holes in it to gently rainwater down on the soil. Some companies even sell watering attachments to put on plastic soda bottles.
Take your plastic jug and cut it to make a super handy scoop. You are going to want to leave the handle in place and cut away the bottom and part of the side nearest the handle. Either screw the lid on tightly or glue it in place and scoop away.
26. Use jugs to weigh down covers
Jugs with handles are great to attach to covers so that they don’t blow away. Just fill the jug with water and tie it to the tarp or cover. You can easily remove them when you’re done.
27. Holder for garden tools
You can cut the top off of a jug, and it makes a great holder for tools such as your marker, scissors, even pruning shears. If you use a container with a handle, you can even hang it up in your gardening shed.
28. Multipurpose funnel
Simply cutting the top off of a plastic bottle makes an easy-to-use funnel when you remove the lid. Use this to transfer seeds to a different container, put dirt in a miniature greenhouse, or use it when making jam with your fresh produce.
29. Dust pan for clearing walkway
Similar to how you would make a scoop from a jug, you can make a disposable or reusable dustpan. This will make keeping your walkways clear a breeze when coupled with a broom.
Decorations and Fun
30. Luminaries for your pathways
Some people want to line their pathways with candles, especially for parties. Cut the bottom off and fill it with several inches of sand and set a tealight candle in the bottle. You can even use battery-operated candles to get the same effect.
31. Garden border or edging
You can make some beautiful edging for your garden with plastic bottles. Paint them to coordinate the bottles with your outdoor decor or use a mixture of different soda bottles to add an eclectic approach to gardening.
32. Decorative bottle tree
You can make bottle trees with plastic or glass bottles. Simply put the cleaned-out bottles over tree branches on a small tree when it’s not in bloom or design a secure wooden or steel frame and hang your bottles from it. It’ll catch the light and look fantastic in your new upcycled yard.
33. String light covers
You can take the bottoms of small plastic soda bottles and cut a small hole into each one. Hang these over a string of lights and drape them in your outdoor paradise.
34. Crazy sprinkler
This one is for the kids. If you are going to be working outside in the heat of the day, consider drilling a series of small holes in a plastic two-liter in a bunch of different places around the bottle. Hook it up to your water hose, and you’ve got your kids a fun DIY sprinkler.
35. Plastic bottle wind harp
Also known as “wind hooters,” you can create a wind harp by cutting different slots into plastic bottles. Drill a hole in the cap to secure the wind harp to a piece of wood and screw the bottle down onto the wood.
Listen as the wind creates unique sounds blowing through the bottles. Smaller bottles or narrower slots tend to make higher-pitched sounds than larger bottles and wider slots, so you can produce a series of different sounds.
36. Plastic bottle waterfall
Remove the lids from several plastic bottles and cut holes into them so that when you position each bottle, it gets filled by the bottle above it. Secure these to an area such as a fence.
When you want to entertain your family or yourself, fill the top bottle with water. You can put the caps back on when you aren’t using the bottles to allow them to fill up with rainwater.
Harvesting Your Produce
37. Use bottle to make jelly
After washing the bottle out well and cutting it in half so that you are left with a funnel section, line the bottle with a jelly bag. Once you’ve cooked your produce to make your jelly, strain it through your jelly bag lining your funnel.
38. Berry picker
Cut the top off of a jug and wash it out well, but leave the handle attached. When you go out berry picking, thread your belt through the handle.
Now you have an easy-to-carry berry picking basket to go out collecting berries or even grapes with. This can be used for everything from blueberries to raspberries.
39. Gift basket bottom for jams and produce
A simple but cute way to upcycle plastic bottles is to cut off the bottom of the bottle and paint it.
Now you can fill it with anything you could imagine, such as a jar of your homemade strawberry jam or blackberry preserves. Go ahead and gift it to a friend or neighbor and watch their face light up.
40. Plastic bottle fruit picker
If you have a fruit tree in your yard, cut a hole near the bottom of the bottle slightly bigger than the fruit you will be picking, such as apples or pears.
Then you need to mount the two-liter plastic soda bottle that has been washed out well onto a wooden pole and secure with ties. Now it’s time to go out picking fruit.
The plastic bottle fruit picker will typically hold several pieces of fruit at once. Then you can unload it and get more fruit, which you can then turn into jelly and make use of your plastic bottle funnel and a jelly bag.
Which plants can be grown in plastic bottles?
Typically plants with shallow roots do best in plastic bottles. These can include strawberries, lettuce, parsley, basil, oregano, and spinach. Herbs and leafy greens that don’t form a head are usually your best bets.
How do you cut a plastic bottle?
You can cut a plastic bottle in a few different ways. Carefully use a craft knife to cut out your shape, or you can use an electric knife. Holes can be made by drilling them with a drill or poking a hole, such as with a nail.
Which plastics are safe for gardening?
Your plastic bottles and containers will be labeled with a number, which indicates which type of plastic they are and can indicate features such as durability. Plastics labeled 2, 4, and sometimes 5 and 6. Stay away from 7 and try to avoid 1 and 3 in your garden.
This article has only touched 40 of the most popular gardening projects you can do with plastic bottles. There are so many more that you can do with them.
It is only your imagination that prevents you from utilizing them within your gardening lifestyle. Don’t send them to a landfill! Give them a further life by reusing them in your garden
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