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SHARING SECRETS: Using Household Items in the Garden

Photo credit: Linda Chisari.
Row covers made of strawberry baskets protect seedlings in Linda Chisari’s garden.

Edited by Tina Ivany.



Sharing Secrets Editor Needed - Many thanks to Tina Ivany for her great work editing this column. Tina is "stepping down" from this position and we are looking for one of you to "step up" and take over!

The Sharing Secrets Editor is responsible for sending a garden-related question to the membership each month, collecting the responses, and sending them to our Managing Editor. No editorial experience is required. You just need a love of gardening and lots of gardening questions!

To volunteer or learn more about volunteering please send an email to

Karen England


How do you use household items in an unconventional way in the garden?  For example, a friend of mine uses a sifter to spread diatomaceous earth and uses a colander for an orchid pot.

Linda Chisari: I use twist ties to wire green plastic strawberry boxes together, side by side, and then use the resulting 8’ length as a row cover to protect the seedings that birds like best….beans…..while they’re emerging. It’s easy to hold these row covers in place by inserting a chopstick, every 18” or so, through one of the holes and into the soil.

Charlotte Getz (92024 – Encinitas): I recently used a thin layer of cheesecloth for about a week to 10 days to cover newly planted sunflower seeds until the seedlings emerged. I also cut a few holes in the cheesecloth and staked it at the end of the row. Previously, I saw birds come along and dig up the seeds I planted!! Once the seedlings come up, the birds leave them alone.

Linda Canada (University City): I use a colander with larger holes to sift soil when I am repotting.  I can get rid of unwanted small stones, bits of broken glass or pottery, and other items that I don't want to go into the new pot. PS - my husband, the cook in the family, is not fond of my use of his colander this way!

Carolyn Conway: I use a vinegar and dish soap solution to kill weeds in cracks.  Works as well as commercial products (for me) and a lot cheaper.  

Barbara Dunn: I use extra-long surgical tweezers to remove weeds from my cactus plants. 

Marilyn Wilson: Marilyn Wilson once gave a garden club talk on this very subject.  She uses old electrical cords and cable TV coax to tie up spreading perennials.  Use the big twist-ties from broccoli bundles to anchor branches to a trellis.  Black Magic Markers cover labels on old plant pots that have new plants in them (for the garden club plant sale) and miniblinds can be cut into plant tags.  You can use several rubber wastebaskets for peat moss, worm castings and short-term green waste storage.  Desenex will fix fungus in between leaf bases.  Cream cheese containers are used for starting seedlings, kitty litter pans are good for mixing potting soil.  Chopsticks prop up droopy young plants, old steak knives and serrated bread knives divide perennials.

BJ Boland: I use stainless bar-b-que tongs to catch snails. The tool resides on my potting bench, not in my kitchen. Yuck.

Roxanne Kim-Perez (92129): I use broken household items that are worthy of keeping as my gardening tools and decoration.

I use household items such as broken, chipped, or cracked dishes for the container pot drainage saucer, broken handle knife to cut the plants, cracked, and missing lid teapot for a container garden. Cracked bottom works as drainage, slightly chipped large punch bowl as a tabletop centerpiece. Just hide or cover the broken area with plants and no one will know.  

I also use a grapefruit spoon to raking soil when I make a fairy garden.  Chopsticks to make a hole or insert plants, serving spoon to scoop soil, fork to separate plant roots. I even use a portable BBQ grill for the herb container garden. 

Photo credit: Cathy Tylka.
Can you spot the charcoal grill planter beneath Cathy Tylka’s Bilbergia?

Cathy Tylka (Escondido): I had an old charcoal grill, now very defunct, as the planter for my Bilbergia - the plant completely obliterates it and the legs have rotted off! Also, an old stained-glass window is hung from the tree to catch the light and probably everyone has taken some pottery or old iron out to the yard to add to your arrangements.

Photo credit: Cathy Tylka.
A stained-glass window catches the light in Cathy Tylka’s garden.


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