Uncommon Tools of the Trade

Mini blinds, binder clips, pantyhose, milk jugs, cotton sheets, window screen, and diapers – read on to see what these items have in common.

Winter is normally the time when gardeners take stock of their tools – cleaning, sharpening, repairing or replacing their shovels, trowels, and pruners in preparation for spring.   I certainly have my share of traditional garden tools, but in today’s post I want to tell you about items that I use in the garden that maybe you hadn’t considered.  Some of these you might even have thrown away not realizing their repurposed value in your garden.

Mini Blinds:  Old mini blinds make good plant tags for pots.   They are easy to trim to size, take permanent marker well, and hold up outside.  You can find them in thrift stores or Habitat for Humanity ReStores for super cheap, especially considering how many tags you can get out of each set.

Binder Clips:  The black chunky clips that hold together big stacks of paper in my office have a place in my garden too.   The jumbo ones spread about an inch wide and are useful for securing “stuff” as long as you don’t mind if they get a bit rusty in the weather.   Binder clips secured the sheets I used to cover my pots during the last freeze as well as the ties I use for staking.

Pantyhose:  And since we’re talking about staking, the ONLY reason I have pantyhose around is because it’s useful for plant ties.

Milk Jugs and other plastic containers:  If you want to try growing plants from seeds, then plastic milk jugs and containers like 2-liter soda bottles and clamshell-style bakery trays can be used to make mini greenhouses.  You need a container that can hold at least 3 inches of soil for direct sowing.  However, shallower containers with domed lids can hold those expandable peat pellets used for starting seeds.  You will need to add drainage holes in containers that you direct sow seeds and also be able to vent your “greenhouse” to keep it from overheating on sunny days.  More details about “winter sowing” can be found here.

Old cotton sheets:  Fact of life in North Texas, freezes happen – on average about 30 days each winter season (although the past few years have been warmer than usual).   If you garden year-round like I do, then you need to be prepared to cover tender plants.  You could buy “floating row cover” OR use old cotton flannel sheets for protection from frost damage.   In my experience, 100% cotton (which breathes) works better than blends or microfiber.  Sheets can also act as tarps to lay down under trees and shrubs when pruning to make clean up easier.

Window Screen:  Salvage an old window screen or for less than $10 buy a roll and you will have a big supply of material to cover the drainage holes in your containers (and your neighbors’ too!).  I do a lot of container planting and have tried rocks, broken terracotta pot chips, and even coffee filters.  Nothing works as good as plain old window screen.  The soil is retained but water still freely drains, which is not always the case with coffee filters (as I’ve learned the hard way).

Diapers:  Speaking of container gardening – got diapers?  Their absorbent material consists primarily of the hydrogel crystals used to increase the moisture retention in potting soil.   I don’t know if I would buy diapers just for the hydrogel, but if you have extras that would be a better deal than buying a pricey container of hydrogel.

What items have you discovered a use for in your garden?

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