Garden Twine Is Essential for Sustainability—Here's How I Use It

Swapping plastic twine for a natural alternative is a small change you can make.

Two fresh, new, clean terracotta pots in a garden, in front of a fence. A plant, string, and various other gardening equipment in the foreground.

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In the pursuit to garden in the most sustainable way, I avoid using plastic when I can and opt for natural, eco-friendly solutions. While there are big steps people can take to keep their garden plastic-free, one example of small, effortless changes is when it comes to garden twine. Many gardeners simply grab the nearest plastic twine without really thinking about it—after all, it's a less obvious contributor to plastic than other garden tools and materials. But I try to avoid using plastic twine and use natural twine instead. 

Natural Twine Options

I use two different solutions when looking for twine to use in my garden: natural hemp twine and a DIY solution.

The first option, which I use for larger projects when more twine is required, is natural hemp twine. Of all the natural materials—jute, sisal, cotton, wool, etc.—I find hemp twine to be the best from a sustainability standpoint. Fortunately, 100% natural hemp twine is relatively widely available, so it is a good alternative to plastic twine for many gardeners. 

For smaller projects, I do not actually buy in twine. Believe it or not, you can make small lengths of twine yourself at home using a common garden weed: stinging nettles.

Stinging nettles are very useful for textiles and can be processed and used to make a very fine fabric. But without any special skills or equipment, you can make shorter lengths of rough and rustic nettle twine very easily at home. 

How I Use Natural Twine in My Garden

I use longer lengths of natural flax/hemp twine for various functions. These include:

  • Create support structures for cordon tomatoes, peas, beans, and many other plants.
  • Tie together trellises or other structures made from natural branches and other natural or reclaimed materials. If you have kids, it can also be useful for natural garden dens.
  • Mark out new beds and borders.
  • Hang suspended containers to make the most of my space. 

Smaller lengths of home-made nettle twine can be used to:

  • Tie individual plants onto supports.
  • Hang onions, garlic, herbs, etc. to dry. 
  • To bundle produce or in wrapping homegrown produce to give away. 

Nettle twine can also be used for larger projects—it is just that it can take time to make longer lengths for bigger schemes. 

To make a rough and rustic nettle twine, here are some instructions:

  • Wearing some gloves, pick some long nettles (early to mid-summer is the best time to get some good long lengths). Look for nettles with long sections of straight stem between nodes, for the best quality fibers. 
  • Run down the stems, removing all the leaves and stinging hairs. After this point, you should no longer need any gloves.
  • Bash or crush the stems to break the outer layers apart, and remove the hard inner material. You will be left with the fibers, attached to the outer bark. 
  • Using a blunt butter knife, or another similar tool, scrape along the lengths of the fibers to scrape away some of the green stuff to reveal the white fibers. Don't worry about getting rid of all of this material. This is a rustic twine you are making, not a fine fabric.
  • Drape the material to dry, separating it into as many thin ribbons as possible. 
  • Once the nettle strands have dried, take your bundle and give it a rub between your hands to remove more of the bark material. Dampen the strands slightly so you can work with them.
  • Take two small sections from the bundles. These are the two strands you will use to make your twine. 
  • To make the twine, hold one end of both strands, and twist one clockwise, before passing it counter-clockwise under the other—twist over, pass under—repeating this process to form your thin piece of twine. 

If you would like to know more about using nettles in this way, check out Sally Pointer's videos on Youtube

Why I Use Flax/Hemp and Nettle Natural Twines

There are several reasons why I opt for the aforementioned twines. First and foremost, they're easy to grow. Organically grown flax/ hemp twine can be grown with no harmful pesticides or herbicides and without excessive water use. Nettle twine is even better, because it grows, literally, as a weed, without evening requiring land or resources for cultivation. 

It is available more locally to me than other bast fibers such as jute or sisal, which need much warmer temperatures to grow. I try to choose twines manufactured as close to home as possible when I am not making my own. Making my own reduces consumption, and reduces negative impact even more. 

What's more, flax/hemp twine has good tensile strength, it won't stretch. And it easily lasts through the gardening season. A rustic nettle twine is also sturdy and strong—perfectly strong enough to withstand many uses. I do not use it more because it takes time to make longer lengths of it. 

The twine I use is 100% biodegradable, and home compostable. Unlike plastic twine, it does not pose a waste problem at the end of its useful life. The flax/hemp twine will take longer to break down than many other materials, but along with the nettle twine, I chop it up into small pieces and add it to my composting system once it is no longer fit for use.