How to Garden With Less Plastic

CC BY 2.0. weathertation

For starters, skip the individual bags of compost and the plastic seedling pots.

Gardening is one of those soul-affirming, Earth-friendly activities that we're big fans of at TreeHugger. Growing your own food (and flowers) is the most effective way to shorten the path from field to table, and allows you to control all of the inputs, from the kinds of seeds you plant, to the soil quality, to the type of fertilizer and compost, to the presence of plastic.

Yes, plastic unfortunately plays a major role in gardening. Think of all the little pots and trays in which seedlings come, the bags of compost, the tags and labels, the plastic-handled tools, and more. As useful as they seem in the moment, these are all unable to break down and contribute to the global plastic pollution crisis.

The good news is, it doesn't have to be like this. There are steps you can take to reduce gardening-related plastic, some of which are outlined below.

– When setting up a raised garden bed, rather than spreading the bottom with black plastic to smother weeds, use flattened cardboard or thick layers of newspaper.

– Order topsoil, compost, manure, and mulch in bulk from a local supplier that will deliver to your site. Use a wheelbarrow to transport loads as needed. This spares dozens of plastic bags from being used.

– Buy plastic-free tools. Look for ones with wooden handles and metal ends. Use a metal watering can, which won't go brittle and crack like a plastic one. Look for cotton canvas gardening gloves. Build a wooden compost bin. You can find lots of cool plastic-free tools at Lee Valley.

– Start your own seeds from paper packets. Use biodegradable seed cups or make your own from toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, or newspaper. You can also use a seed blocker or make seed balls. (More info on these methods here.) Beth Terry of My Plastic-Free Life also talks about Orta's plastic-free self-watering seed pots, which look interesting.

– If you have to buy seedlings, see if a local greenhouse will start seedlings in wooden flats, then cut the plants out and wrap them in newspaper for customers. If not, ask if you can transplant from their container to your own non-plastic one before taking them home. If you must accept plastic containers, return them to the gardening center afterward, so they can be reused. Always look for containers made from recycled plastic.

– Ask suppliers about their packaging. When ordering bare-root shrubs, roses, trees, hedging, and more, inquire whether they come wrapped in plastic or paper.

– Skip the plastic hose and install an outdoor water tap or spigot. Use a metal watering can or bucket and ladle to water your garden beds if they're not too extensive.

– Avoid plastic-coated trellises for plants like tomatoes, peas, and beans. Buy uncoated metal cages, wooden stakes, or concrete reinforcing wire.

– Make your own plant markers from popsicle sticks, wooden craft sticks, or write on the backs of old plastic ones that you might have kicking around.

– Start your own seed bank by storing seeds for later planting in glass jars.

Please share any thoughts or suggestions on plastic-free gardening in the comments below.