Don't Recycle Packaging - Reuse It In Your Garden!

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Cardboard boxes in the garden

Online shopping is undoubtedly convenient, but what about all that packaging?! Fortunately, there are many ways you can reuse it in the garden. Don’t throw any of it away before watching this video, because it can all be put to good use!

Repurpose Packing Materials

Many items come wrapped in protective materials – from scrunched up paper to bubblewrap – and these can be incredibly useful in the garden.

Bubblewrap for Plant Protection

Bubblewrap is very effective at trapping air, making it a great material to use for insulation. As the light can pass through, it’s very suitable for use around plants. Wrap cold-sensitive plants in a few layers of bubblewrap to keep them snug as temperatures dip.

Forget double glazing: use bubble glazing! Secure it to the frame of your greenhouse or cold frame to help trap warmth in the gap between. The bigger the bubbles, the more effective it’ll be at trapping warmth. Or use it as an insulated blanket for seedling trays within the greenhouse.

Use old packing materials to create 'bubble' glazing for your greenhouse!

Polystyrene Insulation

Like bubble wrap, polystyrene has excellent insulating properties. Use sheets of polystyrene to insulate sheds and outbuildings by securing it to the ceiling and walls, or use polystyrene packaging like fish boxes to create a temporary, portable cold frame to house delicate seedlings.

Ways to Reuse Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts are really difficult to recycle and, although these are increasingly being replaced by biodegradeable versions that will dissolve in water, the Styrofoam ones are still often sent.

Put a box inside a larger box and fill the gap with the packing peanuts to insulate seedlings near a window.

If you need to knock in a few nails when repairing a garden shed or fence, instead of using your fingers to hold the nail (easy to miss – ouch!) put the nail through the packing peanut, hold that and then hammer it in!

They can also be used as protective guards for the edges of sharp blades when storing them.

Reuse envelopes to create your own seed packets

Paper, Envelopes and Desiccants

Brown paper is ideal for wrapping up produce such as apples. Individually wrapped fruits or roots reduce the risk of in-store rots spreading, keeping more of your hard-won harvests in good condition for longer.

Envelopes are great for storing seeds. You can cut down larger envelopes to make smaller packets. Padded envelopes provide both insulation and protection for your seeds. And save those little sachets of silica gel you often find in amongst the packaging. Their job is to suck up moisture to keep conditions nice and dry, so drop one of those in with your seeds and you’ll keep them fresher for longer. I also like to keep a few loose in my seed storage box.

Think Outside the Box

Almost everything arrives in a box which means lots and lots of cardboard. The really great news is that cardboard is incredibly useful in the garden, so much so that I save every scrap of cardboard to reuse. Reusing packaging of any kind is an environmentally savvy thing to do, and has the potential to save you money too – now we’re talking!

Cardboard Weed Barrier

Cardboard is made from plant fibers, which naturally biodegrade, but only after several weeks. We can use this to our advantage by deploying cardboard to cover over weeds to exhaust them into submission!

Sheets of cardboard do a great job of suppressing weeds

Only ever use plain cardboard in the garden because anything with a glossy coating may introduce unwanted plastics, which we definitely don’t want. Many boxes are now sealed with biodegradable tape, which can be left attached, but if there’s any sticky tape just peel it off before using. You’ll also need to remove any staples.

Flatten out your cardboard to line new paths. It will deprive weeds of light, enabling soil, compost or woodchips to be laid on top without fear of vigorous weed growth bursting through. Generously overlap the cardboard so there no gaps and, if you have lots of cardboard, consider a double layer for extra peace of mind. Bear in mind that both the cardboard and mulch used to cover paths will need to be replaced from time to time as it rots down into the soil.

You can also use cardboard to cover soil for new fruit beds, held in place with a thick layer of organic matter like woodchip mulch. To plant into it, push aside the mulch and cut and fold back the cardboard to create individual planting holes. Once the cardboard has rotted down it will add organic matter to the soil, contributing to its structure and the soil life within it.

Tubers like these dahlias and root crops can be stored safely in cardboard boxes

Breathable Storage Boxes for Roots

Left intact, cardboard boxes are an excellent breathable storage option for the likes of onions, potatoes, and other root vegetables. Store produce-laden boxes somewhere cool and well-ventilated, and keep them up off the ground, out of reach of vermin.

Combine boxes with polystyrene packaging and you have a superbly insulated solution for overwintering frost-sensitive bulbs and tubers such as dahlia. If you don’t have any polystyrene but still want that same insulating effect, nestle a box inside a larger box then fill the gap between them with bubblewrap, scrunched up paper, or the natural sheep’s wool insulation that some deliveries come with.

Cardboard adds valuable browns to the compost heap

Food for the Compost Heap

Cardboard also makes an excellent carbon-rich addition to the compost heap, helping to balance out fresher, ‘green’ (nitrogen-rich) materials such as grass clippings. Tear it into smaller pieces before adding it. This is especially useful during the growing season, when ‘brown’ (carbon-rich) materials can be harder to come by. Keep a stash of cardboard to hand near the compost heap and you’ll never go short of browns.

If you can’t save enough cardboard, ask friends and neighbours to save theirs for you. Consumerism may not be great for the environment, but we can at least give something back to the earth – quite literally in this case!

Combat Pests with Cardboard

Cabbage collars fit around the base of cabbage-family crops to prevent pests such as cabbage maggots from laying their eggs in the soil around them. You could buy cabbage collars – or you could make our own.

Keep maggots away from your cabbage family crops with circles of cardboard

Start by cutting cardboard into 6in (15cm) diameter circles. Make one cut from the outside to the centre, then a series of slits at the center in a star shape – this will ensure a snug fit around the stem.

Install the collar by slipping it snugly around the stem of the plant. As the plant grows the slits at the centre of the collar will open out, allowing the stem to expand. This works not just for cabbages but any related veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. It’s a simple trick to ward off those maggots and will even keep weeds around young plants in check as they establish.

Corrugated cardboard in a plastic bottle makes a dry and cosy home for lacewing

Homes for Beneficial Bugs

Beneficial bugs like lacewings (which love nothing better than to feast on aphids and other pests) can make use of corrugated cardboard, which has lots of nooks and crannies to overwinter cosily in.

You’ll need a waterproof cylinder such as a bottomless plastic bottle to keep the cardboard dry. And then it’s just a matter of cutting the cardboard to size and rolling it up to stuff into the bottle.

Wedge it somewhere sheltered from the wind and up off the ground, such as within the branches of a tree with the entrance pointed slightly downwards so that rainwater doesn’t collect inside. You could, of course, use rolled up cardboard alongside other materials within an insect hotel to attract a variety of beneficial bugs. It’s important to clean out or replace the materials used in bug hotels every year to prevent a build-up of parasites and diseases.

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Show Comments


"Most of the bubble wrap that comes my way has a blue tint. Is this likely to screen out any desirable light wave lengths?"
Elaine on Wednesday 5 July 2023
"Hi Elaine. I would avoid using it as it may indeed screen out some of the desirable light wavelengths. "
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 25 July 2023

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