20 Gardening Hacks to Help You Get Growing, Approved by Experts

Biodegradable homemade seedling pots

t sableaux / Getty Images

The is no shortage of gardening hacks online. If taken seriously, these hacks supposedly perform miracles in feeding your plants (banana water or sugar water anyone?), getting rid of pests, or halting weeds. But often, these homemade concoctions do more harm than good. 

However, there are gardening hacks that do work. Here’s a list of proven gardening hacks—tricks, shortcuts, and creative methods—that make gardening easier, more productive, and more efficient. As a bonus, many of them reuse or repurpose items and materials that you likely already have on hand.

  • 01 of 20

    Protect Seeds with Old Window Screens

    Starting seeds with screen overtop.

    Courtesy of Nadia Hassani

    When you start seeds outdoors, you may get disappointing germination rates. The seeds often simply disappeared because birds pick them out, especially during winter sowing when food is scarce.

    To protect the seeds, place an old window screen (with or without the frame) over the seed trays or pots. Secure the screen by weighing it down on all four corners with rocks, bricks, or other heavy objects. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the screen so it does not obstruct the seedlings.

  • 02 of 20

    Repurpose Your Hydro Garden for Seed Starting

    Ebb and flow hydroponic system filled with plants and clay growing medium

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    If you have a hydroponic garden, remove the water-holding bowl and grow deck and take advantage of the full-spectrum LED grow lights to start your vegetable seeds indoors. Place the seed pots under the lights (if the garden has a timer, set it for at least 8 hours per day). As the seedlings emerge, adjust the grow lights to 3 to 4 inches above the tops of the plants to get straight, strong seedlings.

  • 03 of 20

    Make Your Own Biodegradable Seed Pots

    Seedings in egg carton

    Helin Loik-Tomson / Getty Images

    Make no-cost biodegradable seed starting pots using toilet or paper towel tubes cut into 2-inch lengths or paper egg cartons. Place the tubes or egg cartons on a waterproof tray and fill them with potting mix. Plant your seeds and water often to prevent the medium from drying out.

    Once the seedlings are ready to be transplanted, plant the entire tube or egg carton section in the garden. Make sure that no part of the tube or carton sticks out of the soil causing moisture to be drawn away from the plant.

  • 04 of 20

    Convert a Storage Container into a Greenhouse

    Greenhouse made in old Rubbermaid container.

    Courtesy of Nadia Hassani

    A large rectangular clear plastic storage container with a latching lid turned upside down, makes a great outdoor greenhouse.

    • Choose a container that is large enough to fit a seedling tray or plug tray (24”x16”x7”) and drill a couple of ¼-inch holes on each side for ventilation.
    • Place the seedling tray on the lid and the storage bin on top.
    • Snap the latch shut so it does not blow away in the wind.

    As daytime temperatures get warmer, unlatch the cover and leave the container askew so the inside of the “greenhouse” does not heat up too much. When the seedlings have nearly reached the top of the container, remove the top so you don’t obstruct their growth.

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Use Barbecue Skewers as Row Markers

    Wooden skewers

    Martin Harvey / Getty Images

    There is no need to buy special row markers for vegetable plantings. Inexpensive wooden or bamboo barbecue skewers, sold in 100-count bags, work just as well, and they are biodegradable.

    To label the row, poke a deep hole into a wine cork and insert the top of the skewer. Write the name of the plants on the cork with a permanent marker and insert the skewers in the soil about one-third of their length.

  • 06 of 20

    Protect Young Seedlings with Sections of Pipe

    Even if you properly harden off your seedlings, exposing them to the elements 24/7 in your garden can be tough on the tender plants. To provide some protection from the sun and wind until the plant is established, cut a 4-inch PVC pipe into 5-inch sections. Gently push the pipe into the soil so it does not fall over. You can also use 4-inch plastic pots with the bottoms cut out around each seedling.

  • 07 of 20

    Make a Pea Trellis from Pruned Branches

    Pea trellis

    Olga Evtushkova / Getty Images

    In the spring or late winter when you prune dormant shrubs and trees, collect any branches up to 1 inch in diameter and at least 18 inches long to make a natural, pretty, and no-cost pea trellis. The branches don’t need to be straight, they can be twisted but branches with lateral growth are best, as they give the pea tendrils lots of places to latch onto.

    Push the branches into the soil deep enough so they don’t wiggle. Place them close together so the branches form a wall and trim any side branches that are sticking out. Plant your pea seeds close to the base of the trellis.

  • 08 of 20

    Place Cardboard Around Tomato Plants

    Cardboard for tomato plants

    moisseyev / Getty Images

    The roots of tomato plants are close to the soil surface, so the more you weed around them, the likelier it is that the roots will get injured in the process. Covering the soil around tomato plants with large pieces of (mainly) unprinted, corrugated brown cardboard keeps weeds out and retains soil moisture. It also helps with a thorough fall cleanup (which is important so you don’t perpetuate any diseases)—all you’ll need to do is roll up the cardboard with any plant debris on it and discard it.

    • Place the cardboard on the soil and cut a hole where you want to plant the tomato. The diameter of the hole depends on the seedling size, about 4 inches in diameter will slip over the root ball of most tomato seedlings.
    • Secure the cardboard with rocks, bricks, or heavy-duty landscape fabric anchor pins.
    • Water the tomatoes at the base through the hole.
    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Build a High Tunnel with Yard Sign Stakes

    Floating row covers are an effective way to keep pests away from plants, but they don’t give them much room for tall plants. This is where old yard sign stakes get their moment to shine—use them to build a small high tunnel with a floating row cover. Yard sign stakes with a bar across the top work best.

    Place a yard sign stake on either side of the plant(s) you need to protect (or one every two feet for a long row). Push it into the ground until it does not move. Place the floating row cover over the yard sign stakes and down the sides so no insects can get inside. Secure the floating row cover with heavy-duty landscape fabric anchor pins.

    For vegetables that rely on insects for pollination, the row cover needs to be removed once the plants start blooming.

  • 10 of 20

    Keep Melons and Winter Squash off the Ground


    Malcolm P Chapman / Getty Images

    Especially in wet weather, leaving melons and winter squashes sitting directly on the soil can lead to rotting. Prevent rot by carefully picking up the fruit along with the attached vine before it reaches its full size and placing it on large tiles, flat rocks, or old dinner plates turned over. Use more than one piece of support if the fruit is large.

  • 11 of 20

    Make Stretchy Plant Ties

    Tomato tie

    JudiParkinson / Getty Images

    Old T-shirts, stretchy fabrics, or old nylon stockings make the best plant ties because, unlike zip ties, they are flexible and soft and don’t cut into the plant.

    • Cut the fabric to the desired length. The width depends on how strong you need the tie to be. A tie that is used to attach a tomato plant to a stake must support considerable weight, so it needs to be wider than a thin tie used to guide a vine or a climbing rose towards a trellis.
    • Wrap the strip around the stem, cross it over on itself, and loosely tie it to the support. This figure-eight tied reduces the chance of stem injury from the stem and support rubbing against each other.
    • Tie loosely to allow the plant to move and grow.
  • 12 of 20

    Cover Shallow Garden Beds with Plastic

    Black plastic sheet

    brizmaker / Getty Images

    To minimize weeds and soil loss, cover any garden beds that are not in use with rolled black agricultural plastic sheeting. Sturdy polyethylene 6-mil plastic is less likely to tear and can be reused for several seasons. Secure the sheets with rocks or heavy-duty landscape fabric anchor pins.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Sift Soil with an Old Salad Spinner

    Root vegetables don’t grow well in rocky soil, and sometimes, you need to prep a garden bed before you can plant. Instead of painstakingly picking through the soil, the colander of an old salad spinner or s wire basket comes in handy to sift soil and get rid of large rocks.

  • 14 of 20

    Bury Plants in Containers to Contain Root Growth

    Burying plant container in the ground

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    For plants that you don’t want to take over your garden, such as mint, leave them in their container and bury them fully in the ground. If you want to prevent plant roots from growing in one direction into a wall or a foundation, bury them in the container as described but cut the container open on the side where root growth will not pose a problem.

  • 15 of 20

    Paint Handles of Hand Tools with Neon Color

    Gardening hand tools

    Daria Buti / 500px / Getty Images

    As you work in the yard, it’s easy to lose track of small hand tools such as pruners. Paint the handles neon yellow, pink, or orange. That way they stand out and are much easier to find.

  • 16 of 20

    Partially Fill Pots with Leaves or Mulch

    To save potting mix and improve the drainage of container plants, fill the bottom one-quarter to one-third of pots with dried leaves or hardwood mulch. This also cuts down on the weight, which is an issue with large planters. For plants with deep roots, like purple coneflower, use less filler material than for plants with shallow roots, such as hydrangeas.

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    Create an Insulating Silo for Potted Plants

    The roots of potted plants can get hot during the summer when the sun hits the container, regardless of the material. This heat buildup stunts growth and it can kill the plant when temperatures reach 96 degrees F and above.

    To insulate the roots, place the container in a second pot at least 2 inches larger in diameter (this pot can be more decorative). Fill the space with gravel or wood mulch. Adding this extra layer of insulation helps plants survive in hot summer weather and provides an extra layer of root protection for container plants that can overwinter outdoors.

  • 18 of 20

    Use Painted Rocks to Mark Plantings

    Painted stones

    Mercedes Rancaño Otero / Getty Images

    Put a splash of bright acrylic paint and a descriptive word or two on a rock, brick, or scrap piece of lumber and place it near bulbs or perennials planted in the fall. This helps you remember and locate the spot in the spring, and you won’t disturb, or worse, accidentally remove, the plant when you weed before the new growth emerges.

  • 19 of 20

    Secure Newly Planted Shrubs and Trees with Rocks

    Young tree weighed down by rocks.

    Courtesy of Nadia Hassani

    After planting a tree or a shrub, place three large, heavy rocks around the base, about 2 inches from the trunk. Make sure the rocks don’t touch the trunk. The weight of the rocks stabilizes the roots, so they won’t get dislodged when the tree sways in the wind.

    This method also prevents frost heave, which occurs during repeated cycles of freezing and thawing in the winter pushing the roots out of the soil, exposing them to cold temperatures and desiccating winds, and potentially damaging or killing the plant. Leave the rocks in place for at least two growing seasons to give the root system time to get established.

  • 20 of 20

    Use a Wooden Board to Help Edge a Space

    Edging with a wooden board

    beekeepx / Getty Images

    To edge a lawn or garden bed, place a wooden board (2”x6“ or a similar size, reused is fine) on the ground. Hold it in place with one foot and drive a spade along the board’s edge. For small spaces, you can also cut along the board with a soil knife. Move the board as needed.

Article Sources
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  1. Protecting Trees and Shrubs in Winter. University of Minnesota Extension.