More peas
Pea seedlings with plastic bottle collars, on the Organic Allotment at Garden Organic Ryton

Plastic bottles are everywhere these days, even floating around in the oceans. Fortunately for the environment, recycling facilities are improving (here in the UK at least) but a lot of plastic bottles still end up in landfill, where they just don’t break down. If you would like to give your plastic bottles a new lease of life once they’re empty, and save money too, then try recycling them into something useful for the garden.

The most obvious choice when it comes to reusing a plastic bottle is simply to refill it, and use it as a watering can or to make and store liquid plant feeds – but to avoid accidents never store something toxic in a bottle that used to hold a drinkable liquid. A plastic bottle is also a great place to store materials that need to stay dry, such as soap flakes and bran.

Cutting your plastic bottles into sections gives you far more recycling options. The bottom half can be made into a plant pot, and the top half can be put to use as a mini cloche complete with its own ventilation system – you can leave the cap on or take it off! And the top half of a bottle, pushed into the soil with the neck downwards, can be used to guide water down to the root zone and keep plants happy while reducing your watering burden.

The top half also makes a very handy impromptu funnel (as useful indoors as outside), and if you cut the bottom off a large plastic milk bottle (leaving the handle intact and the cap on) then you have a very ergonomically-friendly scoop for your compost.

Looking at the wildlife in the garden, plastic bottles can come in handy to help friendly creatures and as deterrents against pests. A bottom section can be used as a slug pub to attract these slimy creatures away from your lettuces towards a beery death, but remember to leave the rim above the soil surface to avoid creating a pit fall for helpful beetles. Bottle sections can be used as slug collars to protect vulnerable plants. And if you take a whole bottle, cut slits in the side and bend sections out to form wings then you have a bird scarer. Pop it onto a cane and the bottle will catch the wind and spin round.

To encourage beneficial lacewings, try turning a bottle into a hibernation chamber. Cut the bottom off a bottle, roll up a section of corrugated cardboard and stuff it inside. Hang the bottle outside (with the opening downwards) in the autumn and take it into the shed before the first frosts. Bring it out in spring and you’ll have a population of lacewings ready and willing to eat those early aphids.

With a little ingenuity you can also turn a bottle into a bird feeder. You could fashion a tray to hang underneath and catch the seed, and make a perch for the birds. A simpler version hangs by the neck and has a large opening cut into the side for the birds to nip in and get to the seed, but you may need to make a couple of drainage holes in the bottom as well.

Got a lot of bottles? Try these ideas too:

  • Cut your bottles into strips for home made plant labels.
  • Fill a set of matching bottles with water and use them as garden skittles.
  • Take on a really big project and make a plastic bottle greenhouse.