Seven Gardening Gifts No One Will Give Me

– Posted in: Tools and Equipment

Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and many retailers who normally don’t feature gardening products have potted flowering plants and other quasi-gardening gifts prominently displayed. I thought I’d take the opposite tack and share with you my favorite non-gardening garden “thingies.” Most of them don’t qualify as tools. Some of them, quite frankly, would look like garbage to most people, and I am always a bit anxious that some of my favorites might be thrown out by mistake.

Insulation Supports

I first learned about insulation supports from a tip in an early issue of Fine Gardening. These pieces of medium gauge wire all cut to the same length are excellent for pinning down recalcitrant soaker hoses, you know, those porous hoses made out of recycled tires. When you first get one of those hoses out of its package, it wants to coil back up on you. Bend one of these wires into a U-shape, turn the “U” upside down and pin the hose down wherever it wants to wriggle out of your intended layout. They are also good for pegging permanent id labels into the soil.

Flagging Tape

Image of a roll of orange flagging tapeI use those insulation supports with orange flagging tape to mark certain plants that I might not find otherwise. These are usually trilliums that I have planted in the Secret Garden. Since they are planted among a lot of naturally growing vegetation, I am never quite sure where they are, but always quite anxious to know if they made it through another winter.

I also tie a big ribbon of this tape around the base of clumps of daffodils that need dividing. The best time to divide daffodils is shortly before the foliage disappears completely. This can be akin to playing chicken with the weather. One week the leaves are still there, but all it takes is a couple of days of hot, dry weather and the leaves go from yellow and limp to brown and crispy. They can be awfully hard to find in that condition amongst lustily growing perennials, but the flagging tape will draw your eye to the fast-disappearing bulbs.

The tape is also good for marking new trails in the woods. Tie some around the trunk of a tree at eye level. Tie a bow and put the bow on the side of the tree that you want the path to take. Tie the next one within sight distance of the previous one. Continue marking the trail in that fashion until the end. You and your helpers will have a better idea of where the brush should be cleared with those visual guides in place. And if you tie the same kind of bow as you do your shoelaces, a simple tug should release the tape when it’s no longer needed.

Tent Pegs

Image of a package of yellow plastic tent pegsReplacement tent pegs are another useful marking device. Last spring, I decided I needed a row of Glory-of-the-Snow sandwiched in between some miniature daffodils and some pink multiflora hyacinths. I used these bright tent pegs pushed almost all the way into the soil to mark the beginning and end of the row, and was able to plant the chionodoxa last fall without disturbing the other bulbs.

I also mark certain plants that are late to emerge in the spring. The presence of a tent peg warns me that I better not dig there, even if I can’t remember what’s planted there. Once the slow-starter is up, I pull the tent peg.

These tent pegs also come in handy when you need to mark a straight line such as for a path or a border edge. Place them at strategic points and run string from peg to peg as a guide for your spade to follow. Check in the sporting goods department of your favorite discount store for these.

Baby Spoon

Image of two baby food spoons in potting soilA very small spoon with a long handle, the kind that is used to feed babies their first pureed vegetables, makes a wonderful miniature trowel for potting on delicate seedlings. It can scoop up the little root ball without disturbing the other seedlings in the pot, and the back of the spoon can tamp the soil around the newly transplanted baby. Try to avoid the kind with the “safety” coating, pictured on top, as it’s not nearly as effective.

Grated Cheese Container

Image of a container formerly used to dispense grated cheeseHard cheeses such as Parmesan are often sold pre-grated in 8 ounce containers such the one pictured. Fill it part way with sandbox sand (which is whiter than builder’s sand) as I have done here, and then mix in seed that you want to broadcast in a random fashion, such as peony-flowered poppies. The lid to this container has holes that allow you to shake the seed out in a somewhat controlled fashion, and the whiteness of the sand against the dark earth enables you to see where you have already sprinkled it. To get one of these, you have to buy the pre-grated cheese, or know someone who does, and ask them to save you their empty container.

Empty feed bag

Image of woven plastic sackImage of texture of feed bagI keep an empty feed bag with my trowel to use a mini tarp. When I am digging a small hole I like to pile the dirt on the feed bag. This makes it easier to get all the dirt back in the hole around the roots of the newly planted start. If you click on the image on the right, you will see that these feed bags are made of woven strips of plastic. Any similar bag or sack will do. I have seen black oil sunflower seeds sold in the same kind of sacks.

Plywood scrap

Image of plywood rectangleWhen planting a newly tilled garden bed, the last thing you want is to step on the soil and pack down the earth you just worked so hard to loosen up. A small board to stand on is a time-honored way to avoid this. This plywood scrap measures 21″ (53 cm) by 13.5″ (34 cm), the perfect length to fit between the wheels of my tool cart. If I didn’t keep it with the rest of my garden tools, another member of the family would soon find their own use for it. You can’t be too careful; someone is always ready to steal or throw out your favorite junk.

One Person’s Junk is a Gardener’s Treasure

As you can see, there’s a reason why no one would give me these things. I wasn’t kidding: some of these things really are trash under normal circumstances, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss your chance to acquire a useful garden accessory. As for the things that can be bought, none of them would be a suitable gardening gift for one of the official gift-giving occasions. However, under more informal circumstances they can still be used to show how thoughtful you are. It’s all in the presentation. For example, don’t ever think insulation supports would make a good birthday gift. (Well, maybe a gag gift.) But if you come home from a round of errands and say, “You know how you’ve been having so much trouble getting that soaker hose to lay flat? Well, I happened to see these when I was in the hardware store, and thought they might be useful for pinning the hose down.” Score! You have just demonstrated to your favorite gardener that you are both ingenious and thoughtful. And you didn’t even have to wrap it!

Tell me about your favorite junk

What incredibly useful junk do you have in your garden shed? What common (or not so common) item have you put to better use in the garden? Come out of the closet with your favorites, and share them in the comments.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Spotty Boxes July 11, 2008, 4:33 am

I use old newspaper to make seedling pots for my chillies. Wrap the paper round a paper plant pot maker and you have a biodegradeable seedling pot.

Works a treat!

magpie June 2, 2008, 10:35 pm

Spare table knives – good for making little slits to drop a seed into.

Nori Lane Bishop May 31, 2008, 7:13 pm

One of the best “tools” when digging a number of plants for dividing or moving, and you don’t want to bother potting them up because they’re going to go right back in somewhere, is a plastic sled, the kind sold everywhere for probably still less than $10. They’re shallow enough to accomodate large plants, etc., but the inch-and-a-half or so depth will hold enough water to keep them from being traumatized in the handling.

Charlotte May 30, 2008, 5:15 pm

I use those tongue-depressor shaped craft sticks from the dollar store for plant labels. Write the name on with a sharpie, and by the end of the season they can go in the compost.

Dee/ May 18, 2008, 3:54 pm

Pantyhose, but everyone does that.

Tent pegs are a great idea, as was this post. I asked for and got stepping stones for my wedding anniversary/Mother’s Day. That’s my tip. Schedule two holidays close together, but not on the same day. I combine for stuff I actually want.~~Dee

commonweeder May 17, 2008, 11:01 am

These are wonderful lists. Kathy, thank you for getting us all started. I use newspapers and cardboard as weed barriers under straw, but I am going out to rummage through the shed to re-outfit my tool collection. I’ve got an old colander too – and have been thinking about compost tea. I was demonstrating container planting at a Senior Center last week and one of the participants told me that she uses the little plastic six packs and tiny pots (empty ones) that she knows she’ll never use to take up space without weight in large planters. A great suggestion.

Diana Kirby May 15, 2008, 11:29 pm

My most useful non-gardening garden supply is bread twist-ties. Just used a fistful of them to put up chicken wire to deter the baby bunnies nesting in our back yard within sight of the veggie garden!

Vera May 14, 2008, 10:18 am

Packing peanuts work great for the 1/3 bottom fill of a new raised bed to help drainage, just have a slowly running hose handy on windy days:,cut up plastic pots from starter sets, shipping crates of plugs / white foam board into smaller chunks and use them on the bottom of your bed instead of small rocks. Reuse, recycle, repurpose. Happy Gardening!

Ann May 13, 2008, 4:03 pm

This is just a brilliant list! Thank you!

vertie May 13, 2008, 10:13 am

Great ideas! I use plastic zip ties to secure my trellis to the t-bars and to keep the bamboo together in my bean tepees.

tedb May 12, 2008, 11:26 pm

I have a seemingly unlimited supply of empty feed sacks (thanks horses!). I’ve been thinking about making hot caps for tomatoes and such with them. Open at the top and roll it down a bit and put over tender plants on the chilly nights we’ve had recently. They might also end up as a vapor barrier on the greenhouse I hope to build. Who knows


Robin at Bumblebee May 12, 2008, 7:46 pm

Okay, I’m probably not so innovative when it comes to re-using junk. I clear out/clean out constantly, so we don’t keep much around. But newspapers. Man, I love newspapers. We subscribe to THREE dailies! And we use them too. Under mulch. Constructed as seed pots. Shredded into the mulch. I adore newspapers…and not just to read!

Robin at Bumblebee

Bonnie May 12, 2008, 4:58 pm

Great tips. I use an old tool belt of my husbands and just tuck my trowel, claw and clippers into the tool pockets. I use another pocket for the cordless phone and the last one to tuck weeds into as I get them out of the ground.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens May 12, 2008, 3:31 pm

I’ve put packing peanuts in mesh bags and used them as filler in the bottom of big pots. Then you don’t have to use as much potting soil to fill them.

I also by those little wooden ice cream spoons at the craft store and use them as plant tags for my indoor seedlings.

Muum May 12, 2008, 11:40 am

These are some great ideas, My latest need is for newspapers! I am using them as mulch/weed barrier in my veggie garden — tried it w/ the tomatoes last year and it worked well – 5/6 layers of paper, overlapped, with mulch on top between the rows keeps the weeding down to a minimum, lets the water in. Now I need to get more papers from my friends. I thought I had saved enough, but I have quite a bit more of the garden to ‘paper’.

vonlafin May 12, 2008, 12:48 am

I use the small plastic containers that film comes in, and insert the name of the plant on a tag, and bury it next to the plant. Then, if I lose track of the plant name, I always know, as a last resort, that it is buried somewhere around it.

Linda MacPhee-Cobb May 11, 2008, 9:51 pm

I’ve never heard of the plastic forks keeping squirrels away.

Do you just lay them on the soil or stick them in upright?

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 11, 2008, 8:19 pm

I’m another user of golf tees – mine mark where my minor bulbs are so I don’t dig them up in summer or fall when I’m moving things around. I sometimes surround newly planted things with clear plastic forks to discourage the squirrels from digging in the fresh soil. I’ve started using old cream cheese tubs with holes poked in the lid as earwig traps.

Benjamin May 11, 2008, 12:04 pm

I like to keep the pots my plants came in, especially the larger ones. Great for mixing dirt, or emptying holes; one pot had gravelly / sandy soil in it, another more rich soil, for example. But yes, twist ties, small stakes, any and all rope and string–I even have a pallet my stone steppers came on that I string up in winter to shelter the Japanese maple from wind a bit. Too much junk!

Lori May 10, 2008, 2:49 pm

Ooh, I’m definitely going to use that grated cheese container idea. 🙂

layanee May 10, 2008, 7:55 am

I have used colored golf tees for marking items to move which reminds me I am all out! I also save some of those poly bags that hold compost or fertilizer to kneel on on wet days. Love your tips and will add them to my aresenal!

Kathy Purdy May 9, 2008, 9:50 pm

Ah, Craig, we keep a whole bushel basket of pieces of wire, and we attached the chicken wire to the posts of our entire chicken yard with that wire!

Brenda, happy Mother’s Day to you! A whole bunch of gifts no one had to buy you!

Deb, most of our colanders have lost their feet. Now I have a good reason to retire one of them.

Ellis Hollow May 9, 2008, 9:19 pm

I use the plywood scrap on top of the garden cart to make a portable potting bench/work bench:

Bread bag twisties are great for attaching deer fencing to rebar posts. (Top half of the veggie garden fence.) Baling wire is always handy, for example, for attaching chicken wire to posts. (Bottom half of the veggie garden fence.)

Cardboard for mulching down new beds.

And you can drop off your old bowling balls here for garden ornaments.

I’ve got a shed full of packing peanuts. Anyone found any way to use them?

deb May 9, 2008, 6:12 pm

What a bunch of great ideas. Thanks. I keep a beat up collander in the potting bench to strain compost tea and other liquids.

Brenda May 9, 2008, 5:07 pm

BAHAHAHA These are great tips! I happen to have old tent stakes we never threw out and baby spoons I still have in the drawer though my youngest is 8 now. I have been using one of my daughters plastic teapots to water seedlings, and it works great! This weekend I will have to gather up all the things you mentioned!