The noble art of recycling is one that sadly seems to be dying out. All too many people seem to prefer neatness over usefulness in their gardens. While we pat ourselves on the back for separating our household waste into general and recycling bins, we often forget that the most environmentally friendly form of recycling is repurposing items, including within our own gardens.
DIY Cold Frames and Cloches
When the first frosts are forecast, the sudden urgent need to protect those lovingly grown plants often results in a new gardener’s first foray into repurposing on the plot. Building your first home-made cold frame is almost a rite of passage for gardeners! The first thing to do is source your window, also known as the lid or light. This should be made of glass or tough plastic. Old windows and shower doors are classic subjects for this project, ideally with hinges and handles so you can easily open up and ventilate the frame on sunny days. Flex your DIY muscles and add these if your chosen lid doesn’t already have them!
Wood is usually the best material to build the frame out of, since it’s readily available and is easy to cut to the required size using hand tools. If you’re lucky enough to find scraps of hardwood then use this, as it will last longer than softwood. Avoid old wood that’s been treated with creosote or similar non-earth-friendly products, especially if you’ll be positioning the cold frame directly on the soil. The wood can always be painted with a non-toxic paint if you’re worried about it looking scruffy.
For those of us with limited time and/or DIY skills, it’s a simple matter to reuse old clear plastic boxes of all types to make temporary mini cloches for seedlings and small plants. Fruit punnets, juice bottles cut in half, and old clear storage boxes all work well. I often buy fat balls in large, sturdy clear tubs for the birds that visit my garden. The tubs are easily repurposed to cover small plants once the birds have been fed.
Recycled Row Covers
Larger sheets of clear plastic can be turned into a mini polytunnel for rows or blocks of plants. Before I got a greenhouse I reused the thick plastic that my mattress came in as a protective cover for a short row of tomato plants. I supported the plastic on canes with old tennis balls poked over the ends to stop the canes puncturing the plastic – not pretty, but it worked! You can use a similar method to help keep the frost off the blossom of dwarf fruit trees.
Mini polytunnels need a scaffold to hold them up of course. Hoops of old gas or water pipe work well, though they are a bit floppy so they do need to be reinforced to help them stand upright. Sliding them over short metal stakes or other sturdy uprights will do the job, or alternatively use rigid plastic pipe. Our video on making a row cover tunnel gives step-by-step directions. For single small plants, try using an upturned hanging basket frame covered with clear plastic.
If you only need to cover your plants at night to fend off the cold, then naturally it doesn’t matter whether the material you use is see-through or not. Any colour of thick plastic, old blankets, sheets or net curtains will provide some insulation.
Using Bubble Wrap to Protect Plants from Cold Weather
Heating a greenhouse is expensive, so to keep it frost-free double-glaze it with sheets of bubble wrap pegged to the inside of the panes. Yes, commercially available horticultural bubble wrap with bigger air bubbles does provide slightly better insulation and light penetration, but if you’ve got lots of old bubble wrap hanging about in your spare room, what better way to reuse it?
Alternatively (or additionally), loosely wrap individual plants within a greenhouse, polytunnel or cold frame with bubble wrap to further insulate them from the cold.
Protecting Plant Pots from Frost
Potted plants are particularly prone to having their roots freeze, and some terracotta pots can crack in frigid temperatures. Pop the pot into an old potato sack or tie cardboard, hessian/burlap, bubble wrap or old compost bags around pots. Stuff the gap between pot and wrapper with newspaper, bracken or straw to provide a thick layer of insulation that should ward off the worst of the chill. You can even slip one pot inside a larger pot, then fill the gap between the two with compost or straw.
I hope these ideas have stirred your creativity and given you inspiration for reusing that old junk you have lying around. (All good gardeners have plenty of old junk lying around!) We’d love to hear your ideas for reusing and recycling to keep your plants protected from the winter weather – drop us a comment below and share your tips!