Milk carton wicking pots and cloches: garden upcycling

10 April 2018
I'm a bit of a fan of upcycling in the garden. Well, I'm actually a fan of upcylcing everywhere. I like to make do with what I have on hand and find a way to reuse something else for a task rather than buy new.

This doesn't always lead to a magazine shoot worthy garden but it gets the job done.

One of my favourite and most used garden up-cycles are milk carton wicking pots. I read about these in the book DIY Garden Projects by The little Veggie Patch Co crew (It's well worth checking out from your local library if they have it).

'Red Giant' mustard leaves happily growing in their upcycled home.

They are super simple to make. I'll let the pictures run you through it.

Take a plastic milk carton and cut it in half. Grab a bit of old cotton material.

Stuff the material through the 'top' of the carton with some inside and some outside.

Nest your two pieces together.

Fill with desired growing medium and plant. Here are some various seedlings.

I use these a lot to plant up seedlings before they are ready to go in the ground. This year, growing in pots mostly, I'm experimenting with growing leafy plants in them for the long haul.

Another great use for plastic milk cartons is as garden cloches. They offer protection to small seedlings from a variety of things. This time of year they are great for keeping the cabbage moth butterflies off delicate brassica seedlings. The top half is easiest to use as it does let a little air flow through and you can push a stick through the opening and into the ground to keep them anchored on your plant. The bottom half offers more complete protection and creates a mini green house. I just sit a rock on top to stop it flying away.

Here they are in action in my Adelaide garden (see, not magazine shoot worthy)

To store the cloches when not in use I stick a stake in the ground and slide them on. You may be able to see them near the chicken pen in the pic above (but it's a little small).

Once they've finished their use they still end up in the recycling but I like the fact that I've eeked a little more purpose out of them and kept the garden growing better too.

Got any other uses for milk cartons in or out of the garden?
Do you aspire for 'magazine shoot worthy' or more function over form gardening? (not that they can't coexist)

12 comments

  1. Laura, do you keep water in the bottom part of the pot? Or add water to the bottom part daily?

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    1. Hey Nil, good question. I water from the top to start and then once there is a little water in the bottom I just top up the bottom every now and then to keep a little back up. If the soil gets dry on top I water from the top again. If I'm going away for a few days and it's going to be hot I add extra water to the bottom so the plant can help itself as it needs.

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  2. A good idea, Laura. I will reserve that book you mentioned as our library has it.

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  3. I too use soft drink bottles with the tops cut off for cloches in my veggie garden I needed a new pot the other day and up cycled an empty Gyprock plaster bucket

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    1. Nice work. Gotta love upcycling for pots - especially when they are so expensive to buy new.

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  4. I love the wicking idea - brilliant for keeping seedlings watered when you are away from home. I am always a fan of using what I have instead of buying new. I often use the big Moccona coffee jars as cloches in the early Spring!

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    1. I always love the look of the fancy glass cloches in gardening books - your moccona jars would be a lot closer to the look than my milk cartons!!

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  5. These are great, aren't they! I've used milk bottles in this way too and find also that they are easy planters for children to pot up seedlings. Meg:)

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    1. Yes, the kids love getting out and 'helping' in the garden ;)

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  6. Those plastic milk cartons are so useful Laura. I use them as you do, especially as protective cloches over new young seedlings. I also use them as a slow watering system in some of our pots, on in the garden; cut a large hole in the bottoms large enough to fit the hose, poke the pouring end into the soil next to the plant, fill the bottle with a hose from the (cut out) bottom end, there's enough water to keep the plant going for an extra day. Agreed, it's not the most attractive sight, and it's usually just a temporary measure, but when it comes to food growing, looking pretty is not always a option. BTW as we so rarely buy milk or juice my friends donate their milk cartons to us. ;-)

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    1. That's another good tip Sally to use as self watering cans.
      We go through so many milk cartons here it's ridiculous. we all love our milk. Oh for the good old days where bottles were returned and reused. I do dream of having a house cow one day - less packaging and the opportunities to make so many amazing things with fresh milk. although they do take some work and commitment so perhaps my dream is to live near someone with a house cow that likes to share ;)

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