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Creative Repurposing Projects for the Yard and Garden

Spruce up your flower beds and patios using these everyday items in your home

I love working in the yard and garden. It gives me a chance to stretch my green thumb, and my Inner Miser enjoys the challenge of seeing how many would-be throwaway items he can find an alternative use for in the garden.

See more: The art and science of composting.

Before you throw something in the trash, think about whether it could have a second life somewhere in your backyard. Here are some creative repurposing ideas for the yard and garden: 

Coffee, tea or beer? Coffee grounds can be composted or worked into garden soil to boost nitrogen — and when sprinkled on top of the soil around plants, they help to deter garden pests.  Spent tea bags can be used in the same way, or tie them together and keep them soaking in a watering can to give plants a quick nitrogen snack whenever you water them. Even stale beer has a new life in the garden: Bury a bowl or pie plate up to its lip in soil and put a little stale beer in it; slugs will crawl in for a drink … and it will be their last.

Soap sliver: Here's a daily-double repurposing tip: Save those leftover slivers of soap from the shower and put them in the foot of a worn-out pair of pantyhose; keep it tied around the outdoor water spigot for a quick cleanup after gardening. My wife calls it my "Cheapskate-Soap-on-a-Rope."   Also, hang one of these soap-filled stockings on trees and shrubs to help repel hungry deer.

Panty hose: Cut worn-out pantyhose into strips and use them as ties when staking up tomatoes and other tender plants — they have just the right amount of elasticity. If you have a pond or water garden, fill a length of pantyhose with gravel and soil, tie it off, and plant water lilies and other aquatic plants in it on the bottom of the pond (cut a small opening for the plants to grow through). You can also slip pantyhose over your prized veggies and fruits while they're still growing on the plant to keep insects, birds and other pests from attacking them.

Plastic nursery pots: These make a handy spool to coil extension cords and light garden hoses around. Use screws to fasten a heavy gauge plastic nursery pot to an outside wall or inside the garage. Plastic nursery pots can also usually be recycled or sometimes returned to the nursery for a small credit; check with your nursery or recycling center.

Newspaper: Of course newspapers can be recycled or shredded and put in the compost pile, but I like to put down a couple of layers of newspaper before I spread mulch around trees, shrubs and flower beds. It's a perfect biodegradable weed blocker. Cardboard works, too. Speaking of mulch, you can sometimes get free or cheap mulch at your local landfill or by asking highway road crews working in your area. As a bonus, newspaper can also clean your windows, dry out wet shoes and even be spun into yarn!

Eggshells: Since eggshells are rich in calcium and other minerals, there are a number of eggscellent ways to repurpose them in the garden. They decompose relatively quickly and can be added to the compost pile or crumbled and stirred directly into the soil. I also like to start my tomato plants from seeds indoors in the spring, using eggshell halves filled with soil and kept upright in egg cartons instead of peat pots. Scatter crushed eggshells around your plants and flowers to help deter plant-eating slugs, snails, cutworms and even deer without using environmentally unfriendly pesticides. 

Peeled zucchini with peeler.

— Corbis

Fruit and veggie peels: Don't dump all of your peels in the compost pile. Some fruit and vegetable trimmings can play a starring role in repurposing your garden. Avocado shells make great biodegradable pots to start seedlings in (like eggshells, above). Nut shells can be crushed and spread around plants to keep crawling insects away. And potassium-rich banana peels can be dried, ground up and stirred into the soil around rose bushes and other plants to both fertilize them and deter aphids. You can also shine your shoes with banana peels. Some folks swear that rinsing your hair with water with boiled potato peels can wash the gray away. Who knew?

Cheapskate garden decorations: Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (including cheapskates), and when it comes to garden art, anything goes. I've seen beautiful mosaic stepping stones made out of broken porcelain china, hummingbird feeders and pinwheels fashioned from plastic soda bottles, attractive planters made from old car tires, and a fascinating garden mobile made from recycled bicycle wheels. Miser adviser Wanda Adams from Trotwood, Ohio, noticed that old bowling balls often sell at yard sales for next to nothing; the boarder of her flower garden is now cleverly edged with her ever-growing collection of colorful balls.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.

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