plastic-free gardening tools

7 Ways To Get Plastic Out Of Your Vegetable Garden

These alternatives can save money and keep questionable chemicals out of your soil.

October 30, 2015

Organic gardeners tend to be in the upper echelon of eco-awareness. They put their hands in the soil, they eat what they grow, and they take extra precautions to keep harmful chemicals out of their homegrown food supply. But even organic gardeners sometimes rely on plastic. The problem is, relying heavily on plastic in the garden (or on the farm) might actually be bad for our health, among other things. "Plastics are complex mixes of many chemicals, some of which are soluble in water and can therefore leach out into a garden, thence to contaminate the vegetables grown there," says pediatrician and public health expert Philip Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of the department of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Related: Jack Johnson Is Sailing In Search Of Plastic Smog


Beyond that, making plastic is energy intensive. And our society's addiction to petrochemical-based plastic helps drive unconventional oil and natural gas exploration, wrecking human and environmental health in this country. Here's seven ways you can keep your garden plastic-free. 

Stop Buying Coated Products 
Regular contributor Jean Nick suggests bypassing any plastic-coated wire garden equipment (like a plant cage, for example). This coating typically consists of vinyl, which some health and environmental groups have dubbed "the poison plastic" because of its harmful production and human health impacts. Plus, vinyl-coated products are often more expensive. And who needs that?

Phase Out Plastic Mulch
Some gardeners swear by black plastic mulch because it warms the soil and keeps weeds down. The problem is, it could also release chemicals into your soil as the sun beats down on it day in and day out. Beyond that, it's not helping to boost beneficial soil microorganism populations like other natural mulches would, and the impervious plastic surface could create runoff problems.

The bottom line? Rely on untreated grass clippings or organic straw as the best organic mulch options.

Hunt Down The Right Hose
While you'll be hard-pressed to find a completely plastic-free hose, you can choose a model that's made of more responsible materials and one that's not coated with hormone-disrupting chemicals. Avoid garden hoses made of vinyl, and steer clear of ones advertised as being treated with antimicrobial, moss-inhibiting, or Microban or Biofresh chemicals. These likely contain the dangerous chemical triclosan, an ingredient linked to hormone disruption, much like BPA. Polypropylene hoses are used for food and potable water uses. Just don't let hoses lie around outside all day…the sun's UV rays can reduce the life of your hose.


Related: How To Repair A Hose

In addition, Nick says you can replace damaged ends and fix hose leaks using brass menders, which saves you from buying an entire new hose.

Replace Plastic Plant Labels
Save money and forgo plastic use by giving wooden popsicle sticks a second life as plant labels. If you don't eat these types of treats, you can find wooden labels and stakes of every size in many garden catalogs.

Reuse The Plants You Have
When your daylilies start dying off, Nick says you can use the old leaves to form attractive and strong plant ties in the garden. In addition to using strong plant stems and vines as plant ties, you can also use more natural materials, like natural twine. It makes cleanup easier at the end of gardening season, too. "Just toss them in the compost with old plants," says Nick.

Replace Cheaper Plastic Pots
If you're container gardening, opt for old-fashioned clay pots, which are sometimes available for pennies at thrift shops. For seed starting, make your own newspaper seed-starting pots.

Try Straw-Bale Planters
Garden centers are lined with plastic planters, but you can easily make your own petroleum-free version out of a straw bale, explains Nick. Soak it well, tear a little hole into the top, toss in a handful of compost and a couple of seeds or seedlings, and keep it well watered.