by Dick Handscombe

When we first came to Spain almost 30 years ago it was novel to see a pile of empty plastic water bottles soon building up and the modern way of separating different types of house waste for recycling was not yet wide spread.

We thought, if they are not going to be recycled as warm winter walking sweaters as in the UK, what can we do to use them usefully rather than see them go into questionable landfill sites?
Earlier today I was flicking through a list of our old articles and came across one which is the basis of what follows, so I hope some readers find some of the recycled ideas of interest.

A. Uses for Half Litre Bottles

  1. Cut off the bottom 2cms to create mini cloches for pots in the greenhouse or small plants in the garden. Stick a cane through hole at the top into the ground to stabilise and push plastic base into soil to prevent movement in strong winds.
  2. Cut off the top and use to store plant labels and marker pens.
  3. Cut off the top, but leave a hinge piece. Slide in a roll of garden string threading the end through the top. Tape the top back on and you have a free string dispenser.
  4. Storage of small quantities of sprays and feeds, full strength and diluted.
  5. Quarter fill with dilute Neem solution and tie to branches of fruit trees as an insect trap.
  6. Spray the outside of bottles silver and tie to branches of fruit trees or on a string between canes as a bird deterrent.
  7. Pop on the top of garden canes supporting plants, especially tomatoes or peppers to reduce the risk of an eye injury when harvesting.

B. One Litre Bottles

  1. As item (1) for 10-15cm pots or for protection of young larger plants especially on the vegetable plot.
  2. As item (4) for larger volumes.
  3. Cut up into 5-8cm rings and place around the base of strawberry plants to stop the fruit touching the ground and rotting.
  4. Cut the bottle in half. Fill the bottom half with damp seed compost, plant a few seeds, tape the top back on and you have a mini propagator.
  5. Cut in half 6 or 8 bottles. Tape together as a group with waterproof tape. Fill with seed compost and sow a variety of shrub, flower or vegetable seeds and tape the tops back on. This provides an inexpensive compact seed tray/propagator that is more stable than item 10.
  6. Pour in bright yellow paint and swirl around until the inside is totally coated. Dry and then place over a cane and push in until mouth of bottle is in the ground alongside brassica plants in the vegetable plot. The bright yellow bottles will help repel white fly!!
  7. Fill with water and then push in shrub or perennial cuttings through the mouth. Place in a semi-shaded place and hope that roots develop. If you are not successful, I suggest you try using dark coloured red wine bottles instead. This is very good for rooting oleanders.
  8. Cut off the top. Invert and bury 90% in the ground alongside newly planted shrubs or trees and fill daily to water down to the roots. This is especially important in poorly draining soil.

C. 5 or 7 Litre Bottles

  1. Drill a small hole 1cm above the base. Insert a length of small diameter black irrigation tubing into the hole and attach a mini drip to the other end. Use the special tool sold for making holes in black irrigation tubing, plus one of the tiny connectors that you would normally use for attaching narrow feeder tubes to 1cm tubing. Fill with water and place conveniently next to an individual plant (eg pumpkin or water melon) spaced along a row (eg beans, tomatoes or peppers) to provide local irrigation over a number of days. We find this an excellent method for caring for plants on a continuous basis or when away for a few days. You can also water newly planted trees, shrubs, perennials or annuals this way.
  2. Cut off the tops of 4 bottles. Tape together with strong waterproof tape. Fill with a rich potting compost and pot up 8 strawberry plants as a mini-bed for the greenhouse or terrace. You can place a length of hose in the centre of each container for watering. If the plants are young you can place the cut ends on top of each bottle as a cloche until the plants take root. Even leave them on during fruiting on a windy terrace.
  3. Use the cut bottles and tops as a seed tray and cloche to create a mini propagator for growing seedlings of a wide range of vegetable and flower seeds.
  4. Add warmth to the mini propagator by taping a circle of dark wine bottles around the circumference. Fill the bottles with water and insert shrub or perennial cuttings. Pot up or plant out when a strong root system has developed.
  5. Use uncut bottles with the screw top to make up and store (for short periods only) liquid feeds, foliage and insect sprays. Make sure you label clearly with waterproof labels or a waterproof pen.
  6. Cut off the bottom 3 cm and use as a large cloche for young plants e.g. peppers and aubergines. Push 2 canes through the top to hold firm.
  7. Cut off the tops to varying heights and use as storage bins for packets of seeds, irrigations system parts etc.

An important hint – when growing seeds or cuttings under propagator type conditions, always spray initially with a fungicide and also add some to your watering can.

The above ideas are all practical ways of recycling plastic bottles to create inexpensive gardening aids, but do remember that plastic bottles decay in a year or two, especially in direct sunlight. As soon as they start to decay, break them up and put them in the local plastic rubbish bin for a final recycling.
© Dick Handscombe