Plastic Free July: How to do your bit in the garden

Small changes can make a difference.

More sustainable options for keen gardeners
Plastic-free garden containers and accessories (Alamy/PA) More sustainable options for keen gardeners (Alamy Stock Photo)

Want to be part of the solution to plastic pollution? With Plastic Free July upon us, there are easy ways to change your garden practices to help the campaign.

“It’s more about going back to basics,” says publisher and keen gardener Louise Boland, author of The Plastic-Free Gardener (Fairlight Books).

“Look across how you work. Grow from seeds, rather than buying more and more mature plants, think about composting, think about leaf mould, think about ways of gardening where you don’t have to go out and buy a product that’s in a plastic bottle or container,” she advises.

“The thing with plastic is that it creates convenience for us and people love convenience in their lives. The reality is that if you want to have a lifestyle where you are trying to reduce your plastic, there isn’t always an obvious solution for the convenience.”

There might not be a biodegradable alternative to the hosepipe or lawnmowers and other power tools which don’t have plastic elements, but we can all do our bit, even if it’s keeping hold of and re-using that old plastic wheelbarrow for years, until it falls to pieces.

“For everybody, it’s a balance between reducing the amount of plastics you have while still using things that suit your lifestyle,” she says.

So, what small steps can we take in Plastic Free July and beyond?

Buy bamboo accessories

Lots of garden centres stock bamboo pots and seed trays which can be reused many times, will hold their shape but will eventually biodegrade. Just make sure when you are buying them that the product doesn’t contain any plastic in addition to the bamboo fibres, she advises.

What about gloves?

You can also buy bamboo gardening gloves and socks rather than plastic-based gardening gloves, but make sure when you check what they are made from that they don’t contain plastic (epoxy) resins.

“Bamboo is a good replacement, although there was a time when bamboo first came out when it was marketed at bamboo but there was plastic in it. Look to see if it’s 100% compostable, which means it does break down.”

Boland says that she would always buy a leather pair of gardening gloves, or a combination of natural fabric and a leather, but has found that whichever gardening gloves she buys, they always wear on the fingers and she has to replace them every few months.

Think about hemp

If you are looking for alternatives to plastic containers for your tomato and potato plants, hemp pots may be the ones to go for, says Boland. Available in lots of sizes, they can be reused for a couple of seasons and then put on the compost. Just be aware that you may need to water more as hemp pots tend to dry out quicker.

Convert to coir and wool pots

Coir is made from the outer fibre of coconuts, and the pots are cheap and can be bought in bulk – just check with the retailer that they are going to arrive in plastic-free packaging.

Wool pots also make a good, natural alternative, often used to start off seedlings, but also for decorative plants, which should give your guests food for thought when admiring them. Wool pots will need to be stored in a waterproof dish or tray so they are watered from the bottom upwards, to prompt better root growth.

Check your seed markers

Avoid buying the big packs of plastic markers if you can find wooden markers which don’t come in plastic packaging. You can also source bamboo and slate markers which are more attractive.

Ditch plastic netting

Looking to protect tender crops? You can go for cotton netting to do the same job and help the environment at the same time. Companies including

The Wildlife Community

offer certified organic cotton fleece, a natural alternative to plastic.

When supporting plants, replace your plastic netting with a jute alternative, which when used horizontally can support heavy crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peas and when used vertically will support long stemmed roses and climbers. It is also fully biodegradable.

Change your cable ties

If you use plastic cable ties to secure trees or large shrubs in the garden, switch to natural rubber ones, which are widely available. Alternatively use jute string, wrapped around whichever support you are using to prop up a plant. Coir sheets are also available to wrap around trees, although they often arrive wrapped in plastic, so check where they are coming from and how they will be packaged before you buy.

Create natural membranes

If you want to suppress weeds but don’t want to go for a plastic membrane – they fray and don’t biodegrade – think about laying cardboard or layers of horticultural fleece made of wool to stop weeds in their tracks.

Do a little more gardening

But the best solution is to try to do a little more weeding, maybe little and often, to keep things under control, Boland advises.

“If you weed early on in the spring, it saves you a lot of hard work later on. I’m careful in spring and summer not to rake over the ground too much because that just brings the weed seeds to the surface and they germinate again.”