How to Use These 8 Household Items in the Garden
We separated the science from the myths so you can improve your landscape using these household items in the garden
You may have heard the myths. Sprinkle human hair around your garden beds to keep deer away. Bury a banana peel to give roses a potassium boost. Or toss spent coffee grounds around acid-loving shrubs to lower the soil’s pH. However, some of this wisdom, likely passed down from prior generations of gardeners, is less-than-scientific lore and not based on research-tested evidence. To help you weed out fact from fiction, we asked Shelah Ott, North Park Nursery’s sustainability specialist, to tell us which household items—when used correctly—can actually help a garden grow.
Turns out, banana peels do have a place in the garden since they contain phosphorus, potassium and some calcium too. “Blending or processing the peel in a food processor is recommended,” Shelah explains. “The soil can ‘digest’ it more easily that way.” Plus, there’s less of a chance that your dog—or an unwelcome critter—will dig it up.
Wood ash from hardwoods like oak and maple are high in lime and potassium, both beneficial in the garden. Softer woods like pine and fir contain nutrients but to a lesser degree. All wood ash contains salt that soft-bellied pests like snails and slugs don’t like. So whether you’re looking to give plants a boost or protect them from the invertebrates, give the area around the base of your plants a light dusting of what you scoop out of the fireplace or fire pit—unless you’re using synthetic logs, of course.
We’ve covered the magic of eggshells before. You can read about using them as pots, a slug-and-snail deterrent and as mulch here. In addition, Shelah says that because of their composition, eggshells can help introduce calcium carbonate into the soil. To prep used shells, grind them with a blender or mortar and pestle. Till them into the soil in early fall since the shells take months to break down and be absorbed by the plant’s roots.
Dissolve 1 tablespoon of baking soda into 2 quarts of water, and put the mixture in a spray bottle. Spritz on your flowering plants to encourage them to bloom.
Find this staple at the drugstore or nursery. The compound, which is actually magnesium sulfate, helps seeds germinate, produces more flowers, makes plants grow bushier and deters some pests. Shelah suggests sprinkling 1 tablespoon (for every 9 square feet) at the base of shrubs such as evergreens, azaleas and rhododendrons. Repeat every two to four weeks. For trees, scatter 2 tablespoons per 9 square feet.
Don’t throw that dirty water down the drain when you clean out your tank. Shelah says fish waste is rich in nitrogen, making the water full of it too. Pour it over your plants and give them a healthy drink instead.
Turn your green-and-brown garbage into nutrient-filled compost for your garden, Shelah advises. You can convert a basic trash bin into a composter, or look for one with a lid that locks. You just need to ensure there are holes (or drill some) for aeration since oxygen is a necessary component of decomposition. “You need a good amount of green and brown material,” she says. “The brown consists of dead leaves, branches, twigs, sawdust, pieces of cardboard and newspaper. The green elements bring in the nitrogen. These consist of fruit and vegetable scraps, hair, leaves that aren’t dead, lint, and tea and coffee grounds. Make sure you use only organic matter, nothing that has been exposed to chemicals or chemical pesticides. Don’t include weeds, meat or dairy either. Just turn it once a week with a shovel and let nature do its thing.”
Tea grounds from used teabags or loose tea leaves contain nutrients and tannic acid that help acid-loving plants, such as rosebushes and ferns, thrive. The natural, organic herbs in the tea increase nutrient levels in the plant as the herbs decompose. Spread the loose tea leaves around the top soil like mulch.