6 Uses For Cardboard In The Garden

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If you have cardboard boxes from a recent move or purchase of a large item like a big screen television, don’t toss the boxes into the recycling bin. Cardboard has a multitude of uses in the garden, enough so that you might want to seek out extra boxes to put to good use!

Add Cardboard to Your Compost Bin

Compost is like organic gold for your soil, full of nutrients that encourage healthy roots and leaves, plenty of flowers and a bountiful harvest in the vegetable garden. Starting your own compost pile is one of the best ways to improve your garden while also benefitting the environment by recycling.

For compost to decompose into rich mulch that can be worked into the soil, you need to have the proper ratio of brown matter (paper, cardboard, straw, twigs, pine needles, sawdust, dry leaves) to green matter (grass clippings, food scraps, pulled weeds, coffee grounds, manure, garden clippings). The recommended ratio is two parts brown matter to one part green matter.

Cut or tear cardboard boxes into strips or small pieces before adding it to your compost pile so it will break down more quickly.

Use it to Control Weeds

If you hate the backbreaking work of pulling weeds in your flower or vegetable beds, use cardboard to greatly reduce weed growth. Cut cardboard into pieces that are easy to work with, and lay them around the plants in your garden. Water the cardboard to hold it in place, and then cover with a layer of mulch to conceal it. This very effective weed barrier will last through a season or two, eventually breaking down into soil-benefitting compost.

Start Seeds in Smaller Boxes

If you have several small cardboard boxes, use them to start vegetable or flower seeds indoors or in a protected outdoor location. Fill the boxes with soil, and keep moist while the seeds are sprouting and growing into healthy seedlings. When the danger of frost is past in your area, plant the entire box in your garden. The cardboard will quickly break down once buried in the dirt, and your transplants will grow into healthy, strong plants.

Start a Planting Bed

If you want to remove a section of lawn to start a new bed for flowers or vegetables, you can do it the hard way by digging the grass out with a shovel; or do it the easy way with a layer of cardboard. It does take longer to go the easy route, so plan to start the project in the fall, leading to a new planting bed in the spring.

Simply lay cardboard over the grass in the entire area you want transformed to a planting bed. Water the cardboard thoroughly, and then top with a layer of leaves, compost, mulch or pine needles. The grass will die off underneath the cardboard, and the boxes will break down over the winter. Come spring, break through any remaining large pieces of cardboard with your shovel, work the soil thoroughly, and plant your seeds or transplants into the rich, fertile soil.

Make a Garden Path

If you are tired of traipsing over the grass or mud when working in the garden, it’s time to add a path to your yard. Use your hose to plan the layout of the walkway, with a few gentle curves for a pleasing look. Then fill in the desired path with a layer of cardboard, which will kill off grass underneath. Top the cardboard with gravel or shredded bark, and hose it down to hold everything in place. Use bricks or concrete edging on the sides of the path to give a neat, finished appearance.

Create a Container

Combine cardboard with a few other garden findings to create a cute container for annual flowers, tomato or pepper plants or perennials. It’s not a container that will last forever, but it will hold up through at least a season in most yards. This is a great project after pruning your trees or shrubs. It’s even a fun project for kids.

  • Start with a cardboard box in a similar size to the traditional container you would use for the same purpose. If the box still has flaps, push them down inside to add strength.
  • Now, tie a length of twine around the box. The twine should be somewhat loose.
  • Use garden clippers to trim twigs or small branches to the same height as your box.
  • Slip twigs under the twine, lining them up side by side until you have covered the entire outside of the box with a row of twigs.
  • With another length of twine, make a tight bow around the twigs to hold everything in place.
  • Fill the box with soil, and plant as you like.

If you don’t have enough twigs, or prefer a different look, you can:

  • Paint the outside of the box with nontoxic paint
  • Cover the box with cute giftwrap
  • Use leftover wallpaper or shelf paper to decorate the box
  • Glue your empty seed packets on the box for an old-fashioned style

At the end of the season, or when the box begins to break down, toss it into your recycling bin or add it to your compost pile.

Cardboard is inexpensive, easily found and simple to work with. If you have boxes on hand that you were going to throw out, stop and consider how you could use those boxes instead to benefit your garden. You’re sure to find a way to put the cardboard to good use, and by keeping materials out of the landfills and adding to the health of your garden soil, it’s a win-win situation.

Last Updated: October 8, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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