Margaret in May
Margaret in May

Clear out the tool shed!

Prize: Oxo 10-piece Garden Tool Kit

Celebrity Judge: Margaret Roach

Margaret Roach  joins our Garden Party this month to help us judge your most inventive, most ingenious homemade gardening tools.   Margaret worked at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for 15 years,  first as garden editor of Living and then as editorial director.  She originated the show Home Grown on Sirius satellite radio and now has one of the most read gardening blogs around called A Way To Garden (yeah, we are jealous).

Have you tilled the soil with a spork?  Used a pencil as a stake?  Made a mountain out of a mole hill?

Margaret’s going to help us judge the best “homemade garden tool” tip this month, and give away an incredible OXO 10-piece Gardening Tool Kit, featuring OXO Garden tools. (Why, oh why can’t we be eligible for our own prizes?!?)

OXO Gardener's Helper

Enter your “invention” in the comment section below.  If you can, submit a photo (click here). At the end of April we’ll announce which Margaret chose as the most unique and helpful, and send the winner the OXO 10-piece Garden Tool Kit. (Be sure to include your email address so that we know how to reach you.)

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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rockin rob

i saw a post for using coffee cans to sink into the ground after planting out tomato plants,etc. …i tried this about 15 yrs ago and they rusted out after about 3 seasons of use,so i now use6 inch pvc pipe fm the big box store0cut the lengths fm 6"-12" and bury them into the ground about6" around ur plants…and water right into them…tks

Adrienne Cook

A roll of black bird net blew into our yard after a large storm last year – source unkn. The deer take a huge toll on all our plants. This past fall it appeared as if someone had string-trimmed everything down to bare ground.

This spring I put up a few stakes at the edge of my planting bed near the patio and draped the netting from the ground over the stakes and small brick retaining wall of the patio.

IT WORKED!! I have beautiful Spring flowers that I can see from the house and not a daylily nor hosta is eaten! All the perennials are making a comeback and even the lone remaining azalea is looking perky.

This year – more bird netting for my garden. It's inexpensive and has totally saved my plants. Had I known this, I'd have bought rolls years ago and save lots of beautiful flowers.

Jeffrey Hebert

I am a new gardener (my wife and I just purchased our first home!). And I am always trying to be resourceful. I purchased a 10.00 32-gallon plastic trash bin that I drag around the yard and post at various locations when I am weeding or trimming plants and hedges. Well, after a while I started getting tired of hauling all of these handtools around with me so I had an idea. I went to Lowes and bought a caddy that hangs on the outside of the can for 12.00 and now I can hang all of my little tools and shears and various spray bottles on it when I tote it around. We were thinking of buying a wheelbarrow or garden barrow but this worls perfect. I know it isnt homemade but it is inexpensive and really works great. Have a great day!

Melissa J Bond

I recently re-purposed a take-out container from PF Chang's. My son works there and brings home dinner at least once a week. I found a place to recycle them, but thought I would try it as a planter. I've planted one with mixed greens every week, and trim them when small for tender baby salads! Hope they last into the heat of June.

They also make great greenhouses for seed starting. I make my own seed pots from newspaper.

K. Notman

Empty kitty litter buckets are indispensable! I store my tools in them (can leave it outside since it has a lid) and take them around with me. Take out the tool you want and put the lid back on and it's a seat to sit on while you weed or dig holes for perennials. I keep a bunch in my potting shed and mix soil with manure in them, etc. etc. I know it's just a bucket, but it's recycling and it's so darned handy….


My mom always used the egg cartons for starting seeds, and tin cans with both ends cut off for collars around the plants, and along with composting, always threw the egg shells after cooking and used coffee grounds into the garden.


Wet paper towels to germinate seeds.

Lame, but the only thing I could think of. We're on vacation in Victoria B.C. to see Butchart Gardens. Tomorrow, Tomorrow….Can't wait!!!

Chris Chihrin

I have tried using a variety of plant markers or labels over the last few years and was inspired a couple of years ago on my way home from work. Someone had thrown out thin Venetian blinds made out of metal. With a sturdy pair of snips, the thin metal strips were quickly cut down to size, and with a sunlight proof black marker I now have plant labels that winter over.

ronnie k endre

i am in the process of making a "green" privacy fence. i am financially strapped and priced out the wood swayed fencing and couldn't afford it. so i can up with plan "B" which i think is much better. i bought treated posts and 6" wire fencing and decided to plant various vines along it to create a natural privacy from sanford and son next door.


Since I garden sitting down on the ground, using regular length shovels, and spading forks are difficult for me to handle. My husband cut down the handles and added a cross piece to the top of the item, like the letter "T" so I can grip the shovel or spading fork with out straining with a long akward handles. Now I can really enjoy my all my gadening.

MJ Stark

I use wild oregano as a border around my gardens, mainly because it is so hardy and grows like mad (year round here in Puerto Rico). When it gets too tall, I just break the tops off and stick them in the ground to grow more.

It's the *stick them in the ground* part that changed a gig (if you're from the south, you know what a gig is, if not, it's a three pronged spear for fish or frogs) into a planting tool; to poke lots of holes easily and fast. I only have to kneel once for the actual planting, and with 20 or more plants at a time (and lots more than 20 years on the knees)…that's a good thing!


We use regular size coffee can with top and bottom cut out. After planting our tomato plants we place the coffee can over them and pushed into the ground about 2". We do this for 2 reasons. We plant before danger of frost is over, so we can protect the plants by placing the lid over the can at night. Secondly, the can keeps the majority of water contained to the plant.

Connie Sinclair

My homemade garden tool tip is I find old wooden kitchen spoons at yard sales for pennies – then I paint the "bowl" of the spoon – either the front or back – with a small painted design to show the herb or veggie – & stick the spoon handle end down into the dirt to mark the plantings – & to make me smile when I'm in the garden! Some of the spoons I just paint smiley faces or other positive, affirming growing designs on them – something about it keeps my dog Moe out of the raised bed – and it is fun to think that someone's discarded kitchen spoon is going on to a new life – not dishing up food – but marking its place in the garden. 🙂

Mary Doan

Make a planter for your tomatoes and keep them off the ground at the same time by building a "tomato Tower" out of 12×12 patio stones put together in squares and held together with liquid nails or outdoor adhesive. you can make them about 3 blocks tall without them tipping over. fill with soil and plant your tomato plant in it. The tomatoe plant will hang down the sides, making picking and spraying easy. This is great for a raised bed for veggies too only make your bed one block high, and as big as you want it to be. nice thing about it is that once you build it, it's there every year.


We've had a horrible problem with critters the past 2 years (moles, voles..whatever the little scroungers are called). I tried everything I can think of to keep them away from my bulbs, including egg shells, etc…nothing worked.

It suddenenly occured to me that the big bag of seashells I had sitting in my gardening shed may be useful. Sure enough, whrn I planted the bulbs last fall, I surrounded each with a handful of crushed shells (whacked the plastic bag a few times with a hammer to break them)and it worked!! Not one bulb was disturbed this year and hopefully it sent the little vermin scattering. Now I have an excuse to back to SC this winter!! I need more shells!!

Give the goats a hug for me!!



I'm with Margaret on the old bread knife for cutting through roots. Also have a fish knife and a paring knife for difference jobs.

We decided to figure out how to turn our apple tree prunings into nice hoops like those expensive bamboo ones you can buy. So we made a wooden template that you thread the prunings through, so they dry into a curved shape that is the same for all. We cut the uneven ends off when we stick them into the ground.

You can see pictures and read the details here (and I will also post a photo):


I save disposable chopsticks and use them as stakes and markers. Admittedly they're usually too short to be stakes (although I sometimes use them with transplants or house plants), but they work great as markers. I dip one end in a bright nail polish (let dry) and put it next to the small, emerging plants near the front walk. Keeps my son and his friends from stepping on them!

Andrea Whyte

I secure a piece of window screen around the tines of a garden fork to scoop out the leaves, sticks ,and other "undesireables" from my garden pond.

[email protected]

I make two different kinds of planting templates from scrap wood, which I find in dumpsters. One sort is a rectangular board with holes drilled at regular intervals. I can plant through the holes, or dust the board with flour to mark where the planting is to be done.

The other type of template is an equilateral triangle shape. The sides of the template indicate the appropriate spacing, and I can flip the board end over end to quickly plant at said interval. I have many of the triangular templates in various sizes, for various sorts of crop.

Costs me nothing but the time to fish the wood out of the dumpster (and the waste stream), and then the time to mark and cut the templates. (We already had the tools to do that cutting.) These work well for either seeds or seedlings, and they make my planting go much faster.

I posted about these templates at the co-op I write for:

Linda Wells

I use old mini-blind slats for row markers. You can cut them to size, with one pointed end and use permanent markers to write the names.

And while not a tool, we added a tail pipe found on the roadside to a flowerbed, and it looks like a sea serpent rising amid the yarrow.

Hanna Fushihara

I submitted two photos but not sure how they get posted here… hope they will show up on their own.

My husband used old storm windows to make me two cold frames this year and I use gallon water jugs to make winter sowing mini green houses. We always feel guilty buying bottled water for our turtle who can't handle our slightly acidic well water so I make sure to use them for something else.

The tops can also be used (as well as liter soda bottles etc) after the seeds have germinated and seedlings planted out, as cloches. THEN after that when it gets warm you can turn them upside down and use them for drip irrigation. It's a 3 in 1!


10 favorite re-purposed gardening tools

1)the nail rake from my father’s hardware store for weeding and cultivating.

2)an old golf cart to as tool cart – perfect for hoes, shovel, loppers, etc.

3)retired political signs as row cover hoops

4)milk crate as perfect square foot marker; some crates can even be used as a planting grid

5)a piece of pipe to drop seeds precisely

6)old plastic toboggan to haul large plants manure, hay bales, etc.

7)retired metal mailboxes as nearby storage for hand tools, hose parts., etc.

8)retired kitchen sink as a garden sink for washing produce, etc.

9)former plastic food barrels as rain barrels

10)pvc piping and rebar as hoops for a low plastic tunnel or shade tunnel

You can see all these and more in action at Henbogle.

Ailsa Francis

My sig other uses the cardboard toilet paper cylinders to thwart cutworms on his tomatoes. It is truly spring when I hear him yell, "Did you finish a toilet paper roll? You didn't throw it away, did you??!"

Margaret Roach

This is going to be challenging, I can see…you have a lot of very resourceful readers at Beekman1802.

One of my own tips to add to the lot: I always keep a large (old, no longer good in the kitchen) bread knife in my toolbag.

I use the knife to cut apart fibrous-rooted perennials like thymes when dividing (or even cannas, which sometimes require a small saw!).

Linda Rodriguez

I bought an empty 5 gallon bucket from my local home improvement store and hot glued a strip of velcro along the top,just under the rim. then i hot glued the corresponding piece of velcro to my small hand tools and gloves. I attach all the stuff to the top of the bucket so they are easy to see. when i'm sitting down, i just turn the bucket over and i've got a seat! when i need to dig, i've got a bucket and the tools!

Lisabeth Davis

I am using tulle netting (WalMart about 77 cents a yard) to cover my seed beds. I hold it down with rocks. It keeps the birds out (sometimes the chickens, too), provides a bit of warmth (our temperature fluctuations are 40-50 degrees every day!) and slows evaporation from wind. It can be left loose on the downwind side as the plants grow to give them protection longer. I use green because it is encouraging (to me), but any color will do. If you are careful, you can use it for several years.


We thwart cutworms with toothpicks by sticking them on either side of the young plants. We also have lots of junk on our property which is an old Catskill resort. We bought the place "as is" and like to use the "as is" as much as possible. I use the old rusty bed frames as trellises for peas and beans and the bunk bed ends as tomato supports. Not exactly inventions, more like creative reuse?

Charles Budd

When starting a garden where I was working in South Africa, I wanted to make a cloche to get the seedlings going. But we were 25 miles from the nearest little town. So I took down an old metal fence, bent the fence posts into hoops, tied them with wire and covered them with clear plastic. Worked a treat!

The ground was also very hard. So to make a hand fork, I took an old broken pitchfork, cut the remaining prongs off, and rewelded them – together with a bit of tubular gate for the handle – to make the strongest handfork ever constructed. You could hit it with a sledgehammer and nothing would happen!


I too learned this nifty trick from my wonderful mother. It's quick, easy and a real lifesaver to all my tender seedlings down here in the mercurial NC springtime: newspaper hats. I slip them over the stakes to shade my precious tomato, pepper, you-name-it plants until they've settled into the garden. Sorry for no picture-I tried but couldn't get it to download.


I live in a condo with a porch and do container gardening. I put my shovel away too well last winter and ended up using a plastic salad server set to plant and hoe.


I reuse egg cartons as seed starting pots. It is a lot cheaper and easier than buying the little peat pellets. I use the bottom of a paper carton set inside the top of a foam carton to give it some strength. (You can also just use the foam bottom and top.) I cover the top with plastic wrap loosely to make a "greenhouse" for the seeds to sprout with the right amount of moisture. This is something my dad has done for years and it works great!

I also used an old desk lamp for a grow bulb this year – way easier than trying to rig a fluorescent fixture.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell

great idea…especially with recycled plastic wrap. (yes, we even save plastic wrap. i'm not sure if we're more enviromentalists or just plain cheapwads.)


Hi guys,

I am a new gardener. I have tomato seedlings which need to be transplanted into larger containers. I got pint-sized ice cream containers from our local homemade ice cream store and used my old craft glue gun to melt holes into the bottoms for drainage. The glue gun did not split the bottoms and provided the holes I needed quickly. Not a traditional garden tool, but certainly a tool to enable my gardening. I just hope the seedlings survive my novice transplanting efforts. I enjoy your site.

Hillary L.

I am not sure if this qualifies as a tool, but here goes. I saw these rings at the local TSC. When I went over to look at them, they were called fire rings. They are galvanized rings, about a foot and a half deep. I bought seven of them, and made raised beds out of them. This is my first year using them, but I think they are going to work out wonderfully. I have strawberries and broccoli planted so far, but will have a lot more out in them soon, if the rain lets up.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell

we LOVE to re-purpose other items for gardening. it's so easy to save a ton of money by buying non-garden garden tools, and i love the idea of these pre-made round raised beds. just a note, some gardeners shy away from galvanized products because some of the types of coating may have traces of lead. lead is easy to test for though, and most newly manufactured products are finished with a zinc coating that doesn't contain lead.


While it's not a new invention, I've made seedling pots out of old newspaper (I submitted a photo to the gallery, not one that i made, but a similar pot). They're easy to fold, free and you can recycle in the process.


I have to give my mom credit for tying tomato plants to stakes with panty hose strips. She has done it my entire life! 🙂