Organic Gardening Hacks

Get budget-friendly garden tips and tricks from Shawna Coronado.

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Shawna Coronado Working in the Garden

Shawna Coronado in the Garden

Shawna Coronado said goodbye to her office job to pursue a lifestyle media career. She's written several books and has traveled the world learning about sustainable living.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado said goodbye to her office job to pursue a lifestyle media career. She's written several books and has traveled the world learning about sustainable living.

This is the mantra that greets you in Shawna Coronado’s 101 Organic Gardening Hacks – a guide to crafting, hacking, upcycling and recycling your way to a gorgeous garden.

Shawna owes this mentality to her grandmother, a dedicated gardener working on a tight budget. “My grandmother used to squish cherry tomatoes between paper towels [and] let them dry out completely,” she says.  “She’d cut them into little squares and send them to me at the holidays.”

Now Shawna travels the world, inspiring others to use the resources they have to create productive gardens that can make a larger difference.

“My dream garden is filled with green – sustainable green – so no matter the location in the country I want to have a garden that is sustainable, saves water and helps the community,” she says.

Shawna also hopes to help bridge the gap between people and fresh food. “For the last five years I’ve donated over 500 pounds of food from my organic garden to the local food pantry, so to me a garden is about your own health but is also about the health of your community.”

101 Organic Gardening Hacks pulls together ideas picked up along her journey to achieve this mission. From the very first hack – “Retire Your Tiller,” where Shawna shares a low-maintenance garden strategy that keeps your soil rich – Shawna paves the way for gardeners of all skill levels to create an attractive, sustainable landscape without spending a fortune. In fact, many of the hacks involve items that would normally end up in the recycling bin.

Here’s some of our favorite ideas from the book, plus more tips from Shawna: 

#19 Pour Your Garden Some Java

Used coffee grounds are a great compost ingredient, releasing soil-enriching minerals as they decompose. Many coffee shops will be happy to give you the grounds for free if you’re not a coffee-drinker. 

Cup of Coffee Grounds

Using Coffee Grounds in the Garden

Add used coffee grounds to your compost bin. Ensure the coffee grounds are no more than 20 percent of the total volume of your compost pile.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

Add used coffee grounds to your compost bin. Ensure the coffee grounds are no more than 20 percent of the total volume of your compost pile.

#26 Squeeze Them In

One of Shawna’s favorite projects was a garden featuring waves of tightly-packed dinosaur (Tuscan) kale, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets and colorful herbs. It’s a feast for the eyes, but also serves a function: “It takes advantage of a planting technique known as ‘bio-intensive planting’ which places the plants all very closely together in order to prevent weed growth and save water,” she says. 

Foliage Garden With Kale and Heuchera

Using Flour as a Planting Guide

Author and gardener Shawna Coronado used a trail of flour to lay out this lush garden.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

#27 Make a Poor Man’s Olla

Ollas have been used for thousands of years — typically, an unglazed clay or terra-cotta pot is submerged into the ground with the neck exposed and filled with water that gently seeps into the soil. You can make your own by punching holes in the bottom of a clean, empty milk jug and sinking it into the soil. Your makeshift olla should be kept half full for best results.

Milk Jug Buried in Soil to Water Garden

Make a Milk Jug Garden Watering System

Ollas have been used for thousands of years — typically, an unglazed clay or terra-cotta pot is submerged into the ground with the neck exposed and filled with water that gently seeps into the soil. You can make your own by punching holes in the bottom of a clean, empty milk jug and sinking it into the soil. Your makeshift olla should be kept half full for best results.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

More Wine Bottle Hacks

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Unique Chandelier

As seen on Flea Market Flip, vintage Mason jars in their rack were transformed into a very cool, industrial-style chandelier.

Wine Bottle Pendant Lights

You can make so many things with a bottle cutter. For instance, these kitchen pendants were crafted from three old wine bottles. They were cut just below the neck, wrapped in decorative wire then fitted with electrical fixtures. Design by Joanne Palmisano

Get step-by-step instructions to make these

Photo By: Susan Teare

Number It

Vintage-style flip-top bottles are easy to decorate and add charm to any table setting. Fill them with spring water, wine or juice to allow guests to serve themselves at a dinner party, brunch or wedding reception. Design by Camille Styles

Learn how to make these

Chalkboard Mason Jars

Perfect for large parties (especially if a keg is involved), large Mason jars are dipped in chalkboard paint to make personalized drinking glasses. Design by Joanne Palmisano

Light Up the Night

Blue and clear Mason jars are used to set the mood for a romantic evening outdoors. The jars are half-filled with sand, a votive candle is set in the center, then each one is hung up using string wrapped around the jar's wire closure. Design by Joanne Palmisano

Soap Dispenser

You can find these Mason jar soap dispensers at a lot of stores, but it is easy and a lot cheaper to make your own. Just drill a hole in the top of the jar and insert the pump. You may want to add a drop of glue to hold the pump in place.


To make a lovely window display, a variety of old bottles, votive holders and vases were swathed in twine and rope then adorned with flowers and shells. Design by Joanne Palmisano

Memory Bottles

Instead of a typical picture frame, display your favorite photos inside unusual-shaped bottles. Tiny shells, decorative sand or beads are placed in the bottom of the bottle, the photo is rolled inside then the bottle is sealed with a decorative cork and some pretty trinkets. Design by Joanne Palmisano

Get the step-by-step instructions

Jug Lamp

A big bottle of vino was emptied then turned into a table lamp. The unique macramé shade adds the perfect touch of fun chic.

Photo By: Sarah Wilson/Getty Images

Christmas Tree Stand

For a holiday wine tasting, or after the wine tasting, fill the "dead soldiers" with some water, add a few gnarly branches, then trim them with ornaments and stockings. Design by Rima Nasser


Mason jars make the perfect kitchen windowsill gardens. The lid will help hold moisture when necessary. Plant your favorite herbs and watch them take off.

#31 Look Ma, No Hands!

Create a slow-release watering system by filling a bottle with water then quickly turning it upside down into the soil.

Wine Bottles Being Used as Self-Watering Systems in the Garden

Upcycled Wine Watering Bottles

Put your wine bottle collection to use outdoors and make self-watering planters. Quickly turn the bottles upside down into the soil, being careful not to disturb plant roots, and then let gravity do the rest of the work.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

Create a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

5 Ways to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Want to create a buzz-worthy garden? Learn how to attract bees and other essential pollinators with these tips.

Know Your Pollinators (And Beneficial Bugs)

Meet some of your garden’s insect helpers, including pollinators and predators.

How to Attract Butterflies

It is easy to attract butterflies to the garden given the right mix of flowering plants, water and sunshine.

#40 In Defense of Bolting

Many gardeners dread the day temperatures rise and tender herb leaves turn bitter as the plant focuses its energies on making flowers and seeds. Shawna recommends keeping herbs cool and planted close together to keep them going for as long as possible, but when they do bolt, don’t fret – pollinators love the blooms!

Onion Chive Blossoms

Onion Chive Blossoms

Border your flower or herb garden with the purple blooms of onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Then toss the grass-like leaves into salads, potato dishes, soups or eggs to enjoy their mild, onion flavor.

Photo by: Courtesy Bonnie Plants

Courtesy Bonnie Plants

#49 Picture-Perfect Seed Storage

Seed Packets Stored in an Photo Album

Photo Album Seed Organizer

Use a photo album to store and organize seed packets. It's a perfect way to arrange brand new seeds, seeds saved from previous seasons and even just empty seed packets to use for reference.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

Keeping all your gardening supplies in order can be tough.

“Staying organized is one of my biggest challenges,” Shawna says. “I have pages and pages of lists categorized in planting projects assignments. I do my best to get to each one in time.”

Here's one clever way to keep your seeds all in one place: Use a photo album. It's a perfect way to arrange brand new seeds, seeds saved from previous seasons and even just empty seed packets to use for reference.

Upcycled Container Gardens

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Take a Seat

Old wood chairs can easily be converted into holders for flowerpots; simply cut a hole in the seat and slip in the pot. Doll-sized chairs don't need any extra preparation because you can just set a small pot right on the seat. Potty chairs work the best because the hole is already there. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Petunias in Pants

Hang old blue jeans along a fence or clothesline and fill them will annuals. No need to fill the entire legs with good topsoil, stuff the bottoms with unamended dirt, packing peanuts or old burlap bags.

Photo By: Jacquelyn McGilvray

Hat Trick

Give old hats new life as hanging gardens. Baseball hats make instant pot covers: Simply open the sizing tabs in back, slip the opening around the base of the plant and snap the tabs closed again. On straw, felt or fabric hats, cut a hole into the front or top and gently feed the plant stems through the hole. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Desk Set

Turn an old desk or dresser into a charming garden by tucking small bushy and trailing plants into the partly opened drawers. Complete the look by popping plants into desk accessories, such as a pencil holder, an old telephone or a small desk lamp. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

It's In the Bag

Colorful purses and small tote bags make fun and fashionable plant holders. Lining them with plastic will keep the potting soil from staining the fabrics. Hang the handles from hooks, slip them over fence posts or dangle them from tree branches. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Shoe Bootie

Leather or plastic sneakers, shoes and boots make adorable holders for individual flowering or foliage plants. Sit them on the ground, prop them up on a rack or hang them on a wall or fence. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Teacup Garden

Old teacups and saucers make great little flower pots. Simply drill a hole in the bottom of the cup, plant the flower and place on a saucer. Design by Tiffany Threadgould

Let It Lure You In

Turn a tackle box into a unique container. Display some lures in the upper tray or plant those sections too. Bait buckets, cricket cages, traps and fishing baskets also work well for holding plants. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Rustic Elegance

For a little Western flair, place an arrangement or flowering plant in an old cowboy boot.

Photo By: Photo Credit: Ralph Kylloe ©2013 Gibbs Smith, Rustic Elegance, Ralph Kylloe

Pails and Buckets

Plastic, metal or wooden buckets are ideal for displaying all kinds of flowering and foliage favorites. Smaller pails are perfect for individual plants; bigger buckets are great for large single plants or colorful combinations. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

For the Birds

Old birdcages, birdhouses and feeders make fun and fanciful containers for displaying pretty plants. Abandoned nests, bird figurines, feathers and other avian accessories help to complete the theme. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Pallet Meets Shutters

This moveable, raised-bed garden was built using a wood shipping pallet, old shutters and casters. Design by Joanne Palmisano

Photo By: Susan Teare ©Susan Teare

Grocery Garden

Old or reproduction food tins make terrific pots for annual flowers or houseplants. Group them by a theme, such as candy, coffee or veggies, or mix them up for a quaint and colorful collection. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

Paint Cans

Recycle old paint cans or buy metal paint cans at hardware stores and home centers. To dress them up, drizzle craft paint around the top rim and add some drips down the sides. Cover with a coat of polyurethane to stop the cans from rusting, or leave them untreated and enjoy the rusty, rustic look that develops within a few months. Design by Nancy Ondra

Photo By: Nancy J. Ondra

More Paint Cans

Another option is to paint the whole can in different colors. Fill the bottom of the can with old wine corks for drainage then add soil and your favorite herbs. Paint stirrer sticks are used as plant markers. Design by Tiffany Threadgould

Clementine Box

Repurpose a fruit crate by turning it into a countertop herb garden. Design by Joanne Palmisano

#75 Upcycle Old Furniture

Before you get rid of that old piece of furniture hiding in the attic, consider turning it into a planter for your outdoor space. Here, Shawna first attached the lid of a large plastic container to the bottom of a wicker bench, and then reinforced it with mesh before giving the bench a coat of spray paint. Before planting, she soaked moss and inserted around the edges of the chair to help prevent the soil from leaking.

Blue Bench Made Into a Planter for Annual Flowers

Garden Bench Planter

Give an old or salvaged garden bench a new lease on life by turning it into a planter for your garden.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

#79 Cardboard Box Mulch

Vegetable garden path with straw

Straw Garden Path

Creating a simple, low-cost garden path doesn’t have to be difficult. Easy Solution: Remove existing grass and cover soil with a layer of thick cardboard (for weed control), securing it with anchor pins pounded into soil. Top with a layer of straw. This type of path works easily in vegetable gardens or perennial borders. It’s also easy to upgrade later to a more formal hardscape material.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

If you take advantage of the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of delivery services out there, we bet you’ve got a couple cardboard boxes laying around. Luckily, you can use them to choke out weeds in your garden. Start by laying down sheets of cardboard, then building up layers of mulch, grass clippings and compost.

#82 Sprinkle a Little Flour

Using flour to lay out garden design.

Using Flour as a Planting Guide

Mark out your next garden design with a pantry staple: flour! It's often used to lay out knot garden designs, non-toxic and easy to make corrections.

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

This why-didn’t-I-think-of-that hack comes to Shawna from her previous work as a garden designer: “I decided on flour because it is commonly used in knot garden design layouts because it [makes] non-toxic, easy-to-see line delineations, and is quite simple to ‘erase’ and make corrections.”

#101 DIY Garden Tool Trellis

Garden Tools Used as a Trellis for Sweet Potato Vine

Turn Old Garden Tools Into a Trellis

Don't get rid of those old garden tools just yet — you can use them as a trellis!

Photo by: Shawna Coronado

Shawna Coronado

When it's time to upgrade your new tools, convert the old set into a trellis perfect for vining plants. 

However you hack your outdoor space, Shawna just hopes you get out there.

More Gardening Hacks

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Garden Tool Door Hanger

Create extra storage space for your most frequently used garden tools (or emergency zombie invasion tools) by attaching a shoe hanger (or another type of hook or hanger) onto the back of the door.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Turn a Long-Handled Tool Into a Garden Ruler

Measuring is an extremely important, if not often overlooked, task in the garden. This hack helps you stop running back inside for your measuring tape: Use a permanent marker to mark measurements directly onto the handle of any long-handled garden tool.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Upcycled Chandelier in the Garden

This chandelier was rescued, cleaned up and given a fresh coat of paint for outdoor use.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Recycled Corrugated Panel Garden

This Chicago-area church made rows of raised beds using metal corrugated panels. The panels are reinforced with metal rebar.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Garden Shed Turned Tiki Hut

For under $100 and a quick trip to the hardware store, an ugly shed was transformed into this fun tiki hut by covering it in reed and straw.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Mulching With Seashells

Seashells can serve as a long-lasting, decorative mulch that also releases calcium into the soil.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Save Seeds With a Paper Bag

If you've got a paper bag and a rubber band, you've got an almost-free way to store seeds. Put a paper bag over a healthy, dried seedhead, use a rubber band to secure it, and then snip the stem. Store the bag in a cool, dry place. When you're ready to collect the seeds, gently shake the bag to release the dried seeds from the seedhead.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Manure Tea

Give plants an extra boost with manure "tea" — a solution of composted manure and water. The solution is five parts water to one part manure and will take a week or two to steep. You can use burlap, cheesecloth or an old pillow case to hold the composted manure while it steeps, shovel the manure directly into a 5 gallon bucket and strain once it has fully steeped. Dilute the mixture with water before applying it to the garden.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Soaking Flower Bulbs in Manure Tea

Give flower bulbs a boost with a quick soak in manure "tea" — a diluted mixture of compost and water you can make or buy. Don't soak the bulbs for more than 24 hours. Plant according to instructions and then water the area with the remaining manure tea.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Upcycled Garden Border

Glass insulators create a colorful border for this patio garden. You can use piratically anything to create a garden border at home; use a shovel or garden edger to help you create a sharp line.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Recycled Wine Bottle Garden Path

Put your wine bottle collection to use in the garden as a fun, colorful border and path. To do this at home, dig a trench along the walkway or chosen area. Fill the trench with sand and then turn the bottles upside down and begin installing. When you;re happy with the placement you can start backfill with soil.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

River Rock Garden Border

River rock or small stones create an excellent, inexpensive border. Many construction sites will give you the rocks at no cost.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Line Terra-Cotta Pots With Coffee Filters

A pack of coffee filters can come in handy in the garden: Place one at the bottom of the planter to prevent soil and debris from spilling out of the drainage hole during watering.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

Hide Outdoor Eyesores With a Room Divider

A room divider can come in handy in the garden. This one was made from a plastic tablecloth and salvaged metal gates to hide a shed at the end of the walkway.

Photo By: Shawna Coronado

"Focusing on wellness while touching the soil really makes the whole gardening act therapeutic," she says. "My personal inspirational goal is to encourage more people to get out to touch the soil and feel the benefits of growing and sharing in community – it was a life-changer for me and I hope it’s a life-changer for the people who connect with me."

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