Budget,  Garden,  Water Saving,  Zero Waste

Watering a heavily-mulched garden bed using upcycled plastic containers

How to have a thriving garden during a drought by getting water to where it’s needed most.  For free.



Most gardening sites will recommend having some form of reticulated watering system in times of drought and to save water. This is not a viable option if you are renting and living below the poverty line. Instead, you can upcycle plastic containers to minimise your water use by making sure water is directed to where it is needed the most.

This was the bed when I moved in. I pulled out all the plants and spent six months improving the soil.

I have two small garden beds in my front yard. They were much neglected when I moved in and in desperate need of a revamp. One bed had very sandy soil and this bed was easy for me to ‘dig’. When I write ‘dig’ I mean turn over the soil with a hand-held spade while on my backside. My CRPS prevents heavy spadework.  I spent six months preparing this bed by digging in organic material (like trench composting but without the addition of a plant on top of it) and adding some worms from my worm farm.

Fast-forward nine months and this is the same bed

I designed this bed to contain leafy edibles which require clean water and not grey water. I watched this bed for six months and realised that it had a great aspect (very sunny) and had maximum exposure to rain (it was away from the eaves of my unit). The challenge was to be able to water this bed solely from the recycled water from my shower and kitchen taps (the water you collect while waiting for the hot water to come through) to supplement what was a very inadequate rainfall. I live in a drought and bushfire affected region and decided long ago that I would only water the garden using recycled water. Despite living in a rental and during the worst drought on record, I have never watered the garden with town water and it is in better shape since my arrival.

My basil seedlings have really taken off in this bed. I found watering the bed a challenge in the beginning as the addition of a heavy layer of sugar cane mulch meant that I was wasting a lot of water as run off. The water wasn’t reaching the plants. I had known about how to convert plastic drink containers to drip-water plants for quite some time and decided to adapt this system to my basil bed.

Away from prying eyes: you have to go searching for the pots

I use 600ml cream containers as they are small enough for me to place in the garden bed (minimal digging) and with a wide opening that accommodates a large watering can (with the ‘shower head’ removed).  They are also invisible once the plants are established which is important to me as my garden bed is on full view to the public and I want to impress (and not horrify) my rental property manager.  I aim to use recycled materials with care in my rental garden by aiming to ensure these materials also have aesthetic appeal.  These containers are also easy to remove and place elsewhere as you remove and replace plants.  I tend to collect them over time and convert a few at once.  At the moment I have to pierce holes in my bottled water (our town has a potable water problem) so I make it a weekly job.

I use a hot screwdriver attachment to pierce holes in my containers. I light a tea candle in order to have a constant source of heat. I have a small toolkit I purchased for around $10 for basic home repairs.  I place two holes on the quarter turn and one hole in the base (to ensure the container completely empties) which is nine holes in total. This ensures a steady stream of water. It is not a self-watering system as the pots drain reasonably quickly.

Now you’re ready to place the pots in the garden.  I collect and convert mine all year round so that I have the pots ready for when I want to plant.  I plant seedlings around a pot and I tend to fill the pots twice to ensure the ground gets an adequate soaking.

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