The Top 5 Kitchen Scraps to Turn into Plants

published Mar 15, 2016
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(Image credit: Abbye Churchill)

Here’s the truth: Not all plants are created equal. Some actually are more flavorful, more robust, and more delicious than others. And so instead of tossing the scraps from that amazing piece of garlic, mind-blowing potato, or ideal onion, why not get the most bang for your buck and use its winning genes to create a new plant?

It may sound like mad science, but in fact, it couldn’t be simpler. In most cases all you need is a glass jar or bowl, some water, and some patience. Below are a few of the best (and easiest) plants to grow from your kitchen scraps, saving you the cost of purchasing new produce, while preserving the top-notch flavor. You’ve probably already done some of these steps before as a kid; this time around you may even enjoy eating your vegetables.

(Image credit: Abbye Churchill)

1. Potatoes

Potatoes may be the most scrap-friendly place to start — and likely you’ve attempted the process as a kindergartener at least once before. As potatoes age, they naturally want to preserve themselves and so they begin to send up shoots in an attempt to stay alive. We know these shoots as “eyes.”

When cooking with your potato, make sure to peel the potato in large strips, about two inches wide, with at least two eyes per strip. Leave the strips out on the countertop for a day or two to dry out so they won’t rot when you replant them.

When the strips are dry enough, plant the potato strips at least four inches down from the top of your soil with the eyes facing upwards. Cover with soil and wait for your new potato plant to emerge.

2. Lettuce

You know when you go to the grocery store and buy the nice hydroponic lettuce that has its roots intact? Well, guess what? Those roots can serve a function; that’s a whole plant you’ve bought there! Take what you need for your salad, leaving at least two inches above the root system. Place the roots in water (hence the hydro in hydroponic) and fresh green leaves will emerge, giving you salad for weeks.

Now, if you haven’t bought one of those fancy-shmancy lettuce plants, no fear! Simply take one or two of the leaves from your head of lettuce and place it in some water in a glass jar. Soon enough, it will shoot roots out of the bottom and you can continue the process as above. And by the way, this works with cabbage, too.

(Image credit: Abbye Churchill)

3. Scallions, Spring Onions, and Leeks

Perhaps my favorite to regrow, these vegetables require almost no effort whatsoever and will make you feel like you’ve mastered Dr. Frankenstein’s efforts. You’ll also be amazed at how much money you’ll save with this one simple step.

When first buying your vegetable, make sure there are a few white roots on the bottom. This will ensure that your plant can easily regenerate. Next, using a portion of your vegetable’s leaves (keep at least two inches from the root intact), simply place the white roots in a glass jar with enough water to cover just above the roots. Place in a sunny window and watch as, like magic, your clippings send up fresh green shoots (read: vegetables) for you to eat.

Change the water once a week, transfer to larger containers as the root system grows, and snip frequently to encourage new growth and you’ll never have to buy these vegetables again.

(Image credit: Abbye Churchill)

4. Ginger

Ginger is a rhizome, meaning it will grow sideways from the roots and send fresh shoots up. To regrow your ginger, simply lob off a sacrificial lobe from the plant you purchased and place it three inches down in some potting soil with the buds facing up. In about a week, your ginger will have sent buds up through the soil, indicating new growth below. When needed after this point, you can pull the plant from the soil, take what you need of the root for cooking, and repeat the process, lobbing off a bit of sacrificial plant so it can regenerate.

5. Garlic

Turn one clove of garlic into a whole new bud with just a little time and elbow grease. Take one clove from the bulb you’ve purchased for cooking and plant it below the surface of the soil of your pot with the roots facing down. Keep the pot in ample fresh sunlight. When the green shoot breaks the surface and has grown at least two inches, cut the green shoot back to one inch. This will send a message to your plant that growth energy needs to be redirected back downstairs. It will then grow a bulb, which you can harvest and then repeat the same process.

Beyond the Basics

Once you’ve got these grow-again basics on lock, branch out into more exotic vegetable “recycling” options. Turmeric can be grown again in the same way as ginger. Lemongrass can be grown in a similar way to scallions (just make sure to transfer into potted soil once the roots have regrown in water). You may never need to trek to the produce aisle again.