in praise of the tip bag, my debris-gathering tool

tip bag for garden cleanupLIKE LINUS WITH HIS BLANKET, I drag it behind me wherever I go. It’s my trusty tip bag, a debris-collecting tool I never thought I’d take a fancy to, having been a bushel-basket or wheelbarrow type for years. But bushel baskets got harder to score, and there are some spots in my lopsided garden where the wheelbarrow won’t do. So drag a bag I do, when I’m doing things like this:

  • When edging, for instance, trimming off bits of turf where lawn meets bed.
  • When weeding, of course.
  • When deadheading.
  • And like mad during garden cleanup—which in windy, wet years like this seems to have been a pretty much nonstop affair.
  • (When pruning or raking leaves, a tarp is probably a better choice, and I’ve got them in many sizes to suit the scale of the job. It’s easy to drag branches, or piles of fallen leaves, away on a tarp.)

I’ve worn out a number of tip bags in my time, but generally speaking they’re pretty resilient creatures. I like the size-XL wide-mouth types, but you can get them smaller, more upright (like a giant beer can), or square, or even one that you wear. No kidding. Good if you are up on a ladder, for instance.

I even turned some fabric nursery “pots” with handles into smaller tip bags, when I wasn’t happy with them for growing things.

Most tip bags come with stiffening rings that you insert into the top lip, so the bag stays open. But as you can see from my photo, my tip bag’s usually at half mast, because I skip that feature. Just a quirk. Floppy is fine with me.

I’ll admit I still feel sentimental about the bushel baskets—a.k.a., fruit baskets—that I used to be able to score at curbside outside the green grocer on trash nights. I loved getting them for free. (You can buy them by the dozen—but I don’t need a dozen; thankfully my local garden center now sells them one at a time, and now Amazon even sells onesies.) They didn’t visually “shout” in the garden as much as today’s unnatural-colored tip bags, but they didn’t hold as much, either. More trips to the heap, or at least to the wheelbarrow, required.

For bigger jobs, I use a wheelbarrow or cart (like one of these) and for the biggest jobs, I just drag around a tarp–which might actually be the most Linus-like behavior of all.

I’m not a lover of fancy garden gadgets, so the humble tip bag: on most days, it’s just my speed. What’s your garden-cleanup partner? Bag, bin, basket, barrow, cart, tarp?

(Disclosure: Purchases from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)

  1. Donna Williamson says:

    My favorite is a kitty litter bucket…holds tools or weeds, bleach and water for soaking irises, you can sit on it, and it comes free with the kitty litter. You can even collect rainwater with the older ones until the sun breaks down the plastic and they start to break.

  2. Janet Teacher says:

    Nice piece on the great big tip bag! (And thanks for the heads-up about Amazon.)
    I employ a small arsenal of United States Post Office mail bins–collected years ago when my husband used to bring tons of office work home on the weekend. They are strong but weigh almost nothing, stack nicely in the shed when not in use, and have sturdy handles. Obviously they are not “legal,” but I wish some smart garden company would copy them in a nice dark green as they are great for weeding, hauling mulch, harvesting compost (I put my compost sieve right over the bin and shovel it in) and transporting/hardening off seedlings. One bin holds about 10 tomato plants. I find that a full bin of anything heavy–mulch, compost, etc.–holds just about my limit for lifting stuff.
    For bigger loads, of course, nothing works like a tarp to drag.

  3. Mary says:

    OMG this is too funny…I DIDN’T KNOW I NEEDED ONE OF THESE…BUT IT’S EXACTLY WHAT’S BEEN MISSING and why I have three piles in the yard that need to be cleaned up…now I know!! Gotta get me one of these!!

  4. mikeinportc says:

    To quote a former boss ( & we did, often, with embellishment;), when encountering a new guy doing it the hard way ” My God man! Better to tarp a can-load, than can a tarp-load!” :)

  5. Kathy says:

    I noticed my neighbor using his wheeled garbage/recycling can lined with a large, heavy duty plastic bag to empty his lawn mower grass in as he mowed. I tried it and bingo. No more dragging the clippings on the tarp to the compost pile. I just wheeled them over to dump them. So easy! I’ll have to do the same when raking the leaves this fall.

  6. Lynne says:

    My new fave: tub trugs. Picked one up at Agway a few months ago and went back the following week and bought 2 more. They come in 10 colors, including a dark green that “blends” well, but the hot pink one is easy to find when you’ve lost all the green ones!

  7. Emmaline says:

    I love my 14 gallon tub trig that I ordered online from Gardeners. (I also have some that I use as laundry baskets.). I use a smaller 4 gallon tub trig for my gardening tools (pruners, hand shovel, gloves, etc.). They are very light-weight, flexible, and come in many pretty colors — I have blue, red, lime green, and purple.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Emmaline. I have those, too — but I keep tools and gloves and twine and such in them, not weeds. I have several, too. (I guess because they are so pretty I hate to stuff them with debris, but good idea!)

      1. Emmaline says:

        It cheers me to use my tub trugs, and they are washable. Mine haven’t gotten that dirty yet, or else my eyes aren’t as critical as they should be. I don’t do major gardening, just “putz” around my flower beds, tomatoes, strawberries, and the yard (which is less than acre).

  8. Pat Meadows says:

    I use (really cheap) laundry baskets the most. Yes, plastic. But really cheap and useful. They aren’t the same baskets I use for the laundry. The garden ones get dirty.


  9. Tracy says:

    Wow, I use the exact same tip bag. My stiffened rim piece also broke years ago, and so I too, now go the floppy route. I drag that darn thing alllll over my property, with it’s three handles for pulling, lifting and tipping onto the pile. It weighs nothing, holds much more than a laundry basket and can be tucked in amongst a bed of fragile ferns and not break a stem.

    Not counting my secateurs, with which I am never without, I’d say my favorite garden tool is my very small, pointed perennial shovel. It’s very sturdy, but the blade is quite petite and the handle has a great hand hold on the end. Everyone makes fun of it (my giant friend Tim always says he’s going to take my “Barbie Dreamhouse shovel” and attach it to his keychain. Naysayers all, but I use it 10 times a day to move this, squeeze in that, till this. You get the idea.

  10. Terry says:

    Like one of your other commenters, I use a kitty litter bucket. It has a handle, is sturdy, and I usually have my nippers thrown in the bottom. It’s easy enough to dump onto the compost pile without too much muscle power. And I have dozens more that I use for everything. Mixing fertilizer, soaking plants, tool tote, storage of bulbs in peat over winter, harvest baskets for large amounts- or giant zucchini! I don’t know what I would do without them!

  11. Sue L'Hommedieu says:

    Garden cart all the time here. It’s the original Vermont Garden cart and I’ve worn out one set of tires using it over the last 30 years. So much easier than dragging a tarp or bag or trying to balance a wheelbarrow. Couldn’t garden without it!

  12. Marilyn says:

    My favorite garden clean-up partners are a 5 gallon pail with handle for the small jobs (you can get them at big box hardware stores), and a wheeled garden cart for the large jobs — the kind that cost almost $200 new. My fiance found an old garden cart at a yard sale for $10, with a rotten plywood floor. It wasn’t difficult to replace that and then put on a new coat of paint all around. He even added a very cool old license plate for fun! It was a wonderful surprise, and I don’t know how I gardened so long without one. I used it this weekend to clean up storm debris after a severe thunderstorm, and to haul off huge piles of liriope, periwinkle, and lamiastrum I had ripped out. I can pull the cart along with one hand, and use my “grabber” with the other to pick up small sticks and pine cones with the other. Can’t do that with a wheelbarrow.

  13. Dahlink says:

    I’m with Lynne on using a variety of trugs. My favorites are the black rubber ones, which we own in two sizes. In the fall we plop tender pond plants into them and bring the plants into the conservatory for the winter. I keep them filled with water, which keeps our aqua-cats entertained all winter long. I also have bright blue ones that never get lost.
    Thanks to all for the kitty litter container suggestions. I rescued several from a neighbor’s recycling while we were cat-sitting. One is currently filled with potting soil. Now I know what to do with the others!

  14. Lorie says:

    Your tip bag looks almost as “used” as mine. Can’t even remember how many years ago it was mail-ordered. It’s completely weightless and bendable, and I love that it stays open!!! but squishes effortlessly when dumping. That third handle was added by a woman, I bet. The bottom of mine is almost see-through from being dragged over flagstone. I actually thought I needed a new “improved” version which sits unused. The green tipbag (with it’s snappy handles) is my 3 season companion…it will probably be buried with me.

  15. Margaret Jumonville says:

    I inherited the same tip bag from my mother (she quit gardening around age 90). It has holes in the bottom from my dragging it around so much – but all the better when I leave it out in the rain – full! I also have one very large plastic nursery pot that I like to use in smaller spaces, and a trug or two. But the tip bag is the best.

  16. Elizabeth Gall says:

    I use the tub trugs because they come in so many sizes…I weed like I eat: My eyes are often too big for my stomach…Or, give me a large container and I’ll fill it until I can’t carry it. With the trugs, I can figure out things in advance: Dry leaves for the very biggest, smaller ones in the spring when I’m edging and the trimmings are moist, heavy dirt and grass. Etc.

  17. elaine says:

    We have a pool and buy chlorine tablets in 5 gallon buckets. I re-use them for my weeding and hauling small tools. But the best part is that they are sturdy enough and high enough that I use them to help me get up off my knees. I have really become dependent on them. I just wish they were more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

  18. Donna says:

    I got a really cool container from Sam’s club this spring. It’s like a little wheelbarrow that tilts back on wheels. I love it; it’s light and easy to dump.

  19. Eileen says:

    I was using an old flat bed sheet for raking up leaves. I would gather up the corners and then dump them.
    It is easier than stooping down continuously to pick up the leaves.

  20. masongreene says:

    I have had and used all of the the methods and means you mentioned but my favorite for 25 years now is still my son’s old plastic toboggan/sled. I have installed a conveniently sized rope tow handle and can easily drag the sled anywhere empty or full. I find that it tips easily into the composting areas or the stone heap. In the winter it is invaluable for hauling my firewood. I used to be able to soak plants in it but now it has some holes, too much time in the rough woods, so I hope to find a new one or perfect used one this fall.

  21. Celia Rosencrans says:

    I use a regular pail that you can get at a dollar store then dump it into the recycle bin on wheels. A person my age needs to get up once in a while to grease the joints anyway so by the time my pail is full, it is time to stand up, move a bit then get back to weeding. I also have a garden seat with storage for all my regular hand tools underneath the seat. I am either sitting on it or using it to hoist myself up from the ground. One more thing is an old rug to sit on when working on the ground. I just roll it up and store it in my garden seat.

  22. Diane Du Brule says:

    I am with Deb. I got tired of lugging tub trugs around, and I have tons of IKEA bags (I always end up buying one because I forget the one I already have). The are light, tough and cheap and cost $0.59, versus $18 for the ones that a certain overpriced catalog charges. (I don’t see the difference.) Plus, they have shoulder- as well as hand-length handles. They last a long time, but at that price, it doesn’t much matter.

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