Plants

15 gifts for your friends — and the environment

Illustration by Patrick Hruby / Los Angeles Times; animation by Li Anne Liew / For The Times

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This is part of the L.A. Times 2022 Gift Guide. See the full guide here. If you make a purchase using some of our links, the L.A. Times may be compensated.

The holidays can be hard for the eco-conscious. All that shiny wrapping paper and ribbon, for instance, wadded into non-recyclable mounds. Visitors who don’t know (or care to learn) the routine about composting or separating trash and spend hours running water in the shower.

Soften the blow by including these water- and power-saving gifts as stocking stuffers and/or main-event presents for your environmentally friendly friends and family.

Joseph Joseph Wash & Drain basin

A Wash & Drain basin with draining plug, carry Handles by Joseph Joseph
(Erika Nortemann/Joseph Joseph)

I had an argument with a friend who insisted it was wasteful for me to fill up my kitchen sink every day to wash just a few dishes. Best to stuff them in the dishwasher, she said, and wash when it’s full. But the thought of dirty, greasy dishes moldering in the dishwasher was pretty unappealing, so I found a great compromise: The Joseph Joseph Wash & Drain basin lets me wash and rinse my dishes (I got two) and since I’m using biodegradable soap, I just empty the basins in my yard when I’m through. These sturdy, attractive basins are handy for camping or outdoor use too.

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$19.99 at Amazon

Sink Twice toilet sink

A Toilet sink from Sink Twice
(Culver Van Der Jagt / Sink Twice)

This ingenious device diverts the clean water that refills our toilet tanks every time we flush into a small faucet that automatically invites you to wash your hands. There’s even a handy place for soap! The sink installs easily over most toilet tanks (measure your recipient’s tank before you buy) and makes hand washing easy and fun. I did call the company with an installation question and got patient expert help from the owner/inventor, Culver Van Der Jagt, who answered the phone. Van Der Jagt says you save at least 2 quarts of water with every flush, and honestly, once you try this, it just seems wasteful to let all that clean water go into a tank when it could be doing double duty washing your hands. I got one for every toilet in the house.

$83.99 at Amazon

Xlux moisture meter

Long probe deep use soil moisture meter from XLUX/Fangtan
(Xlux)

Any plant expert will tell you a common killer of houseplants and garden plants is overwatering, which seems like a double no-no during California’s endless drought. This moisture meter takes the guesswork out of watering, indoors and out, and its extra-long 12-inch probe lets you determine whether water is getting to the roots, where your plants need it most. This meter is super easy to use and no batteries are required. A perfect stocking gift for new plant parents, or attach it with ribbon to a plant gift. (Also seen in our gift guide for beginner plant parents.)

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$14.99 at Amazon

Toilet Tank Bank

A water-conserving tank insert - 3 pack from Toilet Tank Bank/Winthorpe Conservation
(Winthorpe Conservation)

Here’s a memorable stocking stuffer for your water-conscious friends. The Toilet Tank Bank promises to reduce water use in toilets by more than half a gallon every time you flush. The bags basically take up space in the toilet tank so it doesn’t need so much water to finish filling. In the olden days, people would wedge a brick in their toilet tank to do the same thing. This is a little more elegant, and easier to put in a stocking. And with this three-pack, you can offer one to multiple people!

$13.99 at Amazon

Looking to buy for a new gardener or plant lover? Our holiday gift guide features the best tools and accessories to boost a beginner’s confidence or please a green thumb.

Colapz collapsible garden watering can

The collapsible 1.5 gallon garden watering can by Colapz
(AM Conservation)

This collapsible 1.5-gallon watering can by Colapz solves two problems: It easily folds down to store under the sink (or wherever you have room) and doesn’t leak or dribble. I had to overfill it all the way to the top to get any leaks when I was walking, and it pours so smoothly the water goes where it’s intended instead of all over your legs or living room floor en route to the patio or balcony. It also converts into a plain bucket and is food safe if you want to use it for emergency berry picking.

$32.99 at Amazon

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Baldr digital shower clock with timer

A waterproof digital shower timer/clock from Baldr Electronic
(Baldr Electronic)

It’s easy to get lost in a shower, the soothing water transporting us to someplace other than to-dos and water shortages ... But alas, reality and water prices being what they are, it’s best to get a gentle reminder so you don’t let the water run too long. This handsome digital timer is waterproof and easy to set, with a buzzer that can jolt you back to reality when your 10 minutes (or whatever) are up. The perfect stocking gift for anyone using your shower with abandon. Bonus: You can use the timer as a travel clock too.

$19.95 at Amazon

Tubtrug buckets for catching shower water

A Tubtrug (6.9 gallon) by Red Gorilla
(Red Gorilla)

It’s hard to say too much about these handy tubs. They’re soft and flexible, so if you bump them in the shower you won’t skin your ankles. They are beyond sturdy, food safe and this medium size (6.9 gallon) is perfect for collecting shower water, because you can still carry it out to the garden when it’s full. Tubtrugs come in a multitude of sizes and colors so instead of traditional Christmas stockings, use Tubtrugs to hold small gifts this year, making it easy for everyone to tote home their loot.

$14.99 (6.9 gallon size) at Red Gorilla (Also seen in our gift guide for beginner plant parents.)

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Niagara Conservation hand-held shower head

The 3-spray pattern 1.5 GPM hand-held shower head by Niagara Conservation
(AM Conservation)

OK, it isn’t Niagara Falls, but this hand-held shower head by Niagara Conservation still provides a satisfying shower, while using just 1.5 gallons per minute, a gallon less per minute than standard shower heads. I installed mine in a matter of minutes (include some plumbers tape with this gift so your recipient can really seal up the joints). This shower head offers three spray patterns, a 6-foot hose and the happy awareness that over 10 minutes, I’m only using 150 gallons versus 250 gallons of water. Now, if I can only consistently get my showers down to 10 minutes ...

$29.96 at Home Depot

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Smarter With Water shower water catcher

A shower water catcher by Smarter With Water
(Beth Wade)

The name gives it all away, and as a proviso, this won’t work unless you have a shower head in which you can direct water into the funnel, but honestly, if you have a hand-held shower head, this little device will help you catch as much water as possible. The flat, clear-plastic funnel easily attaches to your shower wall, and all you have to do is aim your shower head at the funnel while you’re lathering up. Shower water flows down the tube directly into a container, instead of running down the drain. Why not make this gift a package deal with the water-conserving shower head and Tubtrug, all wrapped up with a bow?

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$14.95 (plus $14.95 shipping) at Smarter With Water

Jisulife portable neck fan

Jisulife portable neck fan
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The longer we can keep the AC off, the less power and water we use and sometimes, all you really need is just a little air. To that end, this inexpensive neck fan by Jisulife works surprisingly well, pushing air around your neck and under your chin at three speeds. The fan is bladeless and comes with a cord for easy recharging. It’s designed to look like headphones cradled around your neck and available in several colors (including an adorable duck design). A friend used this neck fan for an hour while vigorously cleaning house and she gave them a thumbs-up.

$31.99-$36.99 at Amazon

Vensovo terra cotta watering spikes

Terra cotta watering spikes by Vensovo
(Vensovo)

Conserve water, keep your potted plants automatically irrigated and recycle empty wine bottles in one fell swoop with these large terra cotta stakes. Place the porous clay stakes in the soil near your plants’ roots and attach a recycled wine bottle filled with water, which will slowly ooze its contents into the soil, keeping the soil moist. You can gift the entire set of 10 stakes or divide them up as stocking gifts to all your plant-loving friends and family. Just be sure you put the stakes in the pot first and then add the bottle, since the stakes break easily if you try to insert them with the bottle. It’s a good way to keep plants watered while you’re on vacation too.

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$30.99 at Amazon

These L.A. experiences and adventures are the best gifts for those who prefer quality time over physical presents or have incredibly specific taste.

Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs

"Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs"
(Cachuma Press)

Give this useful book to anyone who’s thinking about removing their lawn. Co-author Carol Bornstein spent 28 years as director of horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and her earlier book, “California Native Plants for the Garden,” is considered a bible among native plant enthusiasts. “Reimagining the California Lawn” is full of colorful photos of design ideas and plants, natives as well as drought-tolerant varieties. I particularly love the plant lists in the back that cover every garden need, such as deer resistance, fragrance, seashore conditions and my favorite, “bulletproof.”

$27.95 at Tree of Life Nursery

Theodore Payne Foundation gift card

A Theodore Payne Foundation gift certificate
(Marie Astrid Gonzalez)

One of the best ways for gardeners to save water is to landscape with California native plants, and a gift certificate from the Theodore Payne Foundation can help them on their way. Winter is the best time to plant most native flora, because the winter rains — when we have them — help the plants settle in before the heat of summer. One nice advantage is that you can purchase Theodore Payne’s gift cards online and then offer to drive the recipient to the nursery in Sun Valley where you can both do some browsing. Double score!

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$25-$200 at Theodore Payne Foundation

Enloy compost bin for kitchen countertop

Enloy compost pail with lid
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Collecting kitchen waste for a compost pile is a great first step to saving water, because compost helps build good loamy soil that retains moisture. I’ve kept a stainless steel pail on my counter for years. It’s convenient, spacious and easy to clean, but these new pails have an additional feature: charcoal filters in the lid to keep odors at bay. This model by Enloy has an added benefit: The lid easily hangs off the side while you’re filling the pail — no more searching for someplace to put the lid when you’re chopping vegetables.

$28.99 at Amazon

F2C outdoor compost bin

F2C dual chamber tumbler composter
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Compost helps keep moisture in your soil, but compost piles are hard to fit in small spaces. This compact compost tumbler could be the answer. It’s just 3 feet tall and 2.5 feet wide, spins easily and thanks to its dual chambers, lets you “cook” one batch of compost while starting another. Each chamber holds about 21.5 gallons — a little more than two 1.5-cubic-foot bags of potting soil. FCMP Outdoors has a similar model that seems equally sturdy, but the F2C model was $12 cheaper, included its own tool for assembly (although I recommend having a 3/8-inch socket wrench handy unless you have fingers of steel) and was slightly easier to assemble. Both took two to three hours to attach dozens of little screws — so consider assembling before you give it as a gift.

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$66.49 at Amazon

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