I don’t know about you, but I love to get free things – especially practical, free things that I can put to good use. When it comes to gardening, I love free stuff even more. Over the years, I have gathered ideas and hacks to help lower my gardening budget. I am happy to report that I have compiled quite a list of free garden hacks. Read on to find out how you too can garden on a dime.
Having lived in the west, where water is of high value, I have learned to be very mindful of my water use. One habit I have adopted is to save my kitchen water for use on my container plants. I use this water on both indoor and outdoor plants, and just the thought of knowing that I am not letting it run down the drain makes me feel good – and saves money on my water bill as well. Water that you use to boil eggs or clean veggies is perfect for your plants. Just be sure to let the water cool first before using. Another fantastic way to reuse water is to install rain barrels. Rain barrels collect rainwater from the roof of a building, like your house. Water sits in a barrel and is perfect for garden use.
Use free online garden planning tools.
I have stumbled upon several excellent online garden planning resources that allow me to plan for a new garden space creatively. Skip the landscape architect fees and use one of these free sites instead. Here are nine of my favorite ways to save money in the garden.
- Gardeners Supply Company – Besides stocking some great garden supplies, this site offers a free kitchen garden planning tool. The drag and drop feature makes planning the perfect kitchen garden a snap.
- Small Blue Printer – This company offers a free online trial garden landscape planning tool that works with Windows and Mac. This full-color program allows you to add many hardscape elements and enable you to alter the color, length, and width of all placed objects. You can also print your plan when finished.
- Smart Draw – Take advantage of the great 7-day free trial that this company offers. This garden planner is super easy to use and has a drag and drop function that allows you to position elements right where you want them.
Build trellis structures
Many plants such as beans, peas, cucumbers, melons, and a wide variety of flowers appreciate the addition of a trellis for climbing. You can spend quite a bit on trellises. Instead, go a cheaper and equally effective route by making your own using materials you probably already have. Here are a few fun ideas.
- Old metal headboards – Vintage metal headboards add whimsy and flair to any garden space.
- Old ladder – Don’t toss that old ladder in the trash – use it in your garden for displaying beautiful ornamentals or vertical lift for your cucumbers or beans.
- Fence pieces – If you have a few spare pieces of a picket fence, attach these to the sides of your raised garden beds for climbers.
- Sticks and twine – A trellis is easy to fashion from sturdy sticks and some garden twine. Ladder formations and t-pee style trellises are my favorite.
- Crib rail – A metal crib rail makes a perfect trellis when attached to a sturdy fence, elevated raised bed, or wall.
Inexpensive plant food
If you have a large garden, buying plant food can get quite expensive. The good news is that there are many inexpensive solutions that plants love. Here are a few options.
- Tea and tea bags – When you are finished with your cup of tea, don’t throw your bag away. Tea and tea bags are fabulous for your garden. As teabags decompose, they release nitrogen. Just make sure that your tea bags are compostable. Acid-loving plants such as blueberries and azaleas love a cup of tea from time to time. As a bonus, tea helps to deter root maggots.
- Nutshells – If you eat a lot of shelled nuts, your garden will thank you. Collect nutshells and toss them in your garden. Shells add bulk, which allows plants to absorb water and nutrients. Microbes are also happy to break down shells.
- Worm castings – Worm castings are a true superfood for plants. They provide valuable nitrogen and increase the number of beneficial microorganisms within the soil.
- Vinegar and sugar – Your container plants will pop when you feed them with a mixture of vinegar and sugar. Combine a tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar in 8 ounces of water. Allow the mixture to come to a slow boil and let the sugar dissolve. Let the mixture cool and use to water plants once a month.
- Hydrogen peroxide – Mix 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with 2 cups of water. This oxygenated solution will help give roots a little extra oxygen. This mixture is a perfect solution for container plants. Water weekly for best results.
- Grass clippings – Grass clippings are an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium for plants. Make fertilizer tea by filling a 5-gallon bucket with water and clippings. Cover the bucket and let the tea marinate for 3 to 4 weeks. This “green” fertilizer elixir is a powerful superfood for plants.
Make new plants for free by cutting or dividing
There is nothing as satisfying as walking through aisles of beautiful plants. I love touching them, smelling them, and, of course, buying them. However, over the years, I have found that many plants are easily grown from cuttings. One of my favorite plants to grow from cuttings is lavender. I have also grown several butterfly bushes from cuttings that now enjoy a prominent place in my garden.
Another great way to get more plants for free is to divide what you have. Perennial plants, including some of my favorites, yarrow, phlox, astilbe, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, and coneflower, benefit from division once they are mature. Division involves carefully cutting off part of the existing plants, roots and all, and relocating it to another spot in your garden. Dividing plants is a great way to fill in empty spaces in your garden for free!
I hope that these tips and tricks will help keep your garden budget down and your plants happy too!
-Susan, CBHC, Master Gardener