Dirty cheap tricks and tips to save money in the garden this year!
We’re the kings of thrift here at the Almanac. Discover 20+ gardening hacks to grow more for less. These thrifty tips will not only shrink your grocery bill but also help you to enjoy fresher, healthier food. It’s a win-win all around.
Have you noticed how much the cost of everything’s gone up lately? If you’re thoroughly fed up with spiraling prices, growing some of your own food is one of the best ways you can fight back. Here are over 20 dirt cheap tricks and tips for low-cost solutions to growing.
20+ Garden Hacks to Grow More For Less
Seeds and Seedlings
Whether you’re new to gardening or an old-and-muddy hand at it, it all starts with the seeds and seedlings we’ll need to plant our garden.
- Seeds seem to vary quite a bit in price, but there are ways you can source seeds for very little. One way to get a head start is to look out for seed collections or multipacks. Many local grocery stores or home improvement stores, for example, currently has a six pack of different vegetable seeds available for a fraction of their individual cost. Some stores and garden centers offer a value range of seeds—often of tried-and-trusted old-time favorites. And look out for seed swaps, where you can barter and exchange for seeds and plants.
- Once you get started you’ll be able to save your own seed as well, of course, of favorites like beans, tomatoes, and peppers, so you can cut your seed bill even further.
- If it’s early in the season, remember that many seeds can be helped along with a little warmth. I’ll let you into a little secret here: I don’t own a heated propagator. Instead, I simply pop my early sowings onto a warm indoor windowsill, just above a heat source. The gently radiated heat is enough to stir things into action, and then the seedlings are transferred to the greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse, then a cold frame or any bright, sheltered spot would be good.
- Another option is above a refrigerator as the warmth it extracts comes out of the back and this is ideal for heat loving seeds such as tomatoes and peppers, though they’ll need transferring to a bright sunny spot as soon as they germinate, so do check them daily.
- Make some free pots. You’re literally turning waste into something useful. You’ve got the usual suspects: yogurt pots with holes skewered into the bottom for drainage, old fruit or mushroom trays and so on. See this video on how to make biodegradable pots.
- Toilet roll centers are handy, too. They’re great for bigger seeds or where you want to encourage longer roots, e.g. beans, corn, etc.
- Don’t forget you can, of course, make your own plant labels.
Potting Mixes and Mulches
Make potting mixes go further. This is pricey stuff, so there’s little point saving on seeds if you’re going to be spending a small fortune on what they’re growing in.
- Get a couple of uses out of my seed-starting mix. If you start seedlings off in pots and transfer them out before the roots have even developed, keep all that seed-starting mix that they haven’t even started. Then just top off with fresh mix.
- This approach can also be taken with larger containers too. Take a pot of lettuce. The bottom half is filled with old mix and raked up leaves, then the top half is of fresh new potting mix. The lettuce is none the wiser because its roots are shallow. Why fill the whole container with pricy potting mix when you can get away with less!
One thing you don’t want to skimp on is the organic matter you add to the soil, because that’s what feeds the soil and by extension your plants. How can you get enough material together to make even more compost?
- Ask neighbors to save their leaves for you or collect from curbsides. Spring is a great time for garden tidy-ups. Maybe you can intercept some of the garden waste your neighbors create. It’s worth asking!
- Plain cardboard is an excellent carbon source, so check locally for old boxes etc that you can salvage. Just be sure to rip it up as you add it to the compost heap, to speed up decomposition.
- Make friends with your local tree surgeon. They often have wood ships that they are only too happy to get rid of. Search online too for ‘free wood chips’ and see what turns up. There are also websites like ChipDrop that connect arborists and tree surgeons with end users like gardeners. You sign up, register your location, and then local arborists will get in touch if they have a load of wood chips to drop off.
- One of the best compost accelerators is the droppings from small herbivorous pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs. See if anyone you know uses wood shavings for the bottom of their pets’ cage. If so, you’ll be doing them a favor by disposing of it and will simultaneously give your compost heap a huge boost.
- It’s also worth growing some plants specifically to produce material for mulching and composting. Plants like comfrey that draw minerals up from deep down in the soil using their long, deep roots. These ‘bioaccumulators’ accumulate all those nutrients in their leaves, making them available for you to come along and cut them, to add to your heap or drape around your crops as needed.
Supports and Crop Protection
Let’s move on to cost-cutting ways to help your crops thrive.
- Cut your own bamboo canes to use as supports for this season’s climbing beans. It’s always surprising to find out how much these canes cost to buy, especially when it’s so easy to keep a clump of bamboo in the garden and just take what you need, when you need it. FYI: We’re talking about growing a clump-forming variety of bamboo, rather than an aggressive spreading type. There are alternatives to bamboo, too such as hazel.
- Many crops need protecting from egg-laying butterflies, moths and pigeons. So you’ll need some sort of protective cage. You can make one for pennies! Thrust canes into the ground then top off with empty bottles or tennis balls. Then drape over your cover. Pin down at the edges securely.
- Buy insect-proof mesh by the meter from my local garden center, which works out way cheaper than buying it as a pre-cut pack. Or use a DIY alternative to mesh: tulle, net curtains, or any finely netted fabric would be a great option if you can source it cheaply. Search sites like Ebay, Amazon marketplace, or Craigslist.
- You can extend the season with covers and cold frames too of course. To make make an instant cold frame, just create a frame of cinder blocks or straw bales and pop an old window over the frame. If you have high-sided raised beds, you could add a sheet of glass on top to construct a temporary cold frame. See how to make a thrifty homemade cold frame.
- Another great option is an instant, put-it-up-for-pennies hoop house. See how to make a DIY mini hoop house.
More Plants for Free
Don’t forget the wonderful world of propagation. So many plants can be had for free… if you know how.
- Fruit bush cuttings can be taken in the autumn and then planted to grow on in spring. Blueberry bushes grow really well from cuttings. Ask around; perhaps your neighbors or friends have fruit bushes you can propagate from? And ask for herbs you can divide too – perennials like chives, mint and oregano are so easy to split apart, and will reinvigorate the mother plant in the process.
- You can get up to 10 times more plants for free by simply dividing seedlings, herbs, and established plants. It’s the wonderful propagation technique of division! Check out our recent video on dividing plants for ideas.
- See more on how to maximize and multiply grocery-bought herbs.
Finally, don’t forget about repurposing containers. Remember anything can be pressed into service as a container, so long as you drill drainage holes into the bottom. Be as cool and quirky as you dare! I’m sure some of you will have some money-saving gardening tips to share as well. Please comment below!