Frugal Gardening Tips

Right after I put up yesterday’s frugal challenge about planting something, I came accross this article by my friend Tawra that’s just full of frugal gardening tips. Enjoy!

Gardening On A Dime
by Tawra Kellam

People are often surprised to find out that even though I’m a cookbook author I went to school for Horticulture. (I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to own an herb farm.) Growing your own plants can not only save you lots of money on your grocery bill, but a nice landscape can improve the value of your home. If you’re creative, you can have a great garden with very little cost. Here are some of my favorite tips to get you started:


Watch people who are moving. Ask if they are leaving their lawn equipment and if you can have it or buy it cheap.

Use an old mailbox out in the garden to store your clippers, plastic bags and gloves. (This is my most used item in my garden!) It is especially wonderful because the kids and Hubby don’t know where my tools are, so I don’t have to worry about them borrowing the tools!

Use wedding tulle found at fabric stores instead of shade cloth to shade plants from the sun or to keep the birds from eating your fruit. It’s much cheaper. Better yet, ask a just married bride if you can have the tulle from her wedding.


photo credit: timsnell

Cheap Plants:

If you see plants at a store that are in bad shape but not dead, talk to the manager. Ask him if he will give you a “deal” if you take them off his hands. Most of the time they will because the plants look bad and they don’t want to mess with them anymore.

Last year I was able to purchase over 50 large 1/2 gallon-gallon sized perennials for $50. (over $600 retail) All but about 5 of them lived and I was able to take those back and get my money back. Most home improvement and discount stores have a guarantee that if your plant dies within one year, you can bring the dead plant and the receipt and they will give you your money back or give you a new plant.

Buy seeds on sale at the end of the season. Put them in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for better storage. Seeds usually last many years beyond the “past due” date on the packet.


Ask a tree trimming service to give you their wood chips for mulch if they are in the area.

Some cities also have a free mulch program where the city tree trimmers dump all the wood chips. Call your local County Extension and find out if there is one in your area.

If you just need a few bags, look for torn open bags at the home improvement store. Our local store has a pile where they dump all the torn open bags of mulch and rocks. They sell the bags for $1 each, saving you up to 75% off! Most just have a few chips missing.

Use shredded paper or newspaper under mulch. This way you can use fewer wood chips.

Keep a shower curtain or tarp in your car at all times. This way if you find a good deal on mulch or plants you can take advantage of the deal right away without messing up your car.


Use deli trays with lids to start seeds. They are mini greenhouses!

Ask the cemetery if you can have the pots they throw away after Memorial Day. (You can dry the almost dead flowers for potpourri.) Look in dumpsters. Many garden centers at the discount stores throw away the dead plants, pots and all. Ask permission first.

Use Styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of pots for drainage. You can also use small plastic six inch pots, soda cans or plastic bottles in the bottom of larger pots so you don’t have to use so much soil and to make the pots lighter in weight.

Misc. Tips

Use milk jugs as drip irrigation. Poke 2 or 3 small holes in the bottom of the jugs and place next to plants. Fill with water and they will slowly water you plants all day.

Use Christmas lights around fences to add sparkle in the middle of summer. Hang them in trees or line paths with them for extra effect.

Use vinegar in a spray bottle to kill weeds. ONLY spray the weed. It will kill any grass or plants you want to keep if you get it on them.

For Kids

Have kids water the plants after they swim in the kiddy pool. Have them take buckets of water from the pool and water the plants when the pool needs to be emptied.

Buy or ask for sandbags after heavy rains. Use the sand for paths or for the kid’s sandboxes. (Only use sand from clean floodwater situations.)

Save scraps of soap when they get too small to bathe with and put them in an old nylon stocking. Knot and hang the nylon on an outdoor faucet.

Homemade Tough Hand Cleaner

  • 1/4 Cup grated Fels Naphtha soap ends
  • 2 Tbsp. mason’s sand or pumice
  • 1 Cup water

Place soap and water in a saucepan. Place over low heat; stir until soap is melted. After mixture cools, add mason’s sand or pumice. Store in a cottage cheese container or margarine tub. To use, dip fingers into soap mixture and lather hands. Rinse well. This works well on greasy tools, also. Be sure to rinse and dry tools thoroughly.

Tawra Kellam is the editor of Living On A Dime
Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 debt in 5 years on $22,000 a year income.


20 Responses to “Frugal Gardening Tips”

  1. Pam Kohl Says:

    My Husband built another 4 x 8 raised garden bed for me this winter so now I have 3 to plant in this spring. Last year I planted Tomatillos and I have a freezer full of Salsa Verde! Hopefully I have worked my dirt over the winter enough that my plants will do well this year. Wish me luck!

  2. Gwen Says:

    Styrofoam egg cartons make good seed starting trays. One of the grocery stores in our town will give you their empty 5 and 2 1/2 gallon buckets from the deli and bakery. These make good plant container if you punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage. These make great tomato and pepper planters and enable people to garden in small spaces. They can also be reused year after year.

  3. Birthrightrose Says:

    I love these tips! Thank you! I am looking for advice on how to start (and WHEN to start) my seeds so they can be transplanted out in to the garden. I am in zone 7…I also have been saving my paper egg cartons to start the seeds in. Are they too small? I am looking forward to my first year of homesteading and can usse all the help out there!

  4. Birthrightrose Says:

    I love these tips! Thank you! I am looking for advice on how to start (and WHEN to start) my seeds so they can be transplanted out in to the garden. I am in zone 7…I also have been saving my paper egg cartons to start the seeds in. Are they too small? I am looking forward to my first year of homesteading and can use all the help out there!

  5. Beverly Servadio Says:

    This tip is from something I’ve read in the past. Another thing you can use to start seeds is the empty toilet paper tube. Cut it in half, make 4 – 1in slits in the bottom of each half. Fold each section created by the slits inward like you are closing up a cardboard box. Overlap each section with the next and tuck the last one under the first one. The half sized pot is perfect for starting all my veggies and most of my flowers. If you need more root room, leave the tube whole. When you are ready to plant, unfold the bottom and plant the entire little pot & plant. It composts. I use empty paper towel tubes by cutting them up into 1/2in circles. I use the square foot gardening method and use the circles to identify seed placement. Each circle is approx 2in in diamiter so if the planting instructions call for planting your seed 2in apart, the circles placed next to each other give you that spacing. A bonus is that if something is growing in the circle it is your plant. If its not, its a weed!

  6. Lauri Says:

    I am also in Zone 7 (Long Island) and hope to get ready soon to start my seeds. I am getting conflicting advise on when to start or even if it is worth starting seeds inside. I was told a general rule about starting the plants outside (or having the indoor seedlings ready) was to do it by Mothers Day. Here in NY, we have had some funky weather and a few years back, we had frost in Late May.

    I know the one thing I can’t skimp on is soil, but need advise on how I can frugally collect whatever else I need, when to start and how to actually judge how long I need to have the plants growing inside and how long I need the grow lights to be on.

  7. Gwen Says:

    You can get free buckets, 5 gallon and 2 1/2 gallon, from grocery store that have delis and bakeries. They make great planters for container gardening and can be reused for years. I also start my seedlings in egg cartons instead of paying for those little peat starter tablets.

  8. rebecca Says:

    I’m sorry to say I have no good response to questions about zone 7, but where I live I’m zone 4 and plan on starting my seeds indoors beginning of April or mid April. The general recommendation for Minnesota is last frost date is Memorial Day…I don’t know about zone 7. Lauri I can’t believe you guys had frost in late May last year!

    The recommendation I’ve seen for grow lights is them on for 12-16 hours.

  9. Tami O Says:

    I am in NW Washington, in the Puget Sound region. We have snow today, – it snowed yesterday – I awoke to 6″ yesterday and it snowed all day long. I bought seeds for 10 (maybe 20) cents a packet from Wal-mart a few weeks ago and have the motivation to get going. We have an unheated green house full of weeds. I know it is too early to begin but I really want a garden this year. I have no idea how to even begin. My MIL is dying in the hospital and we are full of stress. I work at Wal-mart and come home exhausted.
    Every year DH says he will rototill but the people all around us have crops coming up before our earth has even been tilled. Last year we went the CSA route. Tips are great but I need to make a plan. maybe in a month begin the tomatoes inside?
    Thank you,

  10. Tammy Basden Says:

    The vinegar for killing weeds is it straight and can u use it in sprayer to edge flowerbeds and around trees

  11. cgoodpastor Says:

    I’m in Oregon and there are always conflicting instructions here, it’s hard to know who to listen to. So, I wing it. I will be starting my seeds the end of March and then doing a few of each type each two weeks until end of May. That way I have some early, mid and late for going in the ground , which we can’t really do here until end of May even early June, we have a good indian summer here and can grow into October too. Last year, I listened to the experts and put them outside early May, that same weekend we had a freak storm with hail and freezing temps that killed almost everything. Only the year old strawberries survived to the joy of the squirrels. If nothing else, I don’t think there is a law about eating squirrel!! Yes, I generally grow tomatoes (all my seeds actually) for at least a month inside, but due to my system some stay in as long as 2 months with no problem other than having lots of foliage inside to get around. Tami, a plan is great, but I always seem too busy for all those garden diaries and yard planning diagrams, etc. I feel like as long as I get something in the ground at least I’m trying and we enjoy the veggies and such as a result. Don’t try so hard to follow all the rules and advice that you don’t get any of it done, just do what you can. Saying a prayer doesn’t hurt either, some of my better harvests have happened that way. Also, I use those larger plastic disposable drinking cups that one might use at a picnic for starting my seeds. poke a few holes in them, they are easy to move (I use an old cookie sheet) and I can reuse them year to year, they store well, rinse, dry in the sun and stack up. Camie

  12. Beekeeper Says:

    These tips are great. We just planted our seeds for the garden (anything that could be started early). That turned out, when all was said and done, to be 1000 plants! We have a small greenhouse and are sooo excited to get things going. We are in zone 5/6 (right on the border). I would think that zone 7 could start indoor stuff with grow lights in about a month. Good luck to all with your desires for self sufficiency!

  13. Gwen Says:

    We do mostly container gardening and have prepared them for planting…if only we can get the weather to cooperate.

  14. Elle Says:

    zone 7 last frost date is May 15. I am also Long Island. Hello neighbor! I generally backtrack from that date. Usually the seed packets will say how many weeks before the last frost date. Sometimes you just have to wing it because no one can predict the weather. I know that peas can be started outside as of the first day of Spring (March 20). March 20 is eight weeks before May 15 so you can check to see if there is anything you can start indoors now.

  15. Juli Says:

    A great way to get your seeds started and to make sure they’re still good if you’ve had them awhile or you had saved the yourself, is to pregerminate your seeds in a coffee filter. Take a coffee filter and get it good and damp with water. Now sprinkle a few of the seed you want to start into the coffee filter (try and keep them spread out if you can). Fold the filter into quarters. Put it in a ziplock bag and put it into a dresser drawer or kitchen drawer. If you put it into the drawer zip side up intead of flat, the roots will all go in the same direction. Now wait 2 or 3 days and then check your seeds. Some only will take a few days to germinate, some take a week or longer. Once you see them starting to root, you can either cut out that part of the filter with the growing seed and plant fliter and all, or carefully open up the coffee filter and use a toothpick or tweezers to move the sprouted seeds to plant. I find that I have MUCH less wasted seed. It eliminates the need for thinning (which I never have the heart for anyways). I have a much higher rate of germination with this method than with putting the seed straight into the ground. With some seed, I have almost 100% germination so be carefull with how many seeds you stick in the coffee filter to begin with, esp. the really small ones. As a side note, sometimes you’ll have some seed that are ready to go in their pot or in the ground and the rest have’nt germinated yet. That’s OK. Just transplant what is starting to sprout, redampen the coffee filter if needed, stick it back in the ziplock, and into the drawer. If your patient, and the seed is viable, it just may need more time. If it never sprounts after maybe 3 weeks, at least you didn’t waste your time and money with grow lights, etc. It may just not have been viable seed. This method gives new gardeners a LOT higher success rate.

  16. Juli Says:

    Save your milk jugs! You can wash them out with a little bleach and water. Cut off the top, and use it to cover tender plant from frost damage like a mini greenhouse the top acts as a vent. Get it in the ground so it won’t blow away. The bottom can be used as a mini flat for starting your seedling in. I can start about 16 seeding in a 1 gallon millk jug bottom. Depending on where I cut the milk jug, I have a lot more space for plant roots than the egg carton method.

  17. Alex Says:

    When you buy wilted plants at a discount and then return them when they die you are stealing. The policies are for plants sold at retail. I know many retailers who won’t sell plants at discounts because of unethical behavior of customers like this. If you want the guarantee pay the retail price. (it is cheaper to throw away a dying plant then sell it cheap and have to throw it away later and give someone a plant that could have sold for full retail. Please do not encourage you readers to steal.

    I will say that most retailers will give you your refund or a new plant because they want to keep you happy, but that is still no excuse for stealing from them. You have plenty of other useful, frugal, and ethical ideas to waste time on this one.

  18. Christine Says:

    We have a very small plot of land, only 40′ x 100′ and that includes the house, driveway and garage, so gardening space is at a premium. I saw a great idea for growing potatoes on TipNut, but it was sort of complicated, so I put on my thinking cap and my husband built a side by side compost / potato growing bin from free pallets sawed in half. Then, thinking of those topsy turvy planters, I asked him to build a frame over it (free lumber left over from a neighbor’s deck project). I hung upside down planters made from 3 liter soda bottles, a bleach bottle, and some other stuff. So far so good. The plants were grown from seed saved from last year. Next to it I installed a brick paved container planting area (free bricks from road construction) using pots that were either found at the curb or given to me by a neighbor who moved away. My one purchase was a strawberry pot which was 50 cents at a garage sale.
    Take a look and let me know what you think:

  19. Jeanetta Says:

    I want to share my success with my gardening experience this year. I have always wanted to have a garden, but have never been good at growing things. My family teasingly calls me the “plant killer”! Well, I read about making a lasagna garden and decided to give it a try. I am very reluctant to spend a lot of money on many things, especially if it seems like a luxury, and buying plants seems like a big luxury (have you ever noticed how expensive even Walmart is on their potted plants?). I always try to go the least expensive way I can, if the quality is worth it. So, anyway, this is what I did, and I have been very surprised by how easy and economical it was to have a garden. I probably spent less than $20 on my whole garden, and it has paid me back many times over in savings, and my garden is very small, about 3 ft x 8 ft. A town near us has a city compost pile where you can get free compost , and you bring your own containers and haul it off. So everytime I had to go shopping, I would get some, because it is about a 20-min. drive. I also had a garbage can full of compost that I made last year, using a few bags of dirt I bought, and lots of kitchen scraps and torn-up newspaper (we get free newspapers because we deliver the papers in town, and we get free papers every day!). With some free boards my husband got from work, we laid out our boards, and nailed together, then spread a few layers of newspaper on top of the ground. Then we soaked it really well. Then we added some dirt/compost on top, soaked that, then more newspaper, soaked, and so on until we had about 3 or 4 layers of dirt and paper. Then , poked holes in the dirt and put in some tomato plants I bought, seeds from the dollar store (some where on clearance from last year), and some other plants that were half off because of end of season. Most things planted were from seed, or that I started from seed. It wasn’t real organized, but I wrote the basic location of each plant on a 3 x 5 card and the date I planted each one. Then I watered it all, and waited. Now a few months later, I have a very lush, beautiful garden, and more than a dozen tomatoes, several ears of corn, around twenty cukes, around 30 green beans, etc. Not a lot, but it is a very small garden, and it has been fun to watch it grow. Next year I plan on making several more garden boxes, as we have a large family (8 children). It has been a great experience for our children. We have hardly had to weed it at all, as the plants are planted very close together, and the larger plants shade the smaller, and the weeds hardly have a chance. We bought 5 tomato cages at a garage sale for $1 for all to support the tomatoes, cantalopes, & cukes. Almost all of my pots were free from people throwing them out on our city-wide junk clean up days. Also, we have had several large bags of corn and tomatoes given to us by neighbours, and one neighbour lets our children pick all the apples they want, so we have been trying canning this year. A lady at the grocery store is giving me her mother’s canning jars, as her mother is now in a nursing home, and I found a huge cast-iron pressure canner/cooker (missing the pressure bobber)for free at a local “free garage sale” where people can donate items they don’t want, and you can go there and get anything you want or need for free. We have also been given a lot of rubarb from a couple of neighbours, and we have made our own jam. Watch the dairy section in your store for marked-down dairy items- last week I bought a quart of whipping cream for 50 cents, and made butter in my mixer- 1 pound of butter for 50 cents! Stretch it by adding canola oil in equal amounts to the butter, and whip, and the butter goes further, and stays soft when refrigerated. The Lord has blessed us so much, especially lately, when prices are so high! Keep searching out frugal tips-it is worth it and brings much satisfaction!

  20. kathy Says:

    I have found a treasure . There is a website called freecycle. Just go to yahoo and then groups. type in freecycle and then your zipcode. You have to join and be accepted. It is all for free and to help keep things out of the local landfill. I have seen refrigerators, beds and even trampolines givenaway. The way it works , you just post a wanted:item and wait for a response. If you have something for giveaway, you post it as offer: item , and wait for response. You also meet lots of new friends. The sky is the limit. If you need something , just ask. Someone probably has it stored in the garage and wants to get it out of their way.
    I have gotten canning jars , window shutters and a dog house. I have given away microwave, clothes, shoes, duck eggs….

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