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Frugal Gardening Tips

By Becca Evenson

A garden can be a great budget-saver, as well as a great way to eat better. A garden can also be a budget-buster if you head to the garden center and purchase everything they have to make your garden a success. Many things can be salvaged or created with minimal expense. This list is NOT comprehensive. But it may give you some ideas to begin your gardening adventure. Go get dirty and have some fun!
Compost and Soil Building
Composting can improve soil composition, water flow and retention, and the ability of roots to dig and anchor plants.
When to plant? If your soil is to dry to form a ball in your fist, wait for rain or soak the ground. If it will form a ball but doesn’t fly apart when you throw it in the air, it is too wet. Wait for a few days.
You can compost grass clippings, leaves, egg shells, wood ash, and plant-based kitchen waste. Do Not add clippings or leaves that have been sprayed, animal waste; or kitchen waste that has animal scraps, citrus or banana peels.
Want to speed up the decomposition process? Freeze the kitchen scraps before you put them outside.
You can compost by digging a hole between plants or a trench down the length of a garden row. As you create kitchen waste simply add it to your hole/trench. Cover it when filled and dig a new one somewhere else. The worms will have a party breaking it down.
Peas and beans add nitrogen to the soil. Till the vines back into the soil when they are done producing. Plant them in a different place each year to help build your soil.
Use grass clippings, leaves, clean brown cardboard, tree bark, black and white newspaper pages, or wood shavings at the base of plants and in between rows to retain moisture and inhibit weed growth.
You can chop newspaper with a lawn mower before you add it to your compost or spread it as mulch.
Use aluminum foil or black plastic as a ground cover. Run a soaker hose underneath and cut holes for each plant. Use rocks to secure the edges. (This works best for tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos.
Plant peas and beans in a 1-2″ trench instead of a single row. The plants will shade the ground as they grow to retain moisture and will also help pollinate each other.
Plant beans with your corn. They are a beneficial crop for your soil and the corn stalks will act as a trellis.
Seeds and starts
Plant starts indoors 6-8 weeks before desired transplant date. Keep in a warm and sunny place. Make sure soil is kept moist, but not swampy.
Use egg shell halves for seed starts. Plant the seed in potting soil in the egg shell. Stand the starts in an egg carton and keep moist. When the starts are ready to be put in the ground, crack the shell slightly and place in your garden. The shell will compost into the soil, and the roots will grow through the cracks.
Use milk jug bottoms, milk cartons, or paper cups for planting seeds for garden starts. To remove the start when you plant, water the start so that it is wet, turn the container upside down and give a gentle shake. The start and surrounding dirt should come free. Both the plant and the dirt should be planted.
You can purchase “jiffy pots”. They are small compacted peat pots that expand for planting when you put water on them. (They’re pretty cool to watch. Kids love them). One seed per round. You then place them in the ground when it is time to transplant-no need to disturb the roots.
Build a box with 2x4s and chicken wire to cover the areas where you plant carrots, leafy greens, turnips, beets, etc. Scatter seeds and sands inside the box outline and then place the boxes over. (A window screen mounted on wood would also work.) Leave in place until the plants are around an inch high. The boxes protect the tiny seeds from birds and many insects. Thin plants as they grow.
Remove the bottom of milk jugs and use the top as a cover for tender plants if the weather man puts out a freeze warning during the early spring.
If you are purchasing starts rather than growing them, buy from a reputable garden center. They cost a little more but are taken care of better and tend to be hardier. You will generally lose fewer as you transplant them.
Cut strips from yogurt or cottage cheese containers to use as markers for your starts and other garden plants. Or use craft sticks. If you use wood, cover the writing with clear nail polish so that is doesn’t smear as you water.
When setting starts outside to acclimate them, keep them watered. They need to be checked daily or they will wilt. If they do wilt, water them. Unless the stems have dried out almost completely, they will revive. Then keep them watered.
Don’t plant sweet and hot peppers close to each other. They will cross-pollinate and you could end up with spicy bells and mild jalapenos!
Seeds can be saved from year to year. Most will germinate for 2-3 years after the date on the package. Don’t throw them away after planting season. Save them. You can often find seeds at the end of gardening season at a discount. Stock up. (I try to store my seeds a year ahead.)
Fences and trellises
If you or your neighbors have chain link fencing lying around, use it to partition off your garden area from children and pets. Or stake it up as a trellis for vining plants to climb.
Your chain link fence can be used a trellis for plants that climb. Simply plant along your fence line. You’ll save space and make harvesting easier. Or build an A-frame with the fencing and 2x4s.
If you have branches you pruned off trees, stand them in a teepee shape and secure them branches with twine. Plant beans or peas at the base of each pole and they can climb the branches.
Larger branches can be used as posts for a row trellis. Simply run a few rows of string or twine between the branches and plants that grow as vine can grow up the string.
As you pull rocks out of your garden area ( and you will!), use them to create a border for your garden.
Need another space-saving idea? Trellises and fencing can be placed against a south-facing wall of your house or shed. Plant along the base.
Create a wire tunnel for climbing plants by anchoring thick wire in the ground and plant at each base. Let your children (or grandchildren) climb underneath and enjoy the shade!
Old ladder can lean up along the side of a building for a trellis for grape vines.
If you need to tie something up, use old pantyhose. They stretch as the plant grows and yet are strong enough for the toughest vines.
You can create fence for your garden by using branches as stakes with grapevines woven around them. It could work as a short fence for things such as strawberry patches or a taller fence if needed. Let the kids help!
Sprinkle Instant Grits, Malt-o-meal hot cereal, or Cream of Wheat on ant hills and along the pathways they travel. The cereal expands in the ant bodies and kills them.
To kill snails, mix yeast and sugar in water (as you would for bread dough). Place in a jar lid you have set into the ground along their path. The mixture attracts the snails and the yeast will continue to grow inside them. You can also use the upturned half-rind of a citrus fruit. The acidity will also harmful to them.
To keep snails and slugs away from plants, sprinkles wood ash in a circle around them. Their soft bodies will not crawl over the ash. It dries them out. OR plant radishes around the slower growing plants and the smell from the radishes will confuse them.
Make a tea from hot peppers, onion and a small amount of dish soap. Spray on your plants for insect control.
Eggshell pieces worked into the soil and sprinkled around garden plants will repel cutworms.
Cover cabbages, cauliflower, and broccoli with screening to help keep pests off while they grow.
Plant sunflowers. They attract butterflies, birds and other critters that help control the harmful bugs that attack garden plants. Use them as pretty border on one side of your garden area.
Marigolds have a very strong scent and can hide the smell of garden vegetables from many insect pests.

Cut holes in the base of milk jugs or 2 liter bottles and plant along the rows of your garden. Fill the jugs with your hose and the water will keep the ground moist as needed. Check regularly and refill as needed.
Soaker hoses are more effective than sprinklers and can help prevent diseases caused by overhead watering.
Newly planted garden starts will need more water than established plants. Keep an eye out for wilting leaves and dry soil.
Do not over-water. Water deeply two to three times a week, rather than every day, for a stronger root system.
Do not water during the heat of the day. It wastes water and can damage plants.
Curcurbits (cucumbers, squash, and melons) prefer to be watered by soaking. If you build a moat around each plant and then connect the moats with trenches, you can set your hose on the ground with water running slowly down the trench and it will water all your curcurbits for you without watering extra soil for weeds.
Start small. If you haven’t gardened before. Pick two or three vegetables to try. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Save old windows to use a lid for a cold frame. Cold frames can extend the growing season for many tender plants for months.
Learn about companion planting!
Plant tall crops and place trellises north to south instead of east to west. This allows the taller things to not act as a windbreak. (We learned this one year when we lost a great portion of our corn due to a windstorm.)
Plot out your garden before you plant it. Know what you are putting where. Save the maps to help as you rotate your crops from year to year.
You can make stepping stones from cement and bucket bottoms. Use the bucket as a mold and turn out when dry.
Place large winter squash, pumpkins, and melons on boards as they grow to prevent the bottom from rotting.
If you are looking for something specific, put out the word. Often people have plants to thin, cuttings you could get, or will find a great deal that could help you.
Get together with your neighbors and purchase seed as a group. A packet can have a dozen or more seeds. If you only want a few plants, you may be able to split the cost of the seeds.
Keep your hand tools in a bucket of sand mixed with a little oil. It helps to keep them clean and ready for use. Take care of your tools. Needing to buy new ones due to mis-use is a waste of money and a bad habit to teach your family!
You can put a pillow in a garbage bag to kneel on if spending time on your knees is painful.
If you want to save seeds, you need to gather from non-hybrid plants.
Keep things weeded…mostly. As long as your plants are taller or more established than the weeds, you’re in good shape. Watch out for seed pods or clusters, though. Take out the weeds that are threatening to drop seeds everywhere.
Google “frugal gardening” and you can find a surprising number of sites to supply lots of ideas, thoughts, lists, and creativity from which to draw inspiration and motivation. FUN!


There are many ways to have a garden. Large or small, simple or complex, make it what you want. There are blessings that come from gardening and lessons learned that stay with for a life time. Besides, what better reward could there be than family time and something yummy to eat in August?