Ask The Readers — Frugal Gardening Tips

by Katy on June 24, 2011 · 46 comments


I swiped this flowerpot from my mother, and it currently houses the leafy part from a beet that I noticed had started to sprout in the compost.

I am going to be doing a surprise something something about frugal gardening next week, and would love to pick your brains ahead of time. I’ve already been pestering friends, family and basically anyone who stands still in front of me to glean great ideas, but now it’s your turn.

I’m tempted to share my go-to trick of mooch, mooch and then mooch some more, but thought I should flesh this out a bit. 😉

What are your favorite frugal gardening tips?


Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”


{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Audrey June 24, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Well, this is probably an obvious one but making your own compost. You only need buy some wire for a “cage” and possibly a pitchfork for turning the pile. Then it’s cost-free for years really. You can’t buy a better fertilizer. Turn it often and add water occasionally. The payoff is immeasurable!


Emily June 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm

It is “survival of the fittest” in my yard…..


Jen Pimm June 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I’ve been compiling a list myself- one of my fave ideas that can work for apartment-dwellers as well is to use chunks of Styrofoam or crushed pop cans to fill the bottom half of planters. It will save you half the potting soil, provide good drainage, and lets you reuse packaging materials.


Jo June 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Also makes the pots lighter to move around.


Mama Minou June 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Save seeds; trade seeds and starts with neighbors; start your own seeds inside instead of buying starts (helps with the winter doldrums); use eggshell halves as seedling holders; urbanite makes great raised garden beds; look to a city leaf collection program for great compost. There must be hundreds more, but that’s what comes to mind quickly!

Also, I like the mooching idea.


Katy June 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Ahh . . . urbanite. Thanks for the reminder!



Robin June 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

For me it’s to use starts not seeds. Anything I attempt to grow from seed (not counting peas or beans) fails to thrive or gets eaten by bugs as soon as it sprouts. The amount of money I have spent on seed packets when I should have just bought starts from the nursery….


Sara Wolk June 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Call around to horse farms, they often will have composted manure free for the hauling.


Jess June 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Propogate cuttings from friends and neighbors! My propogated cuttings have survived my black thumb abuse, whereas all my seedlings died long ago. This may have something to do with the fact that I propogated mint and rosemary, as opposed to the lavender, basil and cilantro I tried to start from seed. But my rosemary seeds also kicked the bucket! I’ve also planted garlic, onion and ginger that have tried to sprout while still in my kitchen cabinets.

Milk cartons and gallon jugs make perfectly usable, if not glamorous, pots. Just make sure they drain.

Also good to know: SNAP benefits can be used to buy seeds and plants that will grow up to be edible food. I’ve never tried, so I don’t know how widespread this knowledge is among plant sellers. (Ooh, I just realized this probably means I can get a basil plant!)


Amy June 25, 2011 at 4:24 am

After removing the large food items on the plate (bones, etc), rinse your dishes and let the water collect in a bucket. Use that grey water to hydrate herbs and other plants in your garden. My plants seem to flourish with this kind of watering, even though it is a little extra work than simply turning on a gardening hose.


Kristia@Family Balance Sheet June 25, 2011 at 4:26 am

I write a lot about gardening at this time of year too. Hold a plant swap with neighbors and friends at the beginning of the season and a harvest swap at the end. Compost. Plant perennials. Divide perennials. Save rain water. Yard sales – I have found plants, terra cotta planters and garden equipment. These are a few off the top of my head, if I think of anything else through out the day, I stop by.


Jinger June 25, 2011 at 5:59 am

Know what grows best for your situation. I have learned the hard way that Texas high winds and extreme heat are not conducive to vegetable container gardening. So now I have just my herbs, a fern, some Swedish ivy and succulents….all doing really well on a shaded porch. And I can make as many Swedish ivy plants as I want from cuttings.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley June 25, 2011 at 6:09 am

In our old neighborhood in New Jersey, Sam, an elderly friend shared some frugal gardening tips with us. For bell peppers, he’d just find a nice one at the supermarket and harvest the seeds to plant (I’m sure he’d start it indoors) and he also planted garlic just found at the store. The old Italians know their kitchen gardens. So I suppose another tip would be to seek out neighbors who have great gardens and ask their advise. They will know what works in your micro-climate.


Jenny June 25, 2011 at 8:37 am

Grow what you’re good at and trade—gardeners seem to love to trade. Started too many tomatoes? Trade for some basil starts. Or trade tomato types with other gardeners to try new heirlooms and see what works best for you. Too many peppers at harvest time? trade for cukes, or raspberries or whatever you don’t have.


Lisa B June 25, 2011 at 9:31 am

A neighbor told me to plant the most expensive stuff at the supermarket. Like, tomatoes are pretty pricey, but potatoes are cheap always, so plant what you like that costs the most. But, whatever your family eats the most of works too. We have tomatoes (8 different kinds) 3 cucumber plants, 3 peppers, beans, jalepenos, parsley & cilantro in two raised beds (4×8 & 2×4) in the backyard. Cucumbers are almost ready!! can’t wait…..


Andrea June 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

I hate wasting water, so I keep a bucket in my bath tub. When we run the water and wait for it to warm up, I collect the extra water in the bucket and use it to water our veggies. We live in a condo, so do container gardening – we get more than enough water this way!

I have also found many free (or by donation) urban gardening workshops at local environmental organizations (we live in Vancouver & there are a lot!) – they generally give away free veggie seedlings at the end of the workshop – I got lots of basil, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale plants, etc…


Marianne June 25, 2011 at 10:55 am

My birthday is around memorial day so i always askfor veggie seedlings as gifts. People can pick out different vegetables and i get the gift that keeps on giving all summer. I also sometimes get a local garden ctr giftcard to get whatever veggies i didnt get. 🙂


Indigo June 25, 2011 at 11:05 am

Stick with do it yourself pest control. A little Cheyenne pepper, garlic, vegtable oil added to water in an old spray bottle will protect your plants from most common pests. If you have pets, spread a bit of their fur around the plants , this will help deter rabbits and deer. Used coffee grounds and baked egg shells offer great pest control along with being a great fertilizer.

Limited garden space? Grow a trinity such as intermixing corn, string beans, and cucumbers together. Corn likes the strong light and provides support for the other plants, as well as protecting them from too strong of winds and sunlight, this also helps limit pests and weeding.


rosa rugosa June 25, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Woman cannot live on veggies alone – don’t forget the flowers! Nothing fills me with a sense of rich abundance like incredible bouquets right from my own garden!


Janinne June 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Repurpose fences and other structures that other people are discarding. There. That’s my tip. On the flip side of that, anyone have any el-cheapo ideas for making raised beds? I have not found any suitable sources for something to repurpose for these. Such as timbers or other big dimensional lumber… I think I need some more creative ideas.


Jill; June 25, 2011 at 5:52 pm
Cindy June 27, 2011 at 6:50 am

I read in “The Resilient Gardener” that you can just make a raised bed by putting a mound of good soil on the ground. You don’t have to make a frame for it. It might work for a bit until you find a cheap or free source for lumber.


Jessie June 30, 2011 at 9:31 am

My raised bed (from previous owner) was made by laying down landscaping fabric and stacking railroad ties around the edges. They’re heavy enough that they don’t need to be staked. If you don’t care about the wood eventually rotting you can use whatever wood you want and just stack it around the edges to make a box/wall, then use sturdy stakes driven into the ground around the outside to keep it from tipping over.


Kori July 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm

We ended up purchasing cedar fence boards to use to make our raised beds. We cut the angled tops off and nailed them to 2×2’s to make boxes. The fence boards were SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than getting the dimensional lumber cedar boards, and they’re easy to cut down.


Maffalda June 25, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I like this:

And also I would like to hear more about square foot gardening. First time I heart about them was here: . They have 2 websites, but is the one with tips for planting.

Now, if I could just find a green thumb to buy…

(Love your blog! You got at least one avid reader in Brazil.)


Bauunny June 25, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I am lucky to live in a part of the U.S. where there are a lot of plant growers. Some of the greenhouses stay open through the fall, but many of them close up shop at the end of June or in mid-July. As a result, they start to mark down their inventory and fabulous deals can be had (including perennials and roses and bushes). There is also a wonderful thrift store near us who gets periodic donations of excess inventory from local growers and I get fabulous deals (3 flats for $10 for annuals). I have finally learned to buy just as many flowers as I have the time to plant….so my garden is a work in progress for about 6 weeks time during which I keep an eye out for good bargains. I also found a great hint in the Garden Gate magazine. A lady recommended shopping at Goodwill/Salvation Army for oven burner covers. She uses them in the garden around her tomato plants so that when she has an abundance of produce, the tomatoes don’t fall to the dirt and rot, they sit nicely on the waiting covers. I suppose one could also use plates which would be more readily available. I also buy garden supplies, plant food, etc. at the end of the season clearance sales and save them for the following year. Gardening gloves, tools, garden ornaments make lovely Christmas gifts and are also useful consumables (which is my criteria for a “good” gift). One of the lovely greenhouses in my area has a sale in March (still winter here) where they deeply discount the beautiful ceramic pots they have used for displays the prior year and other “larger” items they need to move to make room for the new planting season. Great bargains if you are discerning.


Lea June 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Composting is a wonderful way to add nutrients and organic matter to your soil and keep waste out of our landfills.. You can often get a composter inexpensively through your county office. I also use a rain barrel to save on my watering costs. Using a version of the square foot gardening method, I always make sure to start a little bed of lettuce every ten days or so. I can have fresh salad everyday from May to Dec in WI.


Shannon June 25, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Get to know your local university extension office! They offer lots of free information about growing in your particular area, often will give you free advice and resources, and at least around my neck of the woods offer low cost classes and master gardener programs.


Maddie June 25, 2011 at 8:39 pm

For over-wintering vegetable garden beds:

Layer fall leaves on your bed topped by burlap coffee bags which are available for free from many coffee roasters. This helps supress weeds, the leaves and bags will disinegrate in to the ground and they protect the soil from hard rain that we get in the Pacific Nortwest.

Plant green manure in the fall and dig it in during the spring time. This provides all sorts of nutrients, crowds out weeds and also protects the soil at a small cost.


Marc June 26, 2011 at 12:32 am

Tip: DO NOT let the family fishermen/women throw fish heads / bones / guts in the garbage. This is the most valuable organic fertilizer on the planet!

As long as the fish didn’t come from “impaired” waters (in which case they shouldn’t be eaten anyway), you can bury the leftovers in the garden and place boards over the spot to keep the Raccoons, dogs, ect out.

The ancients practiced something similar by “planting” a small fish in each hole as they sowed nutrient intensive species like maize.

Animal “residues” have a wide scope of valuable macromolecules, minerals, and nutrients in concentrations that you just won’t find in vegetable matter. That’s why they shouldn’t be overlooked for addition back to the garden.

We caught lots of Bass and Crappie this Spring and buried the fish waste in the row where our peppers are now planted.

Not only was the soil writhing with Earth Worms a month after (free Vermicompost!), but now the pepper plants are very lush deep green and growing amazingly fast.

By the way,

Someone above mentioned re-purposing wooden pallets.

Beware of re-using wooden pallets for makings things like compost bins. Not sure if the chemical wood preservative has been all phased out yet, but I know many older pallets were made with treated wood which might cause CCA (Copper Chromated Arsenate) to leach and poison your soil. That’s why it’s bad to use any treated wood in the garden.

Also stay away from cross-ties which are also very poisonous to your land / water due to Creosote which has already been phased out in other countries. It’s a pretty potent carcinogen.

the Frugal Scientist


Nicole June 26, 2011 at 12:44 am

I know this is will be quite obvious to some, but, cut your Spring Onions/ Shallots instead of pulling them out roots and all… When I first started growing things in my garden, I’d pull them out and soon had to re plant…. until I learnt to cut them off and then of course they would sprout again in no time at all 🙂


Amber @ June 26, 2011 at 4:26 am

1) Making our own compost (and wow do we have a lot of veggie and fruit scraps to add everyday).
2) Like some have mentioned I am happy to share clippings with friends, especially for items like herbs.
3) Plastic milk cartons, cut small holes in the bottom, great for slow drip irrigation (think tomotoes!).
4) Use pasta water, or water from the kettle and once cooled, water the garden.


Anne Cross June 26, 2011 at 5:24 am

I love the styrofoam idea! I also live in a city and don’t have a yard, but I do containers — I use epsom salts once a year as fertilizer (very inexpensive) and it works great. Also, if you’re going for flowers, try to concentrate on native perennials, so you don’t have to buy new ones every year, and once the perennials start to reproduce, you can swap them for others.


Meredith June 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Some great ideas here! Mine are kinda boring, but….I’ve discovered that one of our local nurseries asks you to bring back last years plastic plant pots so they can recycle them. I asked if I could buy a few from the “recycle bin” and they told me take whatever I wanted. I took some small pots for seedlings, and few large ones that I was able to clean up and use on my deck. Lots of places seem to sell their plants off for cheap around mid to late June, so if you’re willing to wait a bit, you can get a great deal. We have also gotten in the habit of dividing perennials each year, so that we are constantly filling in new places in our garden with what is already there. In the past year, a few neighbors and I have been sharing plants, seeds and seedlings. Look out for plant swaps in the spring. And yes, I mooch a lot. Mostly from my mother’s garden!


Ruthie June 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Get information from a really good gardener (who you meet, in a group, from an organization, who wrote a book or publishes a magazine) WHO LIVES IN YOUR AREA.

I can repeat is OVER and OVER, but I still fight with it!

I have lived and gardened in central TX, Montana and Houston.

I do no live in Oregon. I do not live in California. I don’t live in Iowa or Maine or North Carolina. So many gardening books are written in areas where plants grow without much work on the part of the gardener. I don’t live in one of those places.

The best thing I can do is accept it and learn to live within my boundaries. There is a reason no one has an English cottage garden in the Texas hill country, you’d drain the aquifer and it still wouldn’t look right. Instead, they embrace native and other xeroscape plants.

I’ve learned a million things in my gardening life, but the biggest thing was to stop fighting your environment and start embracing it. You can pull your hair out when all your heritage tomatoes die before producing a crop, or you could do your research, talk to people, plant a different variety and get a great crop. You aren’t going to be able to change your average yearly precipitation, soil ph, or average monthly temperatures unless you’re willing to invest a lot of money.


James June 27, 2011 at 2:27 am

Uk specific perhaps, but I recently discovered that the local waste/recycling centres offers free soil improver, up to 4 trash bags of the stuff each visit. It’s fantastic and would otherwise cost us about £3 per pag in the garden centre.

Having recently bought a house with a very small garden, we’ve actually made it remarkably productive and have just this week starting harvesting enough beans and courgettes for the two of us almost every day. (I included link, click on my name if you’d like to view the photoblog of harvest so far!). I think honestly, the amount you can grow in very little space is quite unbelievable, but I do find myself wanting chickens now, and pining to move out to the country with a few acres or something!


Jennifer @ Fast, Cheap, and Good June 27, 2011 at 4:23 am

One word: Volunteers

At last count, I now have as many volunteer tomato plants growing as I have ones I started from seed. That’s two dozen of each.


Jeanine June 27, 2011 at 4:29 am

The late summer is always election time. So in the week after the elections, I pick up the abandoned “vote for me” signs and use the wire or wood stakes to hold up our plants.

I also shred the paper parts and compost them IF they are made of paper. Vinyl is out, but a local day care takes them and let’s the children paint over them or cut out the letters for crafts.

The sticks make an excellent support, esp. for tomatoes and squash, which get very heavy on the vines.


No Debt MBA June 27, 2011 at 6:56 am

Start small. Your first garden can be a lot of work if you’re not in a routine or used to it so start small and grow as you improve as a gardener. You’ll get a much better ROI for seeds/plants you buy and will have fun instead of being stressed.


sandra jensen June 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Mention you like zuchini to one friend at church and that you forgot to plant any this year – then leave your car unlocked…. (say – tell me that isn’t Fiestaware under your planter! – it has a big crack – right??)


Katy June 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm

It is Fiestaware, I have so much I may start putting it into other people’s unlocked cars. 😉



sandra jensen July 7, 2011 at 11:24 am

LOL! Wish I could park my old Jeep Cherokee in front of your house for a week!


Cahrles Terrebonne June 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm

this may be common knowledge but a sprayer with water, three drops of dishwashing liquid and a teaspoon of veg oil makes a great , natural and organic insecticide….. and costs next to nothing……my favorite is to used dry leaves as mulch……and coffee grounds or pine needles will fertilize any flowering bush and make it bloom more ……….:)


Amber @ June 28, 2011 at 4:39 am

Also, since I live here in drought Austin, Texas, I take milk cartons, cut a couple of wholes in the bottom, and plant them next to the roots of my plants. It is a great way to really get water to the roots without wasting water.


Amber @ June 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm

should say “holes” not “wholes”…


Jessie June 30, 2011 at 9:53 am

Use the grocery store to your advantage –

– separate out a garlic bulb into cloves and plant them
– use the tops of the green onions/shallots/leeks/etc, leaving 3-4″ of the bottom, and plant the bottoms
– basil readily roots from cuttings (aka the fresh herb packs), and a lot of the other herbs there will too
– another reader mentioned planting pepper seeds, this works best if you buy a yellow, orange or red pepper – green peppers are under-ripe and the seeds are less viable
– you can also plant seeds from tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant… and other things with seeds
– you will get a better result if you use seeds from heirloom/non-hybrid veggies as some hybrid seeds won’t fruit at all while others will give you a different fruit than the parent
– if your onions or potatoes bolt in the cupboard you can plant them


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