Don’t waste money on designer seed packets. Instead, save and reuse pods from your previous “star” producers. Cut and dry the seedpods from flowers, vegetables, and herbs, and use these for next year’s starter stock. Are you interested in trying out a new crop? Save the seeds from the produce you buy in the supermarket, or better still, start a seed swap with your neighbors.
Divide and Conquer
Make your garden the envy of the neighborhood without spending a dime! Perennials thrive when they have plenty of room to spread, so encourage growth by digging and dividing overcrowded plants, transferring the extras to new sections of the garden. Perennials that are particularly easy to divide include gaillardia, bleeding hearts, coral bells and forget-me-nots. Simply dig up a clump, separate into fist-size sections, and replant; water well until new shoots form.
Many municipalities offer free wood chips or mulch to homeowners. Check with your local parks department or other agency to find out whether they offer free mulch from cast-off Christmas trees, downed tree branches, or municipal cuttings. Use the mulch around trees and shrubs to cut down on weeds and retain moisture.
Many flowering plants, such as roses, hydrangeas, gardenias, azaleas, and some varieties of decorative vines, grow best from cuttings. Cut several six- to eight-inch angled pieces from each plant that you want to propagate. Remove the leaves from the bottom of the stem, scrape the sides slightly near the bottom, and immediately put the scraped ends into a jar of water. Then, dip the cut ends into a rooting solution, and place them in potting soil, firming the soil around the cutting. Keep the cuttings moist while rooting. When new leaf buds appear, transplant to any desired location.
Related: 10 "Zero Dollar" Garden Hacks
Turn Trash to Cash
Don’t waste money on costly compost and soil additives: Save all your kitchen scraps, grass cuttings, and yard waste to start your own compost pile. After a few weeks, you'll be able to use your private stash of nutrients to enrich the soil throughout your garden, without spending a dime.
Don’t dump those kitchen scraps! Many supermarket vegetables can be grown from leftover bits or root ends; the list includes plenty of kitchen staples like lettuce, potatoes, garlic, ginger, celery, onions, and more. For rhizomes and tubers, such as ginger and potatoes, you can plant veggies that have several distinct sprouts, or "eyes." Plant either the entire vegetable or cut it into small sections that each have at least two eyes. For other vegetables, place the root end in a jar, then add enough water to cover the root without submerging the entire plant. Put the jar in a sunny spot, and within three to five days you should see some new growth. Transplant to pots, and keep well watered until the seedlings are large enough to move to the garden.
Flickr / via Tamera Clark
Kill Slugs with Old Suds
Have some leftover or flat beer in the house? Use it to make your own slug traps for the garden. Pour the beer into the bottom of a wide-mouth jar or plastic yogurt or cottage cheese container. Then, dig a hole and place the container inside, so that the rim is level with the ground. The slugs will fall in and drown, and you can simply throw the whole mess away when the time comes.
Mark the Spot
No need to spend money on fancy plant markers to keep track of your crops. Instead, repurpose old silverware or wooden spoons into attractive, functional garden art. Decorate your recycled markers with a paint pen, fingernail polish, or a colored Sharpie; write the names of the plants on the blade, bowl, or handle of the utensil; then stick them into the soil alongside the plants for a kitschy, kitchen-y display.
Water, Water, Everywhere
When you boil foods like pasta, potatoes, or veggies, nutrients are released into the water. Think twice before throwing this beneficial broth down the drain! As long as you haven't added salt to the solution, you can reuse the cooking water (once it has cooled down, of course) to give your garden a healthful boost.
Drink Wine to Let Plants Dine
Make a custom irrigation system from nothing more than H2O and your empty water or wine bottles. Drill a few holes in the caps or corks, fill the bottles with water, replace the lids, and then stick them upside down in your pots or in the garden. The liquid will slowly trickle out as needed, saving you water, money, and time.
Ward Off Worms
Cutworms can be the bane of newly planted gardens, demolishing weeks of work in a single night. Make cutworm “collars” to keep pests out—and protect young seedlings. Cut off the bottom of a yogurt or sour cream container so that it's open at both ends. Sink it about an inch into the ground around each seedling, leaving a portion of the container exposed. Once the plants are well established and the stems harden, you can remove the collar.
Related: 8 Ways to Combat Garden Pests
All the News That's Fit to... Plant
If you’re looking to start a new garden bed, don’t waste time and effort digging up the grass and weeds. Instead, smother the existing growth with newspapers. Mark out the garden bed and mow the area as short as possible. Cover it with six to eight layers of newspaper, and place compost, soil, or mulch on top to keep the paper in place. Yesterday's news will smother the existing weeds and grass, and then decay into the soil, leaving you with a new planting bed ready for your choice of vegetation.
Winter storms invariably leave some dead and broken branches littering the yard. You can gather these together and use them as sturdy trellises and tomato cages to support top-heavy plants. Cut strips of worn-out towels or twine into ties that will hold up the veggies without cutting into tender stems.
You don’t have to spend money on lavish gardening books or glossy magazines for inspiration and guidance—just check out your local library. Your local cooperative extension office, another under-used resource, provides free advice from a trained master gardener who knows which plants will or will not do well in your area. As well, many home and garden centers offer free lectures about gardening products and techniques, as do local garden clubs. And, of course, you can also always turn to this and other websites for help.
Save Some Green
But gardening doesn't have to be an expensive activity. Start your garden with these totally free ideas.
Give the special gardener in your life a little love this holiday season! Go now to see Bob Vila's best gifts for green thumbs.