Frugal gardening is about finding creative ways to save money. Need some ideas for making your own garden supplies rather than buying new? These tips will help inspire you with simple steps you can take.
Pots and containers, seed raisers, plant labels, watering cans and sprayers are some of most commonly used garden supplies. There are many household items you may have been putting in your recycle or rubbish bin, without realizing their real value. You can start saving and repurposing many everyday items and turn them into useful supplies instead. Implementing even one or two of these tips will keep your money in your purse for longer, so dig in!
1. Cost-saving Plant Pots
Ever bought a plant and tossed out the plastic pot afterwards? Think again! Although these plastic pots are often not very attractive, depending on the size, they may be perfect to raise another plant in by adding more potting mix.
If you really don’t like the look of the pot, put it inside a decorative outer cachepot for a creative and attractive new look. There are lots more inspirational ideas on the Small Garden Design page. Let’s face it, finding the perfect container for your garden is only limited by your imagination.
- Virtually any container can be used to plant in just so long as it has adequate drainage (this includes sufficient holes for water to seep out).
- Cheap creative ideas for containers include: tin cans, plastic bottles with the tops cut off, old drawers, baskets, colanders, funky old boots, icecream tubs, polystyrene fruit boxes and old canvas bags filled with soil.
- Outgrown kiddie pool/sandpit clam shells make great container gardens, ponds or edible gardens for water-loving plants.
“Before you throw something out, can you give it a new life on your balcony or in your garden?”
2. Salvaged Seed Starting Pots
Next time you want to plant some seeds, instead of buying a seed raising tray, keep your money in your pocket! There are plenty of alternative seed raisers that are good for the environment and your garden that won’t cost you a cent.
- Cardboard Egg Cartons: These make easy seed raising trays. Wet thoroughly first, add your seed raising mix and plant away! Because the egg carton ‘pots’ will dry out in warm weather, make sure you keep them well moistened on a daily basis. Fill a shallow tray with water and sit the egg carton on top. The moisture will ‘wick’ up from the tray. Keep the egg carton seed raiser out of direct heat and windows where warm air blows in.
- Cover the egg carton with a clear plastic bag with a few holes in the top as a mini greenhouse. When the seedlings are ready to plant out, simply use scissors to cut out each egg cup and plant the whole biodegradable ‘pot’ in the soil! The microbes in the soil will compost the pot for you. They are great little workers and get a free feed on cardboard ‘carbon’ at the same time.
- Try raising microgreens in egg carton ‘pots.’ They are an easy crop to grow in just a few days. Make sure you only use organic seeds such as alfalfa or sprout mix from a health food store or online. Why? Non-organic commercial seed mixes are often sprayed with fungicides to prevent rodents eating them in storage.
- At some of the workshops I’ve run, the children have grown ‘hairy caterpillars’ in egg carton ‘bodies.’ We’ve cut the egg carton segments in half and decorated the front with ‘eyes’ and a ‘mouth’ and then filled them with seed raising mix and seeds. We add a fine layer of seed raising mix over the top and using a spray bottle, gently water them in. The children find it great fun to watch their ‘caterpillar’ grow ‘hair’ as the sprouted seeds get taller and taller. After a few days, they give their caterpillar a ‘haircut’ with scissors and enjoy eating the microgreens they’ve grown!
- Toilet Rolls: Another super seed raiser is the humble cardboard toilet roll! I’ve saved hundreds of these and used them to raise uncountable seedlings over the years. Rather than going to waste, these are perfect for seedlings that grow a deeper root such as tomatoes. Children can decorate the outside of the toilet roll and sow the seeds in the top. A few days after seeds germinate, they snip off their ‘hair’ with scissors. A fun way for kids to decide if they want to be a hairdresser!
- Coffee cups: 100% certified biodegradable and compostable coffee cups lined with (PLA) corn starch ‘plastic’ are an eco-friendly, sustainable and renewable resource being used by many retailers. They’re made from sustainable forest paperboard with a natural plant-based lining (with 72% less carbon than plastic). Used takeaway coffee cups (especially if you’re a regular coffee drinker) also make great seed raisers or temporary biodegradable ‘pots’ for young seedlings. Bury the entire compostable pot to feed the soil too. Avoid coffee cups that have a plastic lining.
- Shallow cardboard boxes and cardboard milk cartons: With one long side cut out, these are also free seed raisers you can save from landfills.
- These biodegradable salvaged seed raising ‘pots’ are perfect for fussy seedlings that don’t like being transplanted. This method of growing avoids damage to delicate roots especially with vegetables and herbs that are prone to transplant shock. I often show school students and children at workshops how to grow seedlings in these recyclable containers. It not only helps them learn the 3R’s of recycling (Reduce; Reuse and Recycle) but also helps protect delicate seedlings and roots from accidental damage while they learn how to nurture young plants.
- Plastic meat trays from the supermarket or butcher make excellent free seed raisers. Wash out well, use a sharp knife to slit the bottom of the tray carefully in a few places for drainage and fill with seed raising mix. Then plant away! I also use the foam meat trays as a base to collect water from pots. Better to put to good use than ending up in landfill.
3. Low-Cost Plant Labels
Beginner gardeners, in particular, go through lots of labels while learning to recognise the plants and seedlings they are growing. Even experienced gardeners need labels, especially while raising seeds. You can save money on plastic labels by making your own and save the environment at the same time.
- Simply take a 2-litre plastic milk jug (washed well) and on each of the four square ‘faces’ of the bottle, cut it into rectangular strips. While holding each long rectangular piece of plastic, snip the two corners off one end to make the spike to stick into the soil.
- Other sturdy food safe plastic containers can also be used such as: large yoghurt tubs, plastic soft drink or juice bottles, butter tubs etc. Just avoid using plastics with the recycle numbers 3, 6 & 7 as these can leach toxic chemicals into your soil and food.
- Use a permanent marker or wax chinagraph pencil to write on your labels. This lasts well in the weather and won’t wash off when you water your plants.
- Re–use old labels. If you have already invested in some plastic labels and want to re-use them, just clean up the old ones. There are lots of ways to remove permanent marker but here are a some to try:
- Rub a little methylated spirits on a dry cloth;
- Try some bicarb soda or cream cleanser on a wet cloth; or
- Simply retrace over the writing with a whiteboard marker – dry well and they’re ready to re-use!
4. Watering Cans and Self-watering Bottle Irrigation
I encourage people to make their own (MYO) garden tools and materials wherever possible.
- A 1.25L drink bottle makes an efficient watering system in the soil. Just punch some small holes around the base with a skewer or nail. Then bury in the hole beside a new plant with the lid showing just above the mulch. Unscrew the lid and fill up with water (or nutrients such as seaweed). You have a slow-release watering system to help your new plant establish. It also is an alternative way to provide drought-proof irrigation. The plant gets the water right where it needs it – at the root zone!
- You can use this method in reverse for pot plants by putting a few holes in the lid and cutting off the bottom of the bottle so it acts like a giant funnel. Up-end the funnel and balance it in the pot making sure the lid is in contact with the soil. Fill with water or diluted seaweed and allow to slowly feed your pot plant.
Plastic bottles with handles such as 2 litre milk bottles, large 4 litre purified bottled water containers and some juice bottles all make suitable watering cans with virtually no effort!
Wash out your bottle, punch a few holes in the lid with a skewer or nail and fill with water! Easy as that!
- These are particularly suitable for children to use as they are lightweight. They can be painted or decorated with permanent markers with their name or own design. It also encourages kids to do the watering for you and nurture their own plants!
- You can also use the same concept for watering in your organic fertilisers. Simply draw a line down the bottom close to the base of the bottle watering can so the children know how much concentrate to add. When they reach the line, they stop and fill up with water. This is a great exercise for measuring and hand-eye coordination too.
- These are a fantastic money-saving ‘make your own’ idea for schools, parents, kindergartens and early childhood centres to use.
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5. Recycle Spray Bottles
There’s no need to buy a plastic spray bottle for your garden needs. Simply recycle your empty domestic cleaning sprayers and re-use. It is safer to use environmentally-friendly sprays rather than chemical ones. Make sure you wash them out extremely well, so no residue is leftover before using the sprayer on your plants. When you have cleaned the spray bottle (including the nozzle), fill it with clean water and pump the sprayer around 20-30 times so clear water sprays out.
- Sprayers are very useful in the garden. Fill with water and use to mist delicate seeds and seedlings to keep them moist or clean indoor pot plant leaves.
- Re-label the outside of the spray bottle with a permanent marker and then add your favourite liquid fertiliser such as seaweed or kelp. Full of minerals and nutrients, this is an ideal fertiliser and ‘Pick-Me-Up Tonic’ for your plants. Add the desired amount of concentrate according to instructions, dilute with water and you can now foliar spray the leaves of your plants (the fastest way to feed them).
- Another use for these sprayers is to fill with your own homemade pest sprays.
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