Cheapskate Gardening Tips, Tricks and Recipes

Is there anything more gratifying than a beautiful garden when you just happen to be the gardener? One trip to the garden center to pick up soil amendment, weed cloth and weed killer can pretty much zap all of the joy for the expense that can represent. That’s why I love today’s tips, tricks and, back by popular demand, homemade weed killer.

But first, check out my garden—spring flowers and a few weeds I treated only yesterday.

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GARDEN VITAMINS. While you may have no use for spent coffee grounds, your garden would love them. Used coffee grounds are like mega-vitamins for the soil. They’re rich in phosphorus and magnesium—important nutrients that help plants grow. It’s easy to just sprinkle coffee grounds around the plants and work them into the soil. They’re even the right color. If you’re not much of a coffee drinker, don’t despair. Many coffee shops will package up their used coffee grounds in the bags that the beans originally came in and offer them to local gardeners, for free.  Check with your barista to see if used coffee grounds are available at your favorite coffeehouse.

FREE CALCIUM. Every day you throw away egg shells, and why not? They’re not good for anything, right? Wrong! They are a delicious calcium for your garden. Be sure to crush them well and then work them into the soil right along with those coffee grounds. Calcium will help keep your garden soil and plants healthy.

WEED “CLOTH.” Once you’ve spent hours upon hours hunched over hand-weeding a garden or flower bed. Newspaper makes the best weed cloth. Basically, it’s free, it allows water to drain through it and it is also biodegradable—very good for the soil. Newspaper will definitely last through the season, preventing unwanted vegetation from growing up through it. Prepare your garden, lay a thick layer of newspaper over the entire area, 8-10 sheet thick. Now cover with a thick layer of mulch. At each place that you wish to plant a seedling, cut an X through the mulch and paper and into the soil. 

WEED KILLER FOR AREAS TO BE REPLANTED. If you have weeds in areas you want to replant, do this: Fill an ordinary garden sprayer with white vinegar and add about one teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap like blue Dawn. Apply sprayer top and follow the instructions on the sprayer to get it ready to spray. That’s it. Seriously, it is that simple. Pick a hot, dry day to spray weeds until saturated, and they will wilt and shrivel up within hours so be careful to not spray anything you want to live. However, do not worry about the vinegar killing anything below the soil. Because vinegar will not harm the soil, you can safely replant the area once the weeds have died.

WEED KILLER FOR AREAS NEVER TO GROW AGAIN. To kill all vegetation in walkways, driveways and other areas where you don’t want any living thing to grow again, mix two cups ordinary table salt with one gallon of white vinegar. Do this in a container that is larger than one gallon capacity so you have room for the salt. Apply the lid and shake to dissolve the salt. Salt dissolves more quickly in vinegar than in water, but it takes a bit of doing. It may not completely dissolve, but that’s okay. Add 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap. Pour into any kind of garden sprayer or spray bottle. Apply to weeds or grass on a dry, sunny day to areas you don’t want to see vegetation of any kind in the future.

Notes: 1) Ordinary distilled white vinegar with 5% acidity (the kind you find in the supermarket) is cheap and works great. If you can find a higher acidity even up to 30% (I find this at Home Depot for about $2 for one-half gallon) it is going to work faster, but the end results will be the same. 2) It is the presence of salt in the second recipe that will eventually bring permanence to your weed killing. The salt will penetrate and leach into the soil. It may take several applications, but in time the salt will “sterilize” the soil in this area so that nothing will grow there. Plan well before you go this permanent route.

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5 replies
  1. Robert Terry says:

    Hey dear, Thanks a lot for sharing such great stuff on gardening tips. I have got some fantastic tips and ideas in your post. You have just noted an essential point, “GARDEN VITAMINS. While you may have no use for spent coffee grounds, your garden would love them. Used coffee grounds are like mega-vitamins for the soil. They’re rich in phosphorus and magnesium—important nutrients that help plants grow. It’s easy to just sprinkle coffee grounds around the plants and work them into the soil. They’re even the right color. If you’re not much of a coffee drinker, don’t despair. Starbucks has a program called Grounds for Your Garden, where they package up their used coffee grounds in the bags that the beans originally came in and offer them to local gardeners, for free. Pre-packaged bags of Grounds for Your Garden may not be available in all stores. Check with your barista to see if used coffee grounds are available at your local Starbucks.” Most of the gardener does not know how to vitamins the plants properly. I do hope this post will be more useful for the new and old gardener.

    Reply
  2. Stumbo says:

    Nut shells/hulls, a bit of shredded cucumber skins/ asparagus tips/mushroom stems, diluted old brewed coffee (don’t need much per plant, also can be sprayed on grass) and cut up, used paper coffee filters are also great fertilizers.
    .
    Here’s a link for more info on applying coffee grounds to grass: http://www.professorshouse.com/your-home/gardening-plants/landscaping/articles/are-coffee-grounds-good-for-your-lawn/
    .
    I apply about a table spoon coffee grounds on mature plants every 3-4 months or so. Too much can kill a plant(experience), especially when applying water diluted coffee grounds. Nut shells and other more solid items I apply every 6 to 12 months. For new plants or transplanted ones, mix the shells, etc. into the soil before setting the plant.
    .
    Hard nut shells can be broken up by using a plastic bucket with a hole cut in the lid. Then use a length of a 2×4 to pound the shells.
    .
    I’ve read that egg shells can be baked so they break up much easier. I think picking up a used blender might work as long as water(or old brewed coffee) is used to lubricate the slurry. Then you can add coffee grounds, eggs shells, etc. and get a nice, easy to distribute slurry that will breakdown much easier when in the ground.
    .
    IMO, apply less is safer to start with until you see how your plants react. All of my greenery plants in my front planter are over 10 years old. Some are over 20. Another very important thing to consider is to not over water your plants. And be consistent with everything you do. If you’re very busy, I suggest putting it a repeating item on your calendar.

    Everyone can have a green thumb!

    Reply
  3. Dawn31 says:

    Question about the weed area to be replanted: how big is the garden sprayer? I have seen sizes from 1/2 gal to 3 gal, and that is quite a difference in the vinegar to dishsoap proportion. I am working on the premise that is is not a backpack sprayer nor the type you screw onto the hose. Thanks for any help!

    Reply
  4. Jackie says:

    Wow! Every single one of these gardening hints has been shown in published, peer-reviewed research to be harmful or useless. As a Master Gardener I highly recommend you read Linda Chalker-Scott’s book, The Informed Gardener. An easy read that busts a lot of commonly held practices. Or join the Garden Professors FB page where you can learn the latest (a new research fact sheet on coffe grounds just this week) or search their archives. We MGs have a hard time convincing people after they get lousy advice from internet sources like EC. Check with your Extension office or at least a .edu site for scientifically useful hints.

    Reply

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