spring garden with daffodils

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 weedkiller 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. Hopefully, spring is here to stay!

spring garden with daffodils

Garden vitamins

While you may have no use for spent coffee grounds, your garden will 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 (still wet, or dry) 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 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 eggshells, and why not? They’re not good for anything, right? Wrong! Eggshells are 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”

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.

First prepare your garden. Next, lay a thick layer of newspaper over the entire area, 8-10 sheets 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.

Weedkiller 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.

Weedkiller 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 of 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.


  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 also Walmart and Amazon) it is going to work faster, but the end results will be the same.
  2. The presence of salt in the second recipe above will eventually bring permanence to your weed killing. The salt will penetrate and leach into the soil. It may take multiple applications, but in time the salt will “sterilize” the soil in this area so that nothing will grow there for the foreseeable future. Plan well before you go this permanent route.
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6 replies
  1. francina fluker says:

    another great source of mulch, that works well to keep weeds down: corrugated cardboard boxes. I worked in a grocery/supermarket and took home boxes to flatten and put in a place where weeds were growing that I wanted to kill. It might be good to put down more than one layer, overlapping the edges to be sure the weeds don’t come through, seeking sunlight, but they will flatten the weeds and do a great job of solving the problem. And as a wood-fiber product, eventually decompose to disappear into the soil.

  2. Anne says:

    I dump my coffee grounds in the compost pile for growing plants. Last year I used the compost to grow pepper plants and had more tabasco peppers than I could use.. Tabasco peppers make a good gift for people that don’t grow peppers. Save or buy cute little bottles and stuff them with the peppers, pour hot vinegar over the peppers and you have a home grown gift.

  3. Maria says:

    Regarding the permanent weed killer, I have found that Epsom salt works better than table salt. When I tried it using table salt, the solution did not kill the weeds. I mix 1 gallon of white vinegar, 2 cups of Epsom salt and 1/4 cup blue Dawn in a bucket. I put some in a spray bottle and the rest back into the vinegar jug. This solution works for me every time.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Sorry to burst your bubble, Maria but that is a rumor, a big hoax. Epsom salt is not salt at all. It is magnesium sulfate, which is used in fertilizer. It’s a great way to make things grow better because it is a nutrient. If your weeds are dying it is not because of the Epsom salt. It’s because of the vinegar. Please confirm this for yourself. You are wasting perfectly good Epsom salt that can be used in so many good ways.

  4. Cathy down on the farm.... says:

    Thank you, Mary. Very timely tips and the reminder for the newspaper on top of the garden is awesome. I forgot that I saved them out in my chicken house for a time such as this. Also, the water you boil your eggs in, your tomato plants will love, after it has cooled down! The tomatoes love the calcium from the water. Last year, as an experiment, I took store bought black beans and planted them from a $1.00 bag and they grew! This year I will plant the black beans I saved that grew and try them as seeds. I saved my squash seeds that grew and planted them last year and they brought me a bumper crop that grew into 70 squash! After you harden them, in the sun for about two weeks they will store in a cool dry place for six months or longer. I am still eating them from last year! Thank you for all of your wonderful, money saving tips, Mary. Happy gardening! 🙂


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