A vase of flowers sitting on top of a grass covered field

Secrets of a Cheapskate Gardener

I love a beautiful yard, but I hate spending money to get it that way which explains why I am always looking for do-it-yourself cheap ways to kill weeds, grow flowers and feed lawns.

I have come across some very clever tips and tricks, not the least of which is to reclassify the dandelion as a low-maintenance, hardy ground cover!

A vase of flowers sitting on top of a grass covered field

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While you ponder that suggestion, take a look at these clever ideas to make your own landscape supplies.

LAWN FOOD: Mix four pounds magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) with a bag of your favorite lawn food that covers 2,500 sq. ft. Now feed your lawn only half the amount of this mixture as recommended on the lawn food bag You’ll save a lot of money because you’ll be using less than half the normal amount of fertilizer and this formulation cuts down on the nitrogen which makes your lawn grow so fast. You’ll have the wonderful deep-green color, better root structure and you won’t have to mow as often.

LAWN SNACK: Try this on your lawn every three weeks during the summer. (With every third snack, add 1/2 cup clear corn syrup or molasses to the mixture.)

Pour the beer and shampoo (and corn syrup when it’s the third snack) into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer jar; fill up the jar with ammonia and apply, following the instructions on the hose-end sprayer. You’re going to have very happy grass.

YUMMY TREAT FOR VEGETABLES: If you want some startling growth in your vegetable garden, mix up a batch of this artillery punch. All of this smelly stuff goes into that 20-gallon hose-end sprayer:

Apply to vegetables (using the hose-end sprayer, of course) early in the day, one time  half-way through the growing season.

BUG-ZAPPER: This is a preventive measure to keep diseases and bugs away. Start using it early in the season on everything—lawn, flowers, shrubs, vegetables and fruits.

Wait! You don’t have to start chewing and spitting to make this recipe. Sneak into the store and buy a container of chewing tobacco. Dump it into an old nylon stocking, tie it off and steep uncovered in one quart of boiling water until the water turns disgustingly brown. Put a cup of it along with the other ingredients into your trusty 20-gallon hose-end sprayer; fill balance of jar with warm water and apply to about 2,500 sq. ft. Keep the kids and pets away while applying. Any remaining mix or tobacco juice should be clearly labeled and kept out of reach of children.

BACKYARD BIRDBATH: As long as you have a beautiful yard and garden you might as well invite some songbirds to splish-splash and entertain you. In addition to hanging birdfeeders, delight your family with a birdbath.

Pick up a large 12- or 16-inch diameter drip tray (the kind used under a potted plant). Put the tray on the ground in a sheltered part of the garden, positioning rocks or small logs around the perimeter. Put a large rock in the middle of the bath to act as an island. Fill with water and wait for the action. Flush out water every two or three days.

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7 replies
  1. Jackie says:

    Every one of these suggestions has been debunked by research-based science. Read Jeff Gillman’s or Linda Chalker-Scott’s books or websites. Many .edu sites provide good hints. Pyrethrins kill all bugs, good and bad as well as bees. Beer, whiskey, and molasses do nothing and are a waste of money. Ammonia can be dangerous. Epsom salts are unnecessary in home gardens. The best way to save money is to do a proper soil test thru your local Extension or university that tells you what YOUR yard needs and exactly what to add. Snake oil cures have always been a waste of time and money and can do great harm to you or your environment. I’m a UMN Extension Master Gardener and garden myths make me crazy. Get your hints from science, not from Pinterest!

    • Luisa says:

      Mary, I love your column and learn a great deal from reading it. In this column, I’d like to eliminate the tobacco juice tip, as nicotine in pesticides is particularly perilous to our honeybees.

  2. Kiki says:

    I just bought a house here in California where the drought is very serious. I want to put in three rain barrels of about 70 gallons each. With the rain we may get this season and the water I can collect from waiting for the hot water to come to my master bathroom (it is far away from the hot water heater in the garage and I waste about 4-5 gallons waiting for it to get warm each day), I hope to use that water for the plants in the back yard this summer. I also plan to take out some of the plants in the front and back yard these next few weeks and plant low maintenance native plants to keep the costs low.

  3. Peg says:

    Hi Mary, can you please verify the “Lawn Snack” section? Do you really mean for people to put about 20 gallons of ammonia in that hose-end sprayer jar? Thanks!

      • kcjmc says:

        This is from the JerryBaker.com website:
        The 20 gallon Fertilizer hose-end sprayer with the green lid is a 32 oz.(1 quart) jar with a sprayer attachment that connects to the end of your garden hose. This sprayer has a tube inside that siphons the correct ratio of tonic out of the jar as the water passes through the sprayer to correctly dilute the tonic with 20 gallons of water (which means it works at a rate of 1.6 oz. of solution per gallon of water).

  4. margaret says:

    Better yet, buy plants that are native to your area, they grow well as they are adapted to your climate and soils, are beautiful, don’t require fertilizer, or in California extra water once established, which is a definite plus in areas where drought is the norm. Plus the they provide food and nectar for local butterflies and bees that are adapted to them and can not live on non-native plants and those same insects then provide food for the native birds that live in your region. You will have a yard in balance and won’t need to use a lot of chemicals to keep it beautiful. Go to your local library and find a book on native plant gardening or join a native plant society.


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