Cheap and Thrifty Gardening Hacks for Less

DIY Gardening On A Budget – Creative Ways to Save

Instead of buying everything new for your garden, try these thrifty DIY gardening ideas for sourcing nearly free plants, tools, supplies and infrastructure using salvage, sharing, and smart sustainability practices.

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Gardening can be expensive, especially when you’re just starting. The costs can quickly increase between plants, tools, soil amendments, containers, and more. However, you do not need to blow your budget on your budding garden. With creativity and resourcefulness, you can keep your garden thriving while sticking to your wallet.

From strategic shopping trips to repurposing household items, there are many innovative ways to save money while still getting your hands dirty in the garden.

The key techniques? Take advantage of end-of-season sales, make fertilisers, reuse recycled materials, and leverage free natural resources. Follow a few tips below, and you’ll soon find gardening an affordable and rewarding hobby. The savings will allow you to expand your planting spaces and keep your gardens growing for years.

10 Creative Tips to Garden for Less

The following hacks will help you save green while going green. These handy tips will help you pinch pennies without sacrificing a bountiful and beautiful garden, from taking advantage of sales and coupons to repurposing household items. Follow even a few; you’ll quickly find gardening affordable and enjoyable. Ready to garden on the cheap? Grab your trowel, and let’s dig in!

1) Make Your Own Fertiliser

DIY Gardening on a Budget - Woman Making Her Own Fertiliser

Buying fertiliser at the garden centre may not fit your plans when gardening on a tight budget. Luckily, there are plenty of do-it-yourself options for providing nutrients to your plants without spending much money. Making fertiliser takes some effort upfront but saves cash in the long run.


Composting is the ultimate way for frugal gardeners to fertilise organically. Compost piles or bins decompose kitchen scraps, garden waste, manure and other organic materials into a rich, crumbly soil amendment that adds nutrients and improves soil texture.

Starting a compost pile is virtually free if you have a yard. All you need is a designated compost area, preferably in partial shade. Pile up yard trimmings, fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds and shredded paper products. Turn or mix the contents with a shovel or compost fork every week to introduce more air, which speeds up microbial decomposition. In 2-4 months, you’ll have black gold to mix into your garden beds or spread around the base of plants.

Vermicomposting uses red wiggler worms to break down organic waste in a specialised worm bin into extremely fertile compost. It requires more initial investment than a standard compost pile, but it can be done year-round, even by apartment dwellers.

Coffee Grounds

Used coffee grounds from your morning brew contain about 2% nitrogen, making them a safe, environmentally-friendly fertiliser for garden plants. Their acidity helps certain plants like azaleas, roses, blueberries, and tomatoes prefer more acidic soil.

To use coffee grounds, mix them into the top few inches of soil around plants. You can also brew a batch of compost “tea” by steeping grounds in water for a day or two; use the strained liquid to water plants. Coffee grounds also make excellent Mulch to help retain soil moisture.

Grass Clippings

Letting grass clippings disperse when you mow builds up organic matter in the lawn. But to gain more value from those nitrogen-rich clippings, use them to fertilise vegetable gardens, flower beds, trees and shrubs instead. Applying a layer of fresh clippings (no thicker than 1⁄4-1⁄2 inch) keeps weeds down and feeds plants as the grass decomposes. Alternately, compost grass before spreading. Don’t use clippings from lawns treated with herbicides.

Manure Tea

When mixed in, livestock, chicken, rabbit, goat or sheep manures greatly enhance the soil. However, not all gardeners have ready access to bulk animal waste. Fortunately, you can make a quick liquid fertiliser, “tea”, using manure solids (even pet waste or vermicompost).

To brew manure tea, fill a sack, bag or porous container with any composted manure or animal bedding waste. Submerge it in a large bucket of water for a few days until it turns dark brown. Use the odourless strained tea to water plants as a nutritious tonic once a month. Dilute stronger mixes at least 4:1 before applying.

These do-it-yourself fertiliser options reduce garden costs without resorting to chemical-laden synthetic fertilisers. Experiment with several to determine which organically derived fertilisation methods work best to boost your garden’s health, beauty and bounty.

2) Think Before You Buy

Think Before You Buy - Man Browsing Classifieds for Garden Tools

Gardening requires an array of tools, supplies and plant materials. These can cost a pretty penny, especially when starting a new garden from scratch. However, DIYers on a budget know where to find bargains. Consider some cheaper options before pulling out your wallet at the garden centre.

Check Classified Ads

Local classified ads may offer deals on quality used tools, garden structures and plants for pennies on the dollar. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace let sellers connect with interested gardeners in their region.

When thinning out their excess gardening items, you’ll be surprised what people give away or sell for next to nothing. Look for plant pots, hoses, hand tools, push mowers, rain barrels, compost bins, and more. Some ads even offer free perennial plant divisions or volunteers from shrubs and trees.

Estate sales can also yield gardening goods when homeowners pass away or move to nursing homes. The family members left with a houseful of stuff and offered cheap plants, tools and yard items to clear it all out.

Check Secondhand Stores

Remember to browse charity shops, antique shops, salvage yards, etc. You’ll find all kinds of exciting gardening finds. From decorative pots to gently used shovels and trowels, previously loved items get a second life.

You should also check back regularly as inventory changes. You never know when they’ll receive a special donation of new-looking tools, unopened seed packets from last season, or vintage watering cans.

Talk to Neighbours

Chat with nearby neighbours about borrowing before shelling out for infrequently used equipment. Most gardeners have more tools than they use regularly, and they may lend weed whackers, lawn aerators, gas tillers, wheelbarrows, loppers and other pricey items.

Offer to pay a rental fee or trade something you won’t miss for something your neighbours need. Being friendly goes a long way toward building a local sharing network. Who knows – you may make lifelong gardening buddies in the process. But most importantly, remember to give them back promptly and in good order. Never forget to return another person’s tools; no good will come from it.

Consider Renting

Some larger tools and machinery only get sporadic use. In those cases, renting makes sense instead of purchasing items outright. Rental costs are cheaper than buying, maintaining, fueling, storing and repairing equipment over the long run.

Many home improvement and equipment rental outfits offer reasonable rates for tillers, sod cutters, power augers, stump grinders and skid loaders, even for DIYers. Some restaurants and plant nurseries rent out specialised gear like gas-powered hole augers.

If you’ll be using equipment for more than a day or two, shop around to compare rental rates. Reserving ahead also helps ensure that the dates you need the equipment correspond with availability.

Gardening frugally requires planning and resourcefulness. But by looking for deals and being willing to share, you can stock up on high-quality plants and tools without draining your wallet.

3) Be Smart with Water

Collecting free water - Creative gardening on a budget

Water makes up the majority of plant matter and fuels all growth processes. Yet many gardeners waste massive amounts of water irrigating inefficiently. Getting innovative with watering techniques preserves this precious resource while saving money on utility bills.

Collect Free Water

Installing rain barrels or water butts offers the most bang for your buck by storing hundreds of litres of rooftop runoff to use later. These range from smaller DIY recycled containers to large 400+ gallon commercial tanks. Position drainage pipes to directly channel water from roof gutters into the storage vessel inlet. The collected water then runs out of a front spigot on demand.

Irrigate Efficiently

Once you secure accessible water sources, ensure every drop is used purposefully. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation place water directly into the soil at plant bases, minimising evaporation loss or waste from sprinklers. Timers automate the watering schedule so you don’t have to be home.

When hand-watering, use fan nozzles rather than misters to generate fine droplets. Water early in the morning before the heat builds up so less moisture evaporates away. Avoid watering at night, as this increases the risk of disease.

Group plants by similar water needs on the same irrigation line or zone. Thirsty vegetables get frequent deep soaks, while drought-tolerant native perennials receive less. Match water application rate to soil permeability, too, so runoff stops.

Finally, Mulch! When spread over the soil, organic materials like shredded leaves, evergreen needles, bark chips or compost retain moisture like a blanket. Less water evaporates from the underlying ground, protecting plant roots.

Choose Low-Thirst Plants

Some garden specimens need constant irrigation to thrive, while others nearly fend for themselves. Selecting native species already adapted to local rainfall patterns almost eliminates supplemental watering once established.

Likewise, succulents store water in their fleshy leaves. Sedums, aloes, and agaves flourish on natural moisture in arid climates. Numerous ornamental grasses, especially native varieties, require little irrigation as well.

Switch thirsty exotic plants to hardier natives over time. Group specimens by irrigation needs and let the survivors duke it out Darwin-style. The plants receiving little supplemental water will ultimately out-compete more demanding ones for resources. Survival of the fittest!

Follow these tips to manage an eco-friendly garden that directs water where it matters most: into the plant root zones. Fine-tune your irrigation program over the first year; soon, you’ll intuitively know what, when and how much to water.

4) Get Creative with Reuse

Reuse and Repurpose Household Items for Gardening on a Budget

Necessity drives innovation. When gardening on a tight budget, getting creative with reuse and repurposing saves money. Many everyday items that could serve new functions in your landscape or vegetable beds get thrown out.

See the potential in throwaways rather than sending them straight to landfills. A little vision transforms trash into gardening treasure.

Reuse Containers

Once you poke drainage holes, fruit and salad boxes make great mini greenhouse seed starters. Yoghurt cups and cottage cheese tubs hold seedlings for weeks before transplanting.

Metal coffee cans protect delicate young veggie stems from cutworms that slash through tender roots and stems. Punch holes in the bottom of the cans, sink them into garden beds, and place seedlings inside.

Plastic buckets from bulk stores hold all kinds of things once cleaned up. Five-gallon ones become planters for dwarf fruit trees and berries or to isolate aggressive plants like mint. Sturdy take-out containers with lids store garden supplies or become watertight soil test probes.

Even plastic water bottles, cut in half and supported upright over plants, make nifty cloches to protect seedlings from wind and cold snaps. The possibilities are endless!

Repurpose Materials

All kinds of items get repurposed into functional garden structures with some creativity. For example, broken ladders on their side readily transform into handy trellises for climbing vegetables and vine crops with stability at each end.

Wooden shipping pallets break down into all sizes of wood – from giant border planks to smaller slats for signs or garden stakes. Nail a few pallets together at the corners to form attractive raised beds. Rot-resistant cedar fence pickets offer similar reusable potential.

Stacked bricks or concrete blocks are inexpensive ways to build vertical beds, edge paths, prop up potted plants, or anchor protective structures like cold frames. Atlanta gardeners use old tyres stacked and filled with soil to grow their vegetables!

When driven securely into the ground, metal bed frames, hollow poles, and scrap steel bars make handsome obelisks, arbours, and supports for pole bean tepees or other vining crops. Granite countertop discards hold heat and beautifully line fire pits. Stone and driftwood become rustic borders or exotic accents when placed thoughtfully.

Get Building!

Part of the fun of reuse gardening comes from designing features and solving problems with on-hand objects that otherwise would get trashed. Few projects require purchasing new materials; necessities like nails, screws, glue or paint usually lie somewhere around the house already.

Tap into your innate creativity. Building unique garden beds, trellises, potting tables, cold frames, compost bins and water features from free or nearly free components bucks consumerism. Find joy in crafting valuable, durable garden items that reflect your panache without breaking the bank!

5) Buy Used Tools and Supplies

Buy Used Tools and Supplies for Gardening on a Budget

New gardening tools and accessories sold at nurseries and big box stores can be expensive, especially for premium brands. Luckily, used options offer comparable quality at a fraction of retail prices if you know where to look.

Check out these sources of previously owned tools and supplies to save substantially while gearing up your gardening shed.

Hit up Local Shops

Many towns have dedicated small business tool shops focusing on sharpening, restoring and reselling all kinds of well-built older implements. These small retailers carry shovels, trowels, hoes, rakes, and complete tool sets far cheaper than buying new ones.

Vintage outlets like antique malls and thrift stores also deserve checking for finds. You might discover solid wood-handled tools, charming ceramic pots, and vintage watering cans with retro flair. Rummage and garage sales sometimes have garden tools up for grabs, too.

Don’t forget the local classified papers, bulletin boards, and online community groups advertising used items for sale directly from other gardeners. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist often list great deals in your immediate area.

Attend Auctions

For more heavy-duty equipment on the cheap, attend live or online equipment and estate auctions. These let you bid on all kinds of well-maintained machinery that small farmers, landscapers, and homeowners no longer need.

Auctions provide commercial-grade tillers, power tools, lawnmowers, chainsaws, shredders and everything else to outfit a sizable homestead garden operation. Government surplus and university equipment auctions offer quality products at reasonable starting bids.

While auction prices depend on competing bidders, the overall sales tend to sit below current retail, especially for older models. Just be sure to preview items thoroughly before catching up in auction fever!

Sterilise Containers

When buying reused pots, trays, cell packs or other previously planted containers, scrub and sterilise them thoroughly before planting anything new. An antiquated container covered in mosses or filled with mysterious residues can harbour diseases.

Soak used containers in a weak 10% bleach solution for 10-15 minutes after a good scrubbing. Then rinse clean before filling with fresh potting media and plants. The sterilisation kills lingering fungi and bacteria for healthier seedlings and transplants.

Following these tips when sourcing previously used tools and supplies decreases costs considerably. With smart Shopping and sterilisation, preowned gardening goods serve home plots extremely well for pennies

6) Use Recycled Materials for Planters

Use Recycled Materials for Planters

Out-of-pocket costs add up to buying commercial planters and containers to hold all those plants. Savvy salvagers transform discarded items into one-of-a-kind planters using a little elbow grease. Repurposed objects add character while saving cash – win/win!

See everyday cast-offs with fresh eyes to spot potential planters all around. Anything hollow and watertight holds soil and roots satisfactorily. Just drill a drainage hole or two in the bottom first.

Unexpected Vessels

Boot planters put idle footwear to work again, holding posies or petite veggies along porch steps. Line heavier rubber work boots with plastic nursery bags before filling them with soil. Set out lighter fashion boots “as is” stuffed with growing medium and plants.

Other hollows hold soil, too – baskets, wagons, wheelbarrows, buckets, crates and even bathtubs can contain plants with proper drainage. Get creative browsing thrift shops and garage sales for unique planted container ideas.

Metal auto parts, like old brake drums or bent rims, nicely hold more miniature succulents. Clean fifty-five-gallon steel drums sliced horizontally excel at cradling larger shrubs and young trees. Leave some drums whole for vertical potatoes or root crops.

Boat planters resemble giant half-barrel-style containers, great for patio vegetables like pole beans and cucumbers trained up the mast. Paddles or oars stuck in the soil make novel supports, too. Repurposed planters set your garden apart with personality.

Functional Art

Craft industrial planter boxes from old pallets and lumber scraps for a more contemporary look. These boxy frames stand up solo when layered with plastic pond liners inside and filled with potting mix and plants. Leave wood frames unfinished for a distressed patina, or paint them with outdoor paint from other projects.

Remove the actual pots to lighten heavy standard pots! Set nursery containers inside giant boots, hollow urns or decorative pots without base holes to conceal the functional elements below. Lift out the inner pots to water and tend plants quickly without disrupting the beautiful exterior design.

Browse reclaimed shops, car boot sales, and grandma’s attic for inspiration. Any hollow item might become a fabulous planter to show off your green thumb. Like magic, trash transforms into gardens full of flowers, herbs, or vegetables.

7) Grow Seedlings from Seed

Growing Seedlings for Gardening on a Tight Budget

Seeds harness incredible power – the energy and genetic code to explode into abundant food or flowers under the right conditions. And packets of seeds cost mere pennies compared to purchasing transplant flats full of greenhouse-coddled seedlings.

Sprouting plants from seed yourself saves money, especially for quick-growing edibles and annuals. With a bit of TLC controlling warmth and moisture, seeds transform practically overnight from dormant life forces into tender young plantlets hungry to grow.

Sow Seeds Indoors

Six to eight weeks before the average last spring frost, start sowing vegetable and annual flower varieties prone to rotting if seeds get planted in cold, wet outdoor beds. These seedlings need a head start under shelter and warmth before facing actual weather.

Germinate the seeds by burying them shallowly in a sterile seed-starting mix under grow lights or in a sunny window. Cradle the sprouting seeds in yoghurt cups, egg cartons, cell packs, or other reused containers until they are ready to be hardened off and transplanted outdoors later.

Some seeds thrive directly sown in prepared garden beds once spring soil temperatures warm. Root crops like carrots and beets, heavy-feeding corn and cucurbits, big vine plants, and many hardy flowers and herbs establish better undisturbed.

Make Newspaper Pots

Slash gardening costs further by making cheap, biodegradable, seed-starting newspaper pots. Roll sheets of newspaper into cone shapes small enough to fit whatever cell pack or flat you plan to transplant them into later. Form the tapered cones using a pencil or stick, then staple or tape the rolled edges.

Fill the open newspaper pots with seed starting mix, then make indentations for a couple of seeds of the desired variety. Place the newspaper pots inside plastic cell packs, flats or egg cartons until the sprouted seedlings grow many sets of true leaves. Then, tear off the bottom of newspaper pots and directly transplant them into garden beds. The newspaper will naturally degrade underground as roots are established.

Repurposed toilet paper or paper towel tubes work similarly for tender young seedlings. Just cap the bottom with newspaper or tape before filling and planting for easy, economical biopots.

Starting plants from seed eliminates huge upfront plant costs. With some foresight and protection, homegrown transplants quickly fill garden beds and containers at a fraction of the cost of store-bought options.

8) Take Advantage of Natural Resources

Pollinators and Shade Plants

Every landscape has the hidden potential for utilising natural resources that are free. Water, sunlight, plant debris, wildlife, and native species already exist all around us, ripe for harnessing as assets for food production or ornamental gardens.

Capitalise on what your property freely provides through intelligent design and management. Work alongside nature by understanding energy flows already at play in the ecosystem.

Grow Under Trees

Trees offer cooling shade that many plants thrive in, eliminating the need to water as frequently. Hostas, astilbes, lenten roses, coral bells, and other shade lovers proliferate under the canopy of mature trees. Consider shade patterns before siting new plants.

Attract Pollinators

Support bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other essential pollinator species by planting nectar-rich blooms they seek. Native wildflowers top the list, along with old-fashioned rose varieties, blueberry and raspberry brambles, fruit trees, basil, zinnias, sunflowers and more.

Allow clover patches in lawns and meadows to thrive. Their nectar sustains early foraging honey bees. Many broadleaf weeds, like dandelions, also supply crucial pollen and nectar.

By supporting natural biodiversity already present around us, gardens thrive more abundantly. Capitalise on ambient precipitation, light patterns, soil nutrients, and helpful wildlife unique to your property.

9) Use Mulch

Use Mulch for a Better Garden

Mulch offers the closest thing to a magic bullet, making gardens look tidy, saving water, preventing weeds, and boosting soil health all through a straightforward task: spreading organic matter over bare ground around plants. Too good to be true? Nope!

Once in place, mulching substantially reduces overall labour. What’s not to love about that? Yet many new gardeners hesitate to invest time upfront to reap those rewards. Learn the many perks of Mulch, and you’ll become a believer…

Conserves Moisture

Applying 3-4 inches of organic Mulch prevents up to 70% moisture loss from soil through evaporation. Mulch insulates the ground, like wearing a hat and sweater on a cold day, to keep your body warmer. With less water escaping, the soil stays damp longer, so plants access the hydration they need with less supplemental irrigation.

Suppresses Weeds

Smothering bare earth with mulch blocks light from reaching weed seeds and seedling growth trying to emerge. The only weeds sprouting have shallow roots, and Mulch is easily deprived of airflow and light. Pluck the few struggling weeds attempting to grow through Mulch by hand – no need to dig deep!

Protects Soil

Bare earth erodes during rains, burying lower plant parts in mud while topsoil washes away for good. Mulching creates a protective barrier, keeping soil and nutrients where plants need them most – at their roots. Those nutrients nourish plants rather than disappearing downstream.

Feeds Over Time

As organic mulches like bark chips, straw, leaves, wood shavings or pine needles slowly decay, they improve soil texture and infuse nutrients. This living blanket of organic matter enriches the ground as it transforms. Fungal networks even develop, bonding tiny soil particles into nutrient-holding clumps.

Now you see why there’s a fuss over Mulch. Gather materials already on site, like fallen leaves or chipped branches from pruning. Or score bulk deliveries of wood chips through local arborists who pay to dump them. Then start reaping the many rewards a superficial layer of organic matter brings your landscape all year.

10) Go Shopping at the End of the Season

End Of Season Buying for a Cheaper Garden

As summer wanes into fall, nurseries and hardware stores want to clear shelf space of gardening items before winter’s chill arrives. By October, retailers will slash prices dramatically on live goods and garden merchandise, taking up valuable room needed for snow blowers, salt, and off-season inventory.

Savvy gardeners pounce during these seasonal fire sales, knowing quality plants and accessories get marked down up to 75% off! Follow these tips for scoring deals galore at end-of-season closeouts.

Snag Plant Deals

Hardy perennials, shrubs, trees and fall veggies thrive planted in autumn since roots establish over winter. Nurseries often let the stock go cheap rather than pay to overwinter, so you benefit from the clearance bonanza!

Focus on fruit bushes, asparagus crowns, berry canes, rhubarb roots, garlic bulbs, flowering perennials, vines, trees and shrubs during autumn sprees. Let delicate herbs and cold-sensitive flowers wait until spring.

Before purchase, inspect all plant roots and foliage closely to ensure specimens appear healthy, not shrivelled or covered in mildew. Skip any doubtful plants that won’t overwinter successfully, even at a steal.

Accessory Closeouts

Retailers also sell precise gardening gear, such as tools, hoses, decorative pots, fertilisers, and accessories, to make room for seasonal merchandise come winter. So, consider next year’s needs when stocking up on non-plant deals.

Grab gardening tools like pruners, shovels and decorative items at a deep discount since they are stored quickly in the garage or shed over winter. Premium quality hoses and durable raised bed gardening kits also save money bought off-season.

If you time the closeout sales right, you’ll pay pennies for top brands. Just sterilise used pots and trays well before next spring’s planting!

Plant Properly

New plantings in the fall require more care to help them successfully overwinter. Prepare beds thoroughly with plenty of mixed compost since plants develop roots all season. Space new additions properly with room to fill out.

Water transplants consistently their first few weeks until rains take over. Spread protective mulch layers to insulate the soil from hard freezes. Wrap vulnerable trees and graft unions to avoid winter dieback.

With attentive early care, clearance plantings explode with vigorous growth once spring hits. By judiciously shopping for end-of-season sales, next year’s garden dreams take bloom for less.

Concluding Our Money-Saving Gardening Guide

Gardening frugally requires planning, creativity and resourcefulness. But the ability to grow bountiful flowers, food and foliage need not break the bank with many budget-friendly options for procuring plants, tools, supplies and infrastructure.

Follow sustainable practices like composting, mulching, rainwater harvesting, supporting biodiversity through pollinator plants, and wise water use. Take advantage of end-of-season clearances, classified deals and community-sharing programs. Repurpose found items for planters and structures tailored to your unique needs and style.

While establishing new gardens or revitalising overgrown areas after years of neglect does require initial investments of money, labour, and planning, costs plummet over the long run through sustainable maintenance practices. Building healthy living soil, diverting organic waste into fertility, and leveraging ambient resources minimise reliance on external inputs over time.

Gardeners’ satisfaction from nurturing beauty and abundance stems less from dollar values than enriching partnerships with nature, neighbours, and future generations. Still, gardening frugally aligns ecological ideals with economic practicalities through intelligent planning and informed choices.

May the collective wisdom offered here guide budding greenthumbs and seasoned growers alike to create abundant gardens that nourish, inspire and delight without breaking the bank! Our shared landscapes grow healthier when more people garden using earth-friendly practices. Let’s get growing together!

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