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7 Frugal Gardening Tips to Spruce Things Up For Spring

Looking for ways to keep a killer yard or garden while keeping to your budget? Try these 7 frugal gardening tips, just in time for spring

April 19, 2022

You don’t have to go into debt to have a great garden. 

And you don’t need an expensive landscaper to show up and shake you down. 

Half the fun of celebrating spring is getting outside and getting your hands dirty. There are plenty of ways to maintain a lawn you love without losing money or disrupting the environment. 

So, how do you nail common gardening tasks like weed control, fertilization and growing veggies without breaking the bank?

These 7 gardening tips can help you with all of the above (and more), while also helping you stick to a frugal budget

Kill unwanted weeds with cardboard 

If you’re wondering what to do with all those empty Amazon boxes, they’re an excellent way to snuff out pesky weeds. 

For this trick, you’ll lay down flat squares of cardboard in the fall to cover any garden beds or problem areas where weeds typically flourish come spring. Anchor them with a few heavy rocks and top them off with more soil, then mulch. 

As the cardboard breaks down during winter, it will provide extra nutrients to the soil below. By spring time, the soil above the cardboard will be ready for fresh planting. 

What about the would-be weeds? They’ll be too sun starved beneath the cardboard to rise to the surface.

What does standard weed control cost? 

Between the physical cost of crouching down to pluck weeds by hand and the environmental cost of using harsh chemicals to eliminate them, weed removal can be pretty costly. 

  • Pre-emergent herbicides, which are used to prevent stubborn weeds like crabgrass and chickweed, can cost close to $80 for a single application. Not to mention, many are loaded with chemicals that are damaging to wildlife, water supplies and the environment in general. 

  • Weed, grass, brush and vine killer sprays, which snuff out pretty much everything in their path, can cost over $150 per 2.5 gallon concentrate. However, these do include glyphosate, a controversial pesticide. 

If it’s a choice between repurposing a compostable, non-toxic material or introducing expensive and potentially damaging products to your immediate environment, it’s safe to say a little cardboard can go a long way. 

Collect rainwater to reduce your water bill

Instead of running the hose or sprinkler and racking up a big water bill, store up rainwater and repurpose it as water for your garden. You can purchase a portable rainwater collection barrel for less than $50 or even use your own container and cover it with a mesh topper for less than $10

The concept is simple and sustainable: place the barrel in an area that gets a decent amount of run-off water (like underneath a drainpipe), let it fill up with rainwater and start using what you collect to water your garden or lawn. 

The cost after you purchase your rain barrel or topper? This is one of those gardening hacks that won’t set you back a penny. 

What does standard irrigation cost?

Supplying a 100' x 100' yard with one inch of water costs around $12.00 with a separate meter for irrigation or $39.00 without. So, if you were to water your lawn weekly during the summer months, it would cost between $50 and $156 per month

Make your own insecticide with soap and water

So many pests…so little time. Such is one of the constant battles of gardening. Everything from earwigs to beetles to cutworms and slugs can make an absolute mess of your beautiful garden. But, the same things that eliminate them can also damage or kill the plants themselves. 

Insecticidal soaps suffocate small, soft-bodied insects and arthropods like spider mites, mealybugs, aphids, whiteflies, earwigs, crawlers and thrips, among others. 

To make your own organic, non-toxic insecticidal soap, all you’ll need are a couple of items you probably have on hand: soap and water. You can even use the water you already collected in your rain barrels. 

Simply mix 2.5 tablespoons of castile soap with one gallon of water. This will set you back less than $5. Fill a spray bottle with the mixture, add an optional tablespoon of vegetable oil (to help it coat the leaves), shake it up and spray it on well-watered plants. Try to avoid an extra hot, sunny day when plants might be overstressed or when there’s rain in the forecast, which may wash off the solution. 

What does store-bought insecticide cost? 

A gallon of multi-purpose insect cleaner from a big box store costs around $33, compared to less than $3 to make your own. 

Break out the vinegar 

You probably have some vinegar laying around to toss into a salad or shine up your sink, but vinegar is another one of those great gardening hacks for weed control. The acid in vinegar removes moisture from weeds and breaks down their cell walls, causing them to shrivel up and die without affecting the surrounding plants (because the vinegar doesn’t get into the root system). 

To create a simple, non-toxic vinegar solution you can spray directly on weeds, you can again turn to your kitchen cabinets. 

Combine one cup of salt, one tablespoon of castile soap and one gallon of vinegar, which should set you back about $8 if you don’t already have the ingredients at home. Mix the ingredients together in a spray bottle, shake it up and apply to weeds on a day when it’s not windy and it isn’t going to rain. 

Be careful: the vinegar will dry out anything you spray it on, so steer clear of any plants, shrubs or patches of grass you love! 

Start growing veggies and herbs from seed

It can get costly if you wait on your local gardening center or big box retailer to start selling ready-to-plant vegetables and herbs. Instead, you can start your own seeds indoors while temps are still low. Between the menial cost of seeds and the nonexistent cost of the toilet paper roll you were going to recycle or throw away, this is among the more frugal gardening hacks. 

Here’s a visual tutorial that’s super helpful to get you started. 

What do vegetable and herb plants cost? 

Two-packs of popular garden plants like roma tomatoes and sweet basil cost almost $14, as do popular herbs like parsley, rosemary and oregano, so if you were purchasing a starter garden with those exact items, you’d be looking at roughly $70. 

If you simply bought seeds of the same varieties, you’d spend around $1.60 per pack, which is only $8 in comparison. 

Capture creepy crawlies with beer

That’s right…some slippery little insects love beer just as much as humans do. 

You can actually leave out cans of cheap beer to capture slugs, beetles and earwigs, which can all wreak serious havoc on pretty much every plant you love. 

This is one of those gardening tips that’s also super simple: grab a 12-pack of beer you won’t particularly miss, dig a hole that’s roughly the same diameter as the beer can, drink or pour out ⅔ of the beer in each can, stick the can in the hole you dug and level the dirt out around its rim. 

The earwig, slug or otherwise intoxicated pest will be drawn to the sugar or yeast in the beer, fall into the can, get trapped and drown. It sounds a bit grim, but it works.

All told, depending on the type of beer you get, this is one of those gardening hacks that will set you back about $10

Use crushed eggshells as fertilizer

Egg shell fertilizer is made from crushed eggshells, which are high in nourishing minerals like phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, as well as calcium carbonate, a crucial mineral for strengthening plants’ cell walls. This makes them a particularly effective and inexpensive fertilizer for outdoor garden soil and houseplants alike.

Eggshells can lower soil acidity, thwart blossom end-rot, control pests and encourage root growth. And with a dozen eggs typically costing around $1.79, they’re a frugal way to fertilize. 

To create your own DIY eggshell fertilizer, wash and rinse the eggshells, let them dry, crush them into a fine powder with a rolling pin and stir them directly into your garden soil. They work wonders with roses! 

What does store bought plant fertilizer cost? 

A 25lb bag of all-purpose fertilizer can cost nearly $60

Great gardening tips and tricks get you far 

There’s no need to overcomplicate or overspend when it comes to maintaining a lawn and garden you can be proud of. By using a few of these gardening tricks and tips, you can go easy on your budget, bandwidth and the earth. 

And, if you’re looking for other tips on how to maximize your personal finances and keep things frugal, you can check out the Tally Newsletter.