Frugal Tips Friday #6: Frugal Gardening

Frugal Tips Friday graphic

We’re already at Frugal Tips Friday #6: Frugal Garden Tips

Here are a few of my own tips. If you have a large container, don’t try to fill the whole thing with potting soil. Instead fill it maybe halfway up with pine cones, depending on the size of your container.

In Texas I lived in the land of the pines and they were everywhere. Not so much here. But I loved using them because they are natural. Otherwise you’re going to spend a lot of money on potting soil.

If I don’t have anything else to fill the pot I will use the little plastic pots plants come in and put them in the bottom of the container. But I prefer pine cones.

Doing this will also help your back if you’re having to move the pot around much. Pine cones aren’t anywhere near as heavy as potting or garden soil.

Also if you have neighbors who garden, ask if they’d like to trade plant starts/cuttings. I have gotten quite a few from you readers over the years! That sedum autumn joy one of you sent is gorgeous every year. And last year I divided it and now I have another one in a smaller pot.

Another tip: I don’t use chemicals in my garden space. There are ways to use coffee grounds, baking soda, egg shells and other household products you probably already have in your house/kitchen or normally throw away. You can find these tips at this post.

You can install drip irrigation to save water. Don’t be wasting water and raising your water bill!

You can plant seeds and also divide the plants you have to create even more plants. Use these in another part of your garden or trade for plants you don’t currently have with neighbors and friends.

Host a plant swap party. Invite your friends, fix some iced tea and plan to talk plants while you swap.

Cut up plastic milk jugs to make plant markers. Take a water proof pin and write the plant name on the strip and stick it in your pot or seedlings.

You can also put pin pricks in the milk jug lid and use the milk jug to water plants with.

Start seedlings indoors early. You can put seeds in meat trays, broken egg shells, empty toilet paper rolls, etc. That way you don’t have to spend any money on the containers for seeds.

I haven’t had much luck with seeds, but they sure are cheaper.

Okay, it’s your turn now. Bring on the frugal gardening tips!

I’m taking Charlie and dropping him off to get groomed but I will be right back.



  1. I am new to your blog and really enjoying Frugal Friday. Great tips here! I’ve been using round coffee filters instead of rocks, etc to cover the holes in the bottom of small pots for several years. They provide good drainage and don’t dissolve quickly so prevent the soil from draining through. I’m also starting a small raised garden bed this year and using old cardboard boxes that I’ve flattened to lay over the soil that I’ve cleared of ‘most’ of the old plants/weeds that were there previously. I’ve done this before at a house that we bought from an elderly woman who couldn’t keep up the yard anymore and it had become quite overgrown. I just hacked off the old stems, raked up the mess, left the roots and lay down the cardboard over the old soil. I built raised beds out of old boards about 8 inches deep and filled the boxes with a mix of soil and compost and had one of the best gardens I’d ever had. We lived in that house for 4 years and never had a problem with weeds, or any unwanted plants growing up through the cardboard. I’m hoping to replicate this on a much smaller scale this year. The only caution I have is to remove any sticky packing tape from the cardboard. I didn’t do this at our old house and found that it tends to migrate up through the soil over the years as the cardboard breaks down.

  2. Another thing you can do to conserve water is put the plug in when you shower or bath and use the soapy water to water your outdoor plants. The soapy water helps to get rid of some of the aphids etc that grow. Also saves you money.

  3. Such great ideas today. Love the pine cone tip, never thought of using them as a filler. I have used the packing peanuts. I can’t think of anything that has not been mentioned, but sure enjoyed reading all of the hints.
    At our thrift store we get all kinds of items that can be used as planters and they are very inexpensive.
    I have used cardboard egg cartons to start seeds in for many years. When ready to plant just cut the cups and plant them in the soil.
    Thanks for all the hints.

  4. I love all these tips and ideas! I’m getting inspired for the spring now. As a few folks mentioned, look for plant sales. Around my town you can find bargain plant sales from 4H clubs, the county extension service, garden clubs, and the local university that has a big agriculture/horticulture program.

    We use a lot of pine straw as ground cover and to prevent weeds popping up. And pine straw looks nice in certain spots, such as under trees and next to the house (in the south, don’t use wood chips near the house! Termites love them!). We know a boy scout troop that sells pine straw bales at a low price, much cheaper than we can get at a store.

    Water is getting expensive in my town, so we are considering using a rain barrel for our garden. Our county holds a free workshop, but you buy your own barrel. Anyway, as the summer progresses, we only water the flowering plants and some shrubs – the grass and trees have to fend for itself because as I said, water is getting really pricey around here.

  5. To fill up pots before putting in my potting soil, I save the styrofoam packing material from boxes of items I’ve received and cut them up into chucks, then stuff them into a plastic bag and seal it with tape (to keep any leaking dirt and water out and not make a mess). I then put several layers of paper toweling and old newspapers (they’re inexpensive and last a long time) as a lining on top of the plastic bagged styrofoam chunks, being careful to make sure there is enough to fold upwards around the insides of the pot before I carefully pouring potting soil into the top part of the pot. The newspaper and paper towel “lining” allows water to drain through down the sides of the pot to the drainage hole (or holes) at the bottom of the pot.

    The paper and paper towels also prevent bleed through of the soil to the bottom of the pot. At the end of each season after I take the plant and roots out, I scoop the soil out to re-use next year. But before I re-use the soil, I mix in a homemade “brew” of composted leaves which collect in my garden every fall and break down/decay over-winter, and leave behind a nice organic sort of mulch/mix in the spring that I scoop up, mush up with a shovel and save for mixing in my old potting soil.

    Like many gardeners, I’m a big fan of dividing plants. I’ve successfully divided and transplanted hostas, and wholesale shovels-full of lamb’s ears, columbines and day lilies. Taking a whole shovelful out at one time saves digging out and transplanting individual plants. These aren’t the plants for everybody, though, because they can spread like wildfire. I started out with one columbine plant. I let it reseed itself and the next season I had at least half a dozen that had taken hold – all varying shades of the original deep purple of the “mother” plant. In 2018 they were popping up all over the place and I had different colored purple and lavender flowers all season long. I loved it. I love the look of a natural almost wild-flower garden, so I let the transplants pop up where they will. This isn’t a look or a garden for everybody, though. Hostas are easy to divide and transplant in the early spring when they just start sprouting up. Mine are huge and will be divided this year. We have a neighborhood internet message board and when I am cleaning out or dividing plants that I don’t want to keep or don’t have room for, I often get eager gardeners coming over to get transplant material with just a message on the internet board.

  6. I don’t have any tips to add because I don’t like to play in dirt. LOL

    Thought you might need a snicker!

  7. I’ve also read that you can use disposable diapers in the bottom or middle of potted plants and then the “stuffing” (silica gel ?) will retain water for your plants. Lots of good ideas here.

  8. Hi Brenda
    I sheet mulch using cardboard boxes, horse poo(if you can access some) cleanings from the chooks etc Kitchen scraps, news paper, wood shavings… I visited a garden last year and she made her own soil in her greenhouse from such things she bought no potting mix at all and her plants were so happy and healthy!

  9. What a great collection of ideas! Wish I’d known about filling the bottom of a large flower pot with pinecones or packing peanuts two or three years ago when I planted flowers in a large pot on my front porch! Unless I dig out all the soil and start over that pot will be there for eternity!

    Gosh, I can’t think of an idea that hasn’t been mentioned. Let me think, I hate to be outdone! Oh, I know one. I save the little plastic plant identifiers that come in store bought plants to re-use by covering the information with masking or some other sturdy tape and using a permanent black marker to write the name of my plant when I plant seeds. Cost: nada.

    Also, I think plant swaps are great! I have attended one near my daughter’s two or three years in the Spring. I am toying with the idea of hosting one in my neighborhood this year. You meet fellow plant-lovers and get a chance to try new plants that you have never seen or grown. Great fun.

    Thanks for hosting this party, Brenda! And thanks to all the rest of you for all the awesome ideas!

    Have a great weekend, Brenda, Charlie-with-his-new haircut-and Miss Ivy Lou!

    1. He always looks so cute with his fresh haircut. And another good think about plant swaps in your neighborhood is that you find what grows best in your soil in your area.

  10. The suggestions today are excellent! An additional source for plants is the end-of-year sales held by schools that have horticulture programs. The plants are usually quite reasonable, and it is a good way to support the programs/students.

  11. Good evening Brenda, I have lots of containers and I have tried the peanuts in the bottom, I did not know about pine cones I am going to try that this year! I might add that if you want to grow some of your own vegetables there are lots of helpful tips on Pinterest and you start with the veggie itself, like garlic, celery and some others. Also I recently say a wood box and it said that you could grow 100lbs of potatoes in it.

    Have a great weekend!

  12. Thrift stores are great sources for gardeners. I have bought heavy ceramic pie dishes, placed them on upside down terra cotta pots and with a little water you have a birdbath. You can place them at any height you prefer by using tabletops, tree stumps, etc. Widemouth jars and votive candles make easy garden lights, twist a little covered wire around the raised lip and you have a lantern for hanging. Few dollars spent and some good recycling, too.

  13. A empty wine bottle filled with water and stuck in a potted plant will keep it watered for days. I rember they use to have fancy glass globes for your indoor plants, but I think they have lost their popularity, I use the wine bottles on all the patio plants, if anyone notices I just tell them I am a lush. I have been saving them for years.

      1. Any kind of bottle will do. Just shop in your frig or pantry items. But if you have drip, you probably don’t need it. It’s a good idea when you’re going out of town for a few days.

  14. If you are planting a vegetable garden in the first year, till the soil, let set for a few days or a week, spread manure over the soil and till in. the first year your garden may not do as well as you would like, don’t be discouraged, the next year will be better and the third year will be wonderful.

  15. Over here in the UK we are fed up with the dreadfulmess being made in Parliament by Brexit discussions. IN? OUT? Shake it all about? Anyway, in case we have a few food shortages for a while (and I don’t so, but I do know prices will rise) I am going to grow my own potatoes this Summer. I can get a deal with three big potato tubs, complete with compost and tubers plus instructions for £17 (22$?). The longer the tubers stay in the tub, the bigger they get….. and if I plant at intervals I should get enough for the whole summer for not very much money at all.

  16. I have a yard and usually only have one or two pots of plants, such as on the front porch. So my tips are things I do in the yard, but some things will apply to pots as well. The older I get the more frugal I get with gardening. I get seeds for annuals and biennials at stores such as Dollar General, where they can be inexpensive. Then I save seeds from year to year. I’ve had a lot of success saving and planting marigold and zinnia annuals, and hollyhock biennials. Biennials make leaves the first year and flowers the second year, so don’t feel like something is wrong the first year! I love perennials but nowadays I only buy them on sale or try to get starts from other people. Also when I get some starts I try to put them in two or more places to see how they do. If I can’t find a good spot and don’t have any success with that plant I just don’t try it anymore. I just don’t enjoy fussing with a plant and trying to keep it going. It’s got to do it’s part! I got that idea from a state horticulturist who said he did it in his yard — if a plant couldn’t find a place it could make it in the first year, he didn’t bother with it again!

    1. Well, I also have that blue raised bed where Charlie does his business. Only seeds I’ve kept that kept going for the next year was Hyacinth Bean vine. I’m out of them now.

  17. I’ve used the plastic fork in the flower pot idea to deter birds from nesting in my hanging flower baskets. It works. I’m going to try them in my big pots as suggested above because I have squirrels planting sunflower seeds in those pots…the little buggers.

  18. I remember telling you last year I picked up tons of large cones from a single large pine tree near my house to fill my large planters. Then I ran out of cones & used packing peanuts.
    As kids in NW Ark, we had many pines. I still love them.

  19. If I am using a large pot I put empty and clean plastic bottles in the bottom . So I can use less soil. I have use small laundry liquid detergent bottles and milk jugs.

  20. What great tips, I learned a few things here myself!! I’m thinking of making some sort of cold frame for my seedlings this year – I saved some of my old windows when I replaced them the first year I was in the house – they are still in the shed waiting for me to use them. I saved them specifically for that purpose! Maybe this is the year! I would absolutely love to build a greenhouse out of old windows some day…of course the fact that I don’t know how to build might be an issue! I used egg cartons to start some of my quicker growing seedlings last year – they worked like a charm. Of course, starting seeds and splitting perennials are the most amazing ways to stretch your garden dollar!

  21. Some of my favorite shade plants are those that are easy to propagate. Just break off a tip of begonia, impatiens or coleus and stick them in the soil. A six or nine pack of bedding plants can be the start of dozens. Since it was a fairly mild winter here, I was able to overwinter some. They became very leggy so I just finished breaking off the tips and rerooting.

  22. I’ve used empty water bottles, styrofoam peanuts, and pinecones to make large pots lighter and easier to move (saves money too since I’m not filling it with potting soil). A tip I learned years ago from a coworker was to put a large size disposable diaper in the bottom of a pot before adding soil/plants. It helps hold water (I only do this with flowers). I bought a package a few years ago, and still have several left because I’ve cut way back on the number of pots I plant.

    Also the best weed killer I’ve ever used is one gallon of white vinegar, 2 cups Epsom salt, and 1/4 cup blue original Dawn dish soap. I heat the vinegar before adding the Epsom salt as it helps in dissolving. This works great in a sprayer. And, plain old boiling water is a great weed killer. I use this on weeds that come up in the expansion joints in sidewalks/driveways.

  23. I’ve had problems with squirrels digging in my pots and disrupting freshly planted annuals or new seedlings. Then I discovered this tip: Put plastic forks, tine side up, into the soil in the pot (or ground) at regularly spaced intervals. You can get a bunch for a buck at the dollar store. The critters will leave the area alone, and when the plants have established themselves, you can remove the forks (although I usually just leave them there when the plants have covered over them). Works like a charm!

    1. I’ve read that. I recall telling my ankle surgeon about that because he was having problems with critters too. But I haven’t had to try it out. Glad it works!

    2. Great idea ! I am going to try that. The squirrels around here dig in my containers for entertainment ! Their’s not mine !

      I use old freezer baskets that I get free or for a few cents, and I lay them over my tulips until they are about half grown. Then the rabbits will leave them alone. Daffodils are poisonous, especially the bulb, so rabbits, deer, and usually squirrels will leave them alone if they are in the ground, but squirrels, the little monsters, seem to love to dig around any container. Granted, my garden does look a bit strange for awhile, but it does not bother me, and it is all a private, in the back yard.

      This morning I used some old paper coffee cups I collected at a Church Supper, to start my seeds. I put a stick in the center, and tie a milk bag around the cup to hold it on. I have a free mini greenhouse, and my seeds almost always germinate. I have a plastic tray that sits on a windowsill, and that holds the cups in small glass dishes I got at yd. sales. Things do not tip over that way. Also I label the cups with a Sharpie black magic marker with the plant name, and date started. I often start them on Valentines Day, or close to it. That seems to work for me. I also save my seeds, so most of those are free too.

      One of the most frugal gardening hints I can offer, is to join your local garden, or horticultural society. Membership here is only $8.00 per yr. and the membership card entitles me to a 10 percent discount on plants at all the local garden centers. We trade plants, have pot lucks together, and visit each other’s gardens, as well as taking some inexpensive or free trips together. It is a lot of fun, and you can learn so much at the meetings, and from just talking to others, to say nothing of making some great new friends, which is not always easy when you are a senior.

      Happy gardening to all. I just can’t wait to get out there and enjoy mine again for hours and hours !!!

  24. You can also fill the bottom of the pots with the packaging styrofoam peanuts. Also start your plants in the cardboard egg cartons. When they are ready to plant, cut it apart and the cardboard will just dissolve. You can also plant the seed from peppers and grow your own.

      1. I would be careful about the chemicals in any styrofoam or plastic. I like all natural materials in my organic garden.

    1. Spring is usually here by April 15, though I don’t know because this has been an unusually cold winter here. Yes, it sure helps drainage and then you don’t have to spend so much money on soil. And if you have to lift it, not as heavy.

  25. You can use an old beverage cooler, or an inexpensive styrofoam one, as a cold frame. Use glass from a thrift store picture frame on top.

  26. Brenda, I like these ideas! While I am not an avid gardener and have only a small area for flowers, I do not like to waste money. I prefer to use a drip method for watering because it costs so much to run our sprinkler system. I also like your idea of swapping cuttings! Have a great day! Love and hugs!

    1. Boy, it’s cold here today. Had to scrape ice off my windows to take Charlie to get groomed. But spring will be here in about two months!

      1. Here’s a tip for your window scraping dilemma. The sun shades you get to keep your car cool can also keep your windows clear of ice. Just put them on the OUTSIDE of your window and put your windshield wipers over them to hold them on. Next morning just take it off and your windshield is clear.

        1. Linda Blackmore: Wow! What a good idea. I just passed that idea on to my daughter who’s defrosters are not working very well. She is buying a sun shade today. Might save her a lot of window scraping. Thanks for the good tip!

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