19 Garden Hacks for Thrifty Gardeners

Gardening doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive with these solutions using items already found around the farmhouse.

19 Garden Hacks for Thrifty Gardeners - Photo courtesy Nikol Lohr/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com)Call them shortcuts, money savers or clever tricks, but many thrifty garden-management practices, or "hacks,” have proved worthwhile for penny-pinching hobby farmers.

As many natural and organic growers already know, a gardener can experience success without leaning on big-box stores, harsh chemical sprays, pre-mixed fertilizers and pricey garden tools. For many of our parents and grandparents, remedies for garden challenges, such as pest repellants or fertilizers, originated from household staples and repurposed everyday items. While these garden hacks can save you money and a trip to the store, they can also provide a more natural approach to gardening that many growers—and eaters—desire.

Seed Starting
Sometimes the beginning of gardening season can seem the most overwhelming—and pricey! Take the pressure off the start of garden season with these easy hacks.

1. Upcycled Seed-Starting Pots
Egg cartons with holes punched in the bottom and clam-shaped plastic containers from the grocery serve as great seed-starting containers. As plants grow to larger sizes but aren’t quite mature enough for the garden, transplant into recycled containers, such as yogurt tubs with holes poked in the bottom.

2. Germination Station
Pricey seed-starting mats aren’t necessary to warm starting plants. Encourage germination by placing plants on top of a source of heat in the house, such as the top of a refrigerator or on a table above a heat vent, bearing fire safety in mind, of course.

3. Pinching
It might feel wrong for a second, but splitting the center of the stem, known as "pinching” the plant, will encourage a new set of leaves to grow and restart the plant on the right path. This little trick saved me from losing several tomato plants that suffered a UV light tumble.

4. Save Leggy Starts
Don’t fret over leggy plant starts that wobble and fall over. When they’re ready to move outside, simply angle the plants, keeping the roots shallow. With ample natural sunlight, the plant will eventually grow upward.

Pest Control
Nothing’s more frustrating than discovering pests have destroyed your garden. No amount of netting or toxic product will guarantee the bugs won’t help themselves to a feast on your vegetables, but these homemade solutions are sure to help.

5. Coffee Ground Mulch
Coffee grounds (in moderate doses) are a healthy source of nutrients for your soil and are also great at deterring aphids. Simply mulch around your plants with your morning’s coffee leftovers.

6. Spicy Aphid Spray
Mix cayenne pepper, jalapeño seeds, mashed garlic and water, place in a mason jar, and set out in the sun for a couple days to create a natural aphid deterrent. Recycle a store-bought spray bottle and disperse this concoction over the leaves of susceptible plants.

For added aphid-proofing, plant scraps of garlic in and around your garden or use onions or a single clove of garlic as a companion plant to vegetables that attract pests. Other gardeners’ tricks include spreading tobacco, a natural pest deterrent, into the soil and spraying diluted laundry detergent on the leaves of plants. You can also suffocate aphids by hitting them with some cooking oil.

7. Marigold Borer Repellent
Borers, aka caterpillars, have a special interest in cornfields of the South and cause substantial problems for gardeners. Deter the pests with a homemade concoction of crushed marigolds soaked in 2 quarts water. Pour the liquid over your soil where the caterpillars attack. Simply planting marigolds around the garden can also help deter borers and other pests.

8. Ant Defense
If an ant infestation has plagued your garden, boil citrus peels in water and pour in susceptible areas to deter the colonies. Leftover water from a pot of boiled sweet potatoes also works.

9. Wire Pest Poker
No hack replaces the simple act of spending time in your garden and watching for pests. Use an old, wire clothing hanger to poke caterpillars and dispatch of the pests as you see them.

Homemade Tools
Why buy pricey garden tools when you’re already equipped around the house with a variety of tools for gardening?

10. Seed Sower
Push old wine corks into a garden rake at the depth you intend to sow your seeds to create a makeshift seed sower.

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