Secrets Of A Cheapskate Gardener

By Mary Hunt

February 8, 2018 5 min read

Is there anything more gratifying than having a beautiful home garden? Considering the cost of gardening products, though, one trip to the garden center to pick up soil amendments, weed-barrier cloth and weedkiller can pretty much zap all the joy out of the experience. That's why I love today's tips, tricks and -- back by popular demand -- recipes for my homemade weedkiller.

GARDEN VITAMINS. While you may have no use for spent coffee grounds, your garden would love them. Used coffee grounds are like megavitamins for garden soil. They're rich in phosphorus and magnesium, important nutrients that help plants grow. It's easy to sprinkle them around your garden plants and work them into the soil. They're even the same color as the soil. If you're not much of a coffee drinker, don't despair. Starbucks has a program called Grounds for Your Garden, where select stores scoop used coffee grounds into the bags the beans originally came in and offer them to customers for free. Ask a barista at your local Starbucks to see if that store participates in the program.

FREE CALCIUM. We throw away eggshells every day. Why wouldn't we? They're not good for anything, right? Wrong! Eggshells are a delicious source of calcium for your garden. Be sure to crush them well and work them into the soil, right along with those coffee grounds. Calcium will help keep your garden soil and plants healthy.

WEED CLOTH. Once you've spent hours upon hours hunched over, weeding a garden or flowerbed by hand, you'll want a good weed cloth. Newspaper makes the best weed cloth (well, sort-of cloth). It's free, it allows water to drain through it and it is also biodegradable, which is very good for the soil. Newspaper will definitely last through the season, preventing unwanted vegetation from growing up through it. Prepare your garden and then lay a thick layer of newspaper over the entire area, eight to 10 sheets. Cover the newspaper with a thick layer of mulch. Cut an X through the mulch and paper at each place you wish to plant a seedling.

WEEDKILLER FOR AREAS YOU WANT TO REPLANT. If you have weeds in areas of your garden you want to replant, do this: Fill an ordinary garden sprayer with white vinegar, and add about 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap (like blue Dawn). Screw on the sprayer top and turn the nozzle (or follow the instructions on the bottle) to get it ready to spray. That's it. Seriously. It's that simple. Pick a hot, dry day to spray the weeds until saturated, and they will wilt and shrivel up within hours. That being said, be careful not to spray anything you want to live. But don't worry about the vinegar killing anything below the soil. It won't harm the soil, so you can safely replant the area once the weeds have died.

WEEDKILLER FOR PLANTS YOU DON'T WANT TO GROW AGAIN. To kill all vegetation in walkways, driveways and other areas where you don't want anything growing, mix 2 cups of ordinary table salt with 1 gallon of white vinegar. Do this in a container that holds more than 1 gallon so you have room for the salt. Fasten the lid and shake the container to dissolve the salt. Salt dissolves more quickly in vinegar than in water, but it takes a bit of shaking. It may not completely dissolve, but that's OK. After, add 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing soap. Pour the mixture into any kind of garden sprayer or spray bottle. Spray the mixture on weeds or grass on a dry, sunny.

There are a few things to note when tending to your garden.

--Ordinary distilled white vinegar with 5 percent acidity (the kind you find in the supermarket) is cheap and works great. If you can find a higher acidity, even up to 30 percent (I find this at Home Depot for about $2 for one half-gallon), it will work faster, but the end result will be the same.

--It is the presence of salt in the second weed-killer recipe that makes the effect permanent. The salt penetrates and leaches into the soil. It may take several applications, but in time, the salt will sterilize the soil so nothing will grow there in the future. Plan well before you go this permanent route.

Mary Hunt's column, "Everyday Cheapskate," can be found at

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