The Cheapskate Gardener

By Mary Hunt

June 13, 2019 4 min read

The only difference between gardeners and cheapskate gardeners is the amount of money they spend to achieve the same results. The truth is, like no other hobby, gardening is actually more productive when the cheapest — even free! — supplies are used.


Newspaper. It's cheap, and it works beautifully. Cover the area with 10 layers of newspaper, and then spread mulch or compost over the top. Plant whatever you like by poking a hole in the paper for the seed or plant.

Homemade weedkiller. Dissolve 2 cups salt in 1 gallon white vinegar, and add 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap. Move some of the vinegar to another container so you have room to get all that salt in there. Then replace the amount you removed and add the soap. Apply with a spray bottle. Caution: Repeated use will sterilize the soil to where eventually nothing will grow. It's ideal for driveways, paths and walkways.


Ammonia. Sink small open containers (baby food jars are good) into the soil up to the rim throughout the garden, and fill with household ammonia. Cats hate the smell of ammonia.

Pepper. Sprinkle the garden with ground black pepper. Purchase it in bulk at a warehouse club or bulk grocer, and apply liberally to the affected area. It won't harm the cats but rather simply irritate their paws, so they'll go somewhere else to dig.

Plant flowers. Marigolds have a pungent odor that repels cats and other bugs and animals. Plant them among your vegetable and flower gardens.



1 cup Epsom salts

1 cup antiseptic mouthwash

1 cup liquid dish soap

1 cup ammonia

1 can beer

Mix the following in a large container.

Fill a hose-end sprayer jar that mixes its contents with water. Attach to the hose, and give your lawn a generous dose. Yum. (Set the dial so this recipe mixes with 20 gallons of water. You can figure that out. I know you can.)


To guarantee the healthiest plants in town, when planting trees, shrubs and evergreens, scatter 10 unused match heads and 1 cup of Epsom salts in the planting hole. This promotes new growth and helps strengthen stems and roots.

Cheap fertilizer. Add 2 teaspoons plain household ammonia to 1 gallon water. Allow it to sit in an open container (and out of reach of kids looking for a drink) for a full 24 hours. Use on plants instead of commercial fertilizer. Caution: If you use more ammonia, it will be too strong, and you will burn your plants.


Fireplace ashes. Spread wood ash from your winter fires onto the garden beds. Also known as potash, it will gradually build the soil, adding potassium as well as 32 trace minerals. And it's free!

Increase acidity. Drench wet soil with full-strength white vinegar (or drench dry soil with a 50-50 vinegar and water solution) to increase the acidity of the soil for plants like azaleas and gardenias.

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at, "Ask Mary a Question." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of Debt-Proof Living, a personal finance member website and the author of the book Debt-Proof Living, Revell 2014. To find out more about Mary visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Photo credit: rawpixel at Pixabay

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