One of the most common reasons people give for not starting a garden is that they can’t afford it. They think about buying seeds or plants, soil amendments, tomato cages and all those tools they might need. Gardening certainly can be an expensive endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to grow your own food without spending an arm and leg on supplies there are many gardening supplies you can get very cheaply or even for free. It takes some time to search out some of these alternative and it might take more advance planning, but if you want your garden to save you even more money give some of my suggestions a try and see how free gardening can be!
9 Gardening Supplies You Can Get for Free
When it comes to gardening mulching is a very important step. It will keep the weeds down, conserve water and helps protect the soil from eroding. Mulching, if done in the fall, can also help prevent the need for tilling the soil. There are many different items you can use for mulch- and most of them are free.
- Use grass clippings from your summer mowing. Ask your neighbors to share if they bag their clippings as well.
- Newspaper is a wonderful weed block and mulch. Ask around at stores that have newspapers to see if you can have yesterday’s leftover papers or round up old papers from your neighborhood or office.
- Many tree services are looking for a place to unload wood chips. Call around to different Tree Service Companies and see if you can get on a list. Many will even deliver them to you for free if they are chipping in your area.
- Fall leaves can be saved to use for mulch in the summer or used for a fall mulch. If your neighbors or friends rake and bag their leaves ask if you can take them off their hands.
- Don’t forget to check out your local Freecycle or Craigslist!
Compost is in the same category as mulch. Most soils are lacking in nutrients these days, so if you want your garden to succeed you are going to have to amend the soil in some way. Here are a few ways to get some free compost for your garden.
- Make your own! You can do this a couple ways. You can start a compost pile in your backyard. You can dig holes directly in your garden area and dump the days compost in and cover it up. You can make a worm-composter to keep under the sink. But however you do it, be sure you aren’t throwing out all those food scraps that can be so valuable for your garden!
- Chopped leaves are a great source of nutrients as well. Use the same ideas I shared above to find a free source of leaves.
- Use Freecycle, Craigslist or call around to some local farms to find used hay from barn bedding or manure from animals. Many times if you come and load the manure yourself you can get it for free.
You can’t have a garden without seeds! This can be a major expense, especially if you want special varieties but if you plan smart and think ahead you can get many of the seeds you need for little or no money.
- Join a seed exchange. Even if you don’t have seeds to share this year you can join in with the promise of saving seeds from this year’s produce and share them the following season.
- Save seeds from the organic produce you already buy. You can save seeds from most anything you buy from the grocery store- melons, squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. The key here is to make sure it’s organic produce since the conventionally grown will most likely not produce a product you want, if they produce at all.
- Get a hold of last years seeds. Most stores that sell seeds will only sell the current years seeds. If you have a source, or ask nicely, you might be able to get your hands on seeds marked for last year after they’ve been pulled from the shelves but before they’ve been thrown out.
4. Plant Starts
Many things can be hard to start from seed, especially for a beginning gardener. But here are a couple of ways you might be able to get some already started plants for free.
- Just like the seeds, stores tend to throw out plants when they are starting to look a bit old and wilted. We’ve been at our local Farmer’s Co-op when the plant rep. was restocking the seedlings and managed to get about 50 sweet potato seedlings and 50 zucchini plants completely for free. They weren’t at their healthiest but they pepped up just fine once they got in the ground.
- Barter with your gardening friends. If you have a friend who starts their own seeds see if they would be willing to make a deal with you- offer up a service from you in exchange for the started plants.
- Here again you can use your organic store bought food as plant starts- regrow onions from the cut off root tips or plant the ends of your celery. You can re-grow potatoes from the older potatoes with eyes or sprout your sweet potato in water and pinch of the slips to grow.
5. Plant Cuttings
Certain plants are very easy to propagate by taking cuttings off of a parent plant. Plants such as blackberries and raspberries put up new shoots and suckers from their roots that are easily transplanted. Strawberries put off runners each year which will root and can be moved to a new location. Many perennial herbs such as rosemary will root in water. So how can you get some of these plants for free?
- Ask your neighbors and friends who garden. Sometimes a berry patch can get overrun with suckers and shoots. See if you can dig some up for yourself.
- Use the wild plants around you. If you have a patch of wild blackberries or wineberries in your yard, dig up shoots and propagate more in your garden. Just be sure that you have permission to take cuttings before you do, if they aren’t in you own yard.
- You can even take suckers off of tomato plants and root them in moist soil. They will grow in to new, fruit bearing plants.
6. Seed starting containers
There are many options when it comes to starting your seeds, and it can get expensive if you are buying peat pellets, peat pots or other containers in which to grow your seeds. But if you want it for free, use what you already have!
- Use your recyclables! Yogurt cups and containers make great planters, as do milk cartons or cut-off jugs. You can poke a few holes in the bottoms to help with drainage and then just fill with soil and plant your seeds! You can also use egg cartons or clementine orange boxes filled with soil.
- Make seed starting pots using recycled newspaper.
- See my post on 20 Frugal Re-purposed Seed Starting Containers for more ideas.
- Don’t forget to check your local Freecycle or Craigslist for people who no longer need their pots and planters!
Bamboo is very useful in the garden and can be used for staking tomatoes, vertically growing cucumbers or peas, or to make a fun tipi or tunnel of pole beans. It’s grown all over and if you look, you can probably go and cut some for free! Again, check out Freecycle or Craigslist. Bamboo plots tend to outgrow their desired space and often you can find people who just want to get rid of the stuff, especially if you come and cut it!
Similar to bamboo, recycled wooden pallets can be a wonderful resource to your garden. You can make fences, a compost bin, or a trellis out of them. You can even fill them with soil for a vertical wall of herbs or greens. Where can you get them?
- Check your local feed store. They get pallets full of feed, seed and fertilizers everyday and usually have no use for the pallet once it’s used
- Do you have a local brewery? They are also known to have many extra pallets to share
- Keep your eyes opened when driving around town. Many places will leave pallets out back by the dumpsters or on the side of the road for pick up
- And I’ve said it before, check Craigslist and Freecycle!
Tools are probably thought of to be the biggest expense in gardening. A tiller, shovels, trowels, hoes, rakes. There is so much you need. But guess what? You don’t really need all of that stuff!
- If you plan ahead and mulch heavily with newspaper, compost and other green materials such as clippings or leaves, the grass and weeds should be dead by planting time the following spring. You can plant directly into your composting mulch without tilling at all. This is also much better for the soil!
- If you have mulched you also will not need as many tools for upkeep since you won’t have as many weeds
- Use your most useful tool- your hands! Use your hands to part the soil to drop the seeds in and pull up those weeds using good old fashioned muscle power!
- Use what you already have. I spent many years planting with a spoon from my kitchen. It worked just as well as a little hand shovel.
- If you find there is a tool you really need try and borrow it from a friend or neighbor. Barter for the use of a tiller.
- And one last time, use the free stuff offered by others on Freecycle or Craigslist. Post what you need and someone might have one they no longer need hanging around!
So there you go. If you follow all of my suggestions you can get almost 100% of your gardening supplies for free this year, which means all the food coming out of your garden will be free too! How do you cut costs when it comes to gardening?
© 2013 – 2016, Sarah R Toney. All rights reserved.