Your Green Thumb Needn't Put You In The Red

The Chicago Tribune is celebrating the return of warm weather with several tips to keep your garden from breaking the bank:

  • Mow your lawn. It’s great exercise, and rather than pay someone $30 per week, save $700 over the season.
  • Don’t mow too much. Only cut a third of the grass height. The clippings are natural fertilizer and do not contribute to thatch.
  • Boil y’er weeds. Instead of using a commercial weed killer, douse weeds with a mixture of vinegar and boiling water. Cackle maniacally while doing so.
  • Buy used tools. Don’t buy cheap tools, buy used tools. Yard sales can be treasure troves.
  • Compost. Find a 3×3 space and pile on “anything that was alive but not part of an animal.” If you tend to your compost heap, the mixture of grass clippings, egg shells, and coffee grinds can make great fertilizer in as little as three months.
    What tips do you have to grow a garden that doesn’t hurt the wallet? Tell us in the comments. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

    Gardeners can discover inner path to savings [Chicago Tribune]
    (Photo: tillwe)

  • Comments

    Edit Your Comment

    1. LionMan says:

      Cheap ant killer: 1/5 dish soap, 4/5 water

    2. homerjay says:

      Do human remains count as “part of an animal?” If not, I can have one hell of a compost pile.

    3. Spider Jerusalem says:

      – Don’t grow a lawn. It wastes water. Make a pebble lawn with cacti in the front, and a kitchen garden in the back to save on vegetables and fruits. Plant an outer perimeter of onions and garlic to keep bugs away and string mesh over your property to keep out squirrels.

      Sorry, I live in So Cal, a desert, and it burns me to see people with expansive lawns. In some neighborhoods, you’re -required- to have a lawn and keep it presentable, which is just horrible. There is, however, one type of grass that doesn’t require mowing, and very little in terms of upkeep. It grows out to a certain length and just stops. I forget what it’s called, but its pretty.

    4. V-effekt says:

      A good deer repellent is a dryer sheet. I attach two to saplings and other bushes treated like a salad bar and the deer stay away. It beats the commerical smelly stuff any day.

    5. spidra says:

      – water your plants with greywater. I don’t have enough money for special plumbing so I just keep the bathwater in the tub and dip my watering cans in that to fill them. Of course, you need to use biodegradable soaps to do this.

      – plant seeds of things you eat instead of buying them. I just planted seeds of bell peppers I bought at Trader Joe’s and they came up easily. I have a ton of them.

      – trade produce, plants and seeds you don’t need for things you *do* need offered by other gardeners. (As long as you are not in a plant quarantine area, which recently because the case with my neighborhood.)

      – cover crops. Nature abhors a vacuum. SOMETHING is going to grow there. Instead of it being weeds, choose a good nitrogen building cover crop. It not only keeps down weeds but it helps retain moisture in the soil.

      – mulching, esp. sheetmulching. Keeps weeds down, retains moisture.

    6. guymandude says:

      “Boil y’er weeds. Instead of using a commercial weed killer, douse weeds with a mixture of vinegar and boiling water.”

      And how does one deliver this boiling mixture safely? Or should I just pull up the weeds and then dip them in boiling water/vinegar? If the water is approximately 212 F why do I need the vinegar?

    7. TWinter says:

      If you don’t live in a desert, buy some sunflower seeds – they are cheap, very easy to grow, and look great when they bloom in mid to late summer.

      Buy a couple of different varieties and do three or four plantings, spaced about a week apart. You will get a great show that lasts about a month and it will cost you next to nothing. You also get the pleasure of watching the birds and squirrels go after them when the seeds are ready.

    8. MentalDisconnect says:

      Anyone have good tips for keeping bees/hornets away? They come around thick in the warm weather, and I’m allergic, so… I’d like an effective method so I can go outside without fear.

      Kitty! What a charming picture.

    9. eross says:

      Re “plant seeds of things you eat instead of buying them.” Proceed with caution.

      You generally want seeds from a plant that grew in your climate zone. It may be better to buy local seeds than to plant seeds from a Central California-grown crop in a much colder region, for example.

    10. MotherFury says:

      re: composting – check zoning regulations if you live in densely populated area or have a small lot. One of our neighbors in this town found out the hard way you can’t store “garbage” on your property, which is what food is after it has been discarded.

    11. mantari says:

      One thing I’ve learned —

      When it comes to used items, unless you know a really good one, skip the pawn shops. Most of them (at least around here) have prices that are just slight sub-retail.

      If you can’t find what you want at garage sales, thift stores are pretty good for finding sub-$100 mowers. But you’re going to have a better lawnmower selection during the off-season.

    12. j-o-h-n says:

      You can do a pretty fair job of composting in big leaf/trash bags in your garage, shed, basement, etc if need be.

      PS, since when are egg shells something which was not once part of an animal?

    13. traezer says:

      My parents once lived in a house where there was a large cow field behind their yard. When my dad turned on the lawnmower, the cows would come running from every corner of the field, and wait at the fence for the grass clippings. It was hilarious. Anywho, find a farmer who might want some free feed for the animals.

    14. junkmail says:

      I can’t believe there are actually able-bodied people paying someone to mow their lawn. “Yard day” my favorite day of the whole week! (What can I say? Up until a year ago, I lived in apartments my whole life, yards ROCK)

      I can’t agree enough about mulching your grass. Not only does it save the hassle and expense of yard waste, (not to mention bagging, yuck), but it makes a HUGE difference in the health and appeal of your grass. I haven’t fertilized once since I started mulching, and my yard looks like a friggin fairway.

      A great alternative to bug/weed control is to find a place that carries molasses sugar in bulk, and lightly spread that on your lawn every other month or so during the warmer months. The good bugs thrive on it, and the grass LOVES it. It grows so thick that weeds don’t have a chance to take hold, and it greatly benefits the health of the soil, (especially in high clay areas).

      Baking soda disolved in water, (2T / gal water) prevents molds and fungus on plants. You can also use it for fungus in the soil, or you can apply agricultural corn meal and water that in. About 10 pounds per 1000 sq.ft. The corn gluten meal is also an excellent fertilizer and weed killer.

    15. smakdphat says:

      a tip I learned from grandfather:
      use newspapers as landscaping fabric. about 4 sheets of newspaper laid out creates a blanket that plants can’t grow through, but allows moisture penetration. also, its easier to dig through when you want to add plants to an area. I’ve done large areas using this method and 5+ years later, they’re still very weed free.

    16. homerjay says:

      @smakdphat: @junkmail:

      As an organic landscaper, I think you guys made some great points. I do the newspaper trick all the time. Some people think I’m insane when I ask them for their newspapers but its a lot more environmentally friendly (provided you don’t use the glossy sections) and saves a BUNDLE on that stupid landscape fabric.

    17. JonathanV says:

      I’ve read in places like CoffeeGeek & Home-Barista that coffee grinds are great for flowers like rose bushes. Many people even work out deals with local coffee bars to get bulk grounds for free. Apparently roses and certain other flowers thrive in slightly acidic conditions, which the grounds help foster. You can google several full lists of flowers — hydrangeas and berries often come up as well.

    18. “If you tend to your compost heap, the mixture of grass clippings, egg shells, and coffee grinds can make great fertilizer in as little as three months.”

      If by “three months” you mean “a year,” then right on. (Also it has to be 3′ x 3′ x 3′ or you don’t get enough heat buildup in the pile for it to compost in the average midwestern year.)

      Avoid mowing by planting native plants. Initial outlay will probably a somewhat expensive, but lots of natives will self-seed or spread like crazy, since they already love your climate, so you can plant a little sparsely if you’re patient.

      Get an old-fashioned reel mower. (The new ones are super-engineered — at least the German ones.) No $3/gallon gas to power the mower, and it’s such a more pleasant, quiet experience with the reel mower.

      Call your county extension!

    19. asherchang says:

      “Boil y’er weeds. Instead of using a commercial weed killer, douse weeds with a mixture of vinegar and boiling water. Cackle maniacally while doing so”

      how can you get the boiling water out of the house and safely unto the targeted plant?

      and not composting anything that was a part of an animal is very important. Fat breaks down in a process called rancidification, which makes it absolutely reek. And flesh attracts alot of unwelcome flies and potential disease vectors.

    20. ElizabethD says:

      I just mowed our front and back lawns yesterday with an electric mower (no stinky gas fumes/pollution, although of course it still leaves a carbon footprint). I have the aching muscles today to prove it! First time each year is always tough on the aging body; after that I love the exercise and the smell of cut grass.

    21. ElizabethD says:


      Yes to what Mother Fury says above, and also, depending on what you put in your compost heap, it can attract unwatned wild animals like rats and (potentially rabid) raccoons.

      I’m all for coexisting with nature, but when we had a compost heap years ago, even though it was probably 150 yards or more from our house (and separated from it by a shed), the wood rats that came to love our kitchen veggie scraps eventually moved into our basement. They were kind of cute, but screeched at us menacingly from inside the Hav-a-Heart traps we used to catch them.

      In the city, I imagine other, more loathsome rats might find their way to a compost heap that incorporates fruit and veggie leftovers from the kitchen. Be careful out there!

      (PS: The chipmunks that lived in the adjacent stone wall and tunneled through the compost heap were adorable, though.)

    22. “how can you get the boiling water out of the house and safely unto the targeted plant?”

      I use a teakettle.

      It’s a slightly tedious process if you have a lot to do because you have to keep going inside and boiling more water, but it’s great for killing weeds in sidewalk cracks!

    23. spanky says:

      For composting, I drilled some holes for ventilation in a big black trashcan with a locking lid. I tip it over every now and again and roll it around to mix it up.

      It’s relatively discreet, so the neighbors don’t know you have a pile of garbage in there, and it works really quickly, probably because the black trashcan traps the heat or something.

    24. mac-phisto says:

      i always check with my neighbors to see if there’s anything garden/landscaping related that they’re looking to get rid of. picked up some nice free 4X4s that i used for a garden box, a load of stones that i’m using for a rock garden, planter boxes that were going to the dump & tulip bulbs that a neighbor thinned from his garden.

      ppl almost always buy more than they need when working outside & don’t like to store it. save them from having to rent a dumpster!

      & don’t forget to plant a row for the needy.

    25. rhombopteryx says:

      “the mixture of grass clippings … can make great fertilizer in as little as three months.”
      UNLESS those grass clippings are coated with herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides :(
      Don’t forget that that broadleaf weedkiller that really killed broadleaf plants well in your lawn will likely kill other broadleaf plants (like your tomatoes and lettuce) when those same grass clippings are spread over your garden. Ditto that insecticide that remains on the clippings. Be careful what you compost, as chemicals you put on the grass might not be the ones you want on your garden. Better yet, avoid the various *-cides in the first place if you can.

    26. ikes says:

      @spiderjerusalem: is it zoysia? oh, and i just listened to crass for the first time in YEARS yesterday…

    27. jkschlitz says:

      @j-o-h-n: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. And I’m pretty sure eggshells aren’t alive either.