Sometimes the solution to your garden problem is right in your kitchen drawer! Check out these simple, inexpensive effective problem-solvers. They’re good for the earth and save money.
You can also find 10 Surprisingly Good Dollar Store Finds for Gardeners here.
Use-What-You-Have Garden Problem Solvers
Got a garden problem? The solution may already be in your house and not cost a thing.
I’ve gathered some favorite tips and tricks for using household items in the garden. All the ideas are frugal. None of them will win me a Nobel Prize—or will they?—but they do work and make things easier. It’s just good old-fashioned resourcefulness—that thing we relied on years ago.
There is such a reflex in our culture to race to the store every time something isn’t working as well as we’d like. It’s most satisfying to let that go and use what you have instead.
Most garden gloves are not waterproof.
Keep a pair of good quality dishwashing gloves with your garden tools.
I like them for cleaning the pond and washing flower pots. Look for extra-long ones that cover your wrists too.
This is a simple way of keeping track of what you plant each season.
Hole punch your plant tags and keep them handy on a key ring.
Make sure to punch the hole in the image so you don’t remove any helpful information from the tag.
There are so many uses for binder clips (also called bulldog clips) in the garden.
I use them when planting seeds to make sure the packets stay shut and the seeds don’t spill.
See how the clip has ‘July C’ on it?
To keep track of harvest dates, I add these date clips to my plant tags noting the estimated date when the crop should be ready to pick. I tend to get so excited that everything is growing that I sometimes miss the best time to harvest, so this helps.
In case you’re wondering about my system, the beginning of the month is A, the middle is B, and the end is C.
This post shows the label maker and tape I used for long-lasting plant tags.
5Row Cover Clips
That blanket-like thing over the raised bed is a row cover (also called a frost cloth). These protect tender crops from cold weather.
I attach binder clips to each outside corner of my raised beds and them to hold the row covers in place.
Binder clips make good glove hangers.
I have several of them in my garden tool area and hang my gloves to dry after each use.
If you don’t want to spend money on a good but pricey garden knife, have a look in your kitchen or a local thrift shop. This serrated knife cost me 25 cents and works great. I use it for weeding and edging.
8Ceiling Light Covers
This tube peanut feeder is intended for woodpeckers and nuthatches.
I keep a ceiling light cover hanging over the top to prevent squirrels from jumping on it. Plus, it keeps the rain off the peanuts. Check thrift shops and yard sales to get one.
9Polyester Quilt Batting
Polyester quilt batting is excellent for cleaning a small, gunky garden pond.
How does it work? How to Clean a Gunky Pond Without Chemicals explains it.
I came up with this method years ago and since sharing it, thousands of you have sent testimonials.
See that tiger pattern? It’s an old pair of pantyhose now repurposed as a melon holder.
When space is limited, it’s necessary to grow melons vertically on trellis.
When the fruit gets large, I place it in a leg of pantyhose and tie it to the trellis, so the weight of the melon won’t cause it to snap off the vine before it’s ripe. And it expands as the fruit grows.
Love those old boots but can’t wear them anymore?
Plant succulents in them. Succlents Box has a nifty subscription service if these plants are calling you.
Or make boot dogs:
There’s lots of ways to use old food jars.
Here I decorated the jar with flat-bottom marbles and attached the lid to a wood post to make a hose guard.
Hose guards keep garden hose from crushing your plants.
These also make lovely votives with solar candles inside.
Want plant tags and markers that won’t fade or peel no matter what the weather?
It’s a good use for that label maker gathering dust in the office drawer.
Some naughty critter was nibbling at the base of my apple tree.
I removed the bottom of a yogurt container and made a slit up one side.
Placed around the tree base, no more critter nibbles.
15Bamboo Skewers, Chopsticks, & Old Clear Plastic Bags
See the bamboo skewers inside the plastic bags?
This is my ‘mini greenhouse’ for growing clematis vines from cuttings.
The skewers keep the plastic bags from resting on the plants. Chopsticks work well too. Find both at dollar stores. Used plastic food bags are perfect for stuff like this.
Broken dishes (and containers like this bunny one) have lots of reuses in the garden.
I use broken plates for mosaic art pieces and this half-rabbit is now a succulent planter.
Keep a good sharp seam ripper or letter opener with your garden supplies.
This makes it much easier to carefully open seed packets without tearing the paper. Some have important information on the top flap that I don’t want to lose!
Hair clips make good lightweight plant supports.
They come in all different sizes and work well with many plants including orchids and vines.
Here I’m supporting a coneflower that kept falling over but my most common use is with delphiniums that are too top-heavy.
Something eating your apples on the tree? This hack is not realistic for huge volumes of fruit, but it can help some.
Use a plastic sandwich bag to protect the ripening fruit.
I use bags that are no longer useful in the kitchen, to give them a second life.
Cut a few air holes and close the zip lock around the stem and hold things in place with a binder clip. If I don’t do this, the squirrels take every single apple before they are ripe.
And, because single-use plastics are a huge source of pollution on this dear old earth, be sure to re-use your bags over and over again.
Another option is organza bags, often used for gifts or wedding favors. They are lightweight and allow air flow and often come with ribbon ties.
Flower pots need drainage holes but often the holes are too big, and soil leaks out.
Use paper coffee filters in the bottom of pots to allow drainage of excess water without soil spilling out too. I wouldn’t buy them for this purpose but they’re handy if you happen to have some you are not using.
Scraps of fine mesh window screen also works well too.
21Plastic Pop Bottles
Old plastic pop bottles can be used for all sorts of purposes.
I turn them into funnels for filling my tube-style bird feeders.
• Cut the base off the bottle.
• Fill bottle with birdseed.
• Hold over bird feeder.
• Remove lid and feed will go directly into the tube.
Or make a water bottle bird feeder:
22Shower Curtain Hooks
Metal shower curtain hooks are very handy for hanging bird feeders and flower baskets.
They’re strong but also make it easy to remove items as needed.
Yes, procrastination is one of the best garden tools for pest problems. And it’s free.
I deal with just about all abnormal insect infestations by either spraying them off the plants with a hose, catching them with duct tape (wrapped around my fingers), or using good old-fashioned procrastination.
Everything resolves with time.
There are a lot of recipes online for homemade insect controls but most of them are a) not truly effective and b) add things that do not belong in nature or the garden.
Just because it comes from the kitchen cupboard does not mean it’s safe or beneficial.
If you have a pest problem, research it to find out what it is, learn the root cause, and ask:
What’s the worst thing that can happen if I just leave it alone?
Will any cure or treatment cause more harm?
Is this really a problem?
In many cases insects are just being insects. And, since they have co-evolved with plants and one cannot live without the other, that’s life. I started life as a gardener determined never to use pesticides (etc.) and never have.
An exception may be destructive invasive species, but those must be dealt with thoughtfully, with expert advice, on a case-by-case basis.
Sometimes things like aphids can just be removed with a spray of the garden hose. And other pests like Japanese beetles can be hand-picked or captured with duct tape.
But most bugs belong in our gardens and do no real harm. They’re just living their best lives. And our lives depend on them.
Grocery store baked goods are often sold in these plastic clamshells.
Many of them have air holes in the bottom which provides drainage, making them useful for seed starting.
I also use them for mini greenhouses as I did when propagating African violet cuttings here.
25Cloches and Mores
Find out five ways I use these Dollar Store mesh waste baskets in the garden. I consider them an essential garden accessory.
Resourcefulness is good for the earth and our pocketbooks.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛