Friday, June 15, 2012

10 Ways to Score Free Stuff for Your Garden

The obsessive-compulsive part of me loves lists.  They are nice, neat and ordered.  They are predictable and I know what to expect. Probably means you can expect more than a few lists from me.

I am also pretty tight with a nickel.  Having been raised by a frugal mother I think it is in my blood.  My ears prick up at the mention of free stuff.  As such, it seems fitting that my first list is about how to score free stuff for the garden.

If you have been gardening for a while you may already know about this stuff.  I bother to mention it because I wish I had known about it earlier.
  1. Wood Chip Mulch.  Many municipalities and tree trimming companies will deliver wood chip mulch to you at no cost.  This mulch is not as pretty as bagged and dyed mulch.  It also probably won't last as long.  Finally, you may not be able to control how much they deliver (you may get too much or two little).  However, if you have a lot of beds that need to be mulched this freebie can save you hundreds of dollars.
  2. Manure.  Composted manure is a fabulous addition to your soil.  Check out Craigslist to find local farmers who are giving away manure.  In my area some farmers sell it at a minimal price, though there are always a few that give away horse and cow manure.  You will have to shovel it yourself but who cares? It's free.
  3. Used Coffee Grounds. Used coffee grounds (UCG's) are great for the garden.  Go to your local coffee shop and ask them for their used coffee grounds.  Starbucks used to have a program called Grounds for Gardeners where they bagged their UCG's and set them out for people to pick up. They don't do that anymore in my area.  However, when we ask they are more than happy to bag what they have up and give them to us!  Other coffee shops do the same.
  4. Cardboard Boxes.  Cardboard is a great weed barrier to use under mulch (a process called sheet mulching).  Worms love it and it feeds the soil as it breaks down.  Grocery stores get lots of boxes that they have to pay to have recycled or hauled away. They are more than happy to give them to you if you ask.
  5. Milk Jug Cloches. If a spring frost hits after your transplants are in the garden you need to protect them.  One option is to use a cloche.  No need to buy an expensive (but beautiful) glass one.  Instead, save empty gallon milk jugs (with the tops).  Cut the bottom off and use them as cloches to conserve heat and protect transplants from frost.
  6. Toilet Paper Rolls.  If you start a lot of seeds you may find yourself paying dearly for the little peat pots sold in the big box stores.  Why not use toilet paper rolls instead?  Stack them in a container, fill with potting mix, plant, water, and wait.  You can plant out in the rolls (they will decompose quickly).
  7. Barrels. A lot of restaurants and delis get food in 55 gallon barrels.  These can be used to make rain barrels, compost tumblers or for storage.  Since they have to pay to have these hauled away they are often happy to give them away if you ask. 
  8. 5 Gallon Buckets.  Bakeries get their buttercream icing in 5 gallon buckets, very similar to the ones you can buy at a big box store.  Ask them for their empties and they are happy to give them away.  Be warned you will have to clean them out.  Get a spatula and scrape out what you can.   Then throw it in the dishwasher to get the grease off.  These can be used to make self watering containers or to just haul stuff around the garden.
  9. Seedings and seeds from other gardeners.  Make friends with other gardeners, especially folks who start seeds.  We often have more seeds than we will use.  We also tend to start more transplants than we will plant (in case something goes wrong).  This year I gave away 10 tomato plants that I started as back-ups in case the ones I put out early got zapped by frost.
  10. Look for seed swaps.  Gardening forums, local garden clubs and even bloggers occasionally host seed swaps.  You send in some of your extra seeds and get some surprises in return.  This is a great way to try something new without committing to buying 1,000+ seeds (I am never going to use up all the kale and chard seeds I have purchased!).

Speaking of seed swaps, consider participating in the Get Your Greens On Seed Swap!  There is still time to sign up.


  1. I scored used coffee grounds without going to the coffee shop by sending a clean metal coffee can to my husband's work with a sign on it, "Please put the used coffee grounds in here." He put it by the coffee maker and brought it home every day until I had enough.

    They drink a lot of coffee at his work and all of it was being thrown away, so they were happy to toss the grounds into my container rather than the garbage.

    1. That is a fabulous idea. I wish people drank enough coffee at my work to do this. I swear, my husband who works from home, generates more UCG's than my department at work! :)

    2. Great idea. We have a coffee club at work, I'm sure they would be happy to fill up a container for me.


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