This article is packed full of free ideas to help you garden on a budget and I will be regularly coming back to it and adding more ideas!
Free Compost Materials
Compost will be one of your main gardening expenses, so making your own is essential if you want to garden with little cost.
You will need a compost heap or bin before you can get going. You can make a heap for free with pallets or source a bin. “Dalek” style bins are often given away for free on Facebook marketplace, so have a look in your area.
Once you have a bin setup, here are some excellent free materials to add to it.
1. Food Scraps
Food scraps are perfect for adding to the compost heap. They are packed full of nutrition that your plants will need and also rot down quickly and soon become compost.
Don’t add meat, dairy or manufactured products. Just add natural products like potato peels and other fruit and veg items.
Meat and dairy products can attract rats which is why I don’t recommend adding them unless you know what you are doing.
2. Grass Clippings
If you mow a lawn, ensure that your grass clippings go into your compost. Grass clippings are packed with nitrogen and are a great material to add to your compost.
Just make sure you break up your layers of grass clippings with some brown materials, sticks, cardboard etc or your pile could go slimy and smelly.
If you are going to use your grass clippings in compost, then don’t treat your lawn with any chemicals or weed killers as you don’t want these in your compost.
3. Cardboard Boxes
Cardboard is great for adding to your compost heap and helps balance out all the green plant materials you will add.
You want to add green and brown materials to achieve good compost. greens being plant materials and grass clippings and browns being sticks and cardboard.
Add these materials in alternating layers (the lasagne method) to achieve a quality but easy compost.
Don’t add glossy, printed cardboard as that contains many chemicals. Stick to plain cardboard, Amazon boxes are fine even though they have the logo printed on the side.
You also want to rip your compost up or shred it ideally into smaller pieces before adding.
Another great free resource for your compost is eggshells. These are packed full of calcium, which can be hard to otherwise add to your compost.
Crush them down as small as possible, and then just add to your compost heap.
The smaller you can crush them down, the quicker they will break down in your compost.
Leaves can be added to a compost heap or turned into a material all of their own.
If you get a lot of leaves falling naturally in your garden or allotment, then you may want to consider making leaf mould.
This is a type of compost made entirely from leaves and is excellent for your garden. Pile the leaves up and let them rot down over a few years – it’s that simple.
6. Wood Chippings
If you have a local tree surgeon, then get in touch with them, they may be willing to deliver wood chippings in bulk for free.
This is one of those win-win situations as you get a useful resource and the tree surgeon doesn’t have to pay someone to get rid of what is a waste product for them.
You will not be able to directly use them as compost for a good 2-3 years. But once they have properly broken down they produce an excellent growing medium.
You can just leave them in a pile to break down if you have room. The smaller the chippings the quicker they will break down.
There are lots of items you can reuse and turn into containers and seed trays so you don’t have to buy them, lets’s take a look.
7. Egg Cartons
Milk cartons make great seed starters as each egg holder works almost like a module in a module tray.
This means you can grow plants individually in each section before planting them on.
Eggshells can also be used for starting seeds in.
This is more of a gimmick than a practical option, but it is something fun to do with the kids or grandkids.
9. Milk Bottles
Milk bottles can easily be turned into planters.
Just chop them in half and fill them with compost and you have a ready-made plant pot!
10. Milk Bottle Propagator
As well as being used as pots, milk bottles also make excellent propagators or mini-greenhouses.
Read my guide here to find out how to make one.
11. Pop Bottles
Just like milk bottles, old pop bottles – both large and small, can be turned into plant pots.
12. Loo Roll Tubes
The centres of toilet rolls are commonly used for seed starting.
These are great as they can be planted into the ground whole with the seed still inside and the cardboard will rot away and disappear.
13. Tyre Planters
Tyres are commonly used as large planters for flowers and sometimes veg. As you can see above, they can look very nice when painted.
I would only ever grow ornamental flowers in them though as they can contain some pretty nasty chemicals which you wouldn’t want in your food!
14. Yogurt Pot Seed Starters
Save yoghurt pots and use them as seed-starting pots.
These small pots are brilliant for starting seeds in.
15. Drinking Cups
Much the same as the yoghurt pots above.
Small plastic drinking cups, the one-use kind, can be saved from landfill and put to good use as pots to start your seeds in.
16. Newspaper Seed Starters
Newspaper can be wrapped up a few times to create a seed-starting pot.
They work like toilet roll seed starters and can be planted with the seed still inside. The newspaper will rot away, leaving the seed to grow.
17. Coffee tubs seed storage
These coffee tubs make great tins for storing seeds.
They are watertight thanks to the lid and also block out any light from getting to your seeds which can sometimes cause premature germination.
18. Milk Bottle Seed Labels
A milk bottle can easily be cut up and turned into seed labels, see my guide here.
19. Banna Peel
Banana peels are often used as a natural fertiliser because of their high potassium content. The jury is out on how much potassium actually remains once you make a banana peel fertiliser, but its not going to do any harm!
Cut up banana peels and put them in a jar or old milk bottle with plenty of water. Leave them like this for a few weeks.
Then strain the banana peels out and use the water as a plant feed. You probably want to do this outside as it will smell!
No need to dilute, you can use the water straight.
Nettles make a great fertiliser, they are so good in fact that many people actually leave them to grow in an area of their garden so they can harvest them.
Nettle tea is one of the favoured ways to turn nettles into plant food.
You want something large like an old bucket, pack it full of nettle leaves, cover it and let it sit. You want to leave it for many weeks, preferably over a month.
You can then use this tea as a plant food, this one does need to be diluted quite strongly, roughly at a 10:1 ratio.
Comfrey tea works just like the nettle tea above, soak the leaves in water for over a month.
Unlike nettle tea, you don’t have to dilute the water, just pour it around for plants for a good healthy feed.
Many gardeners also add comfrey leaves to their water butts as a constant ongoing natural feed.
Comfrey is widely treated as a toxic plant, and while there is an ongoing debate around this I would strongly advise you to be cautious. Use gloves and ensure it is never digested by humans or animals.
22. Compost Tea
23. Wood Ash
Wood ash from fires can be scattered around your plants like a granular feed.
You don’t want to overdo this, so only do it once a year in the same area. You also want to be careful about what the ash contains.
Don’t use anything that had chemical treatment or the like before burning. So woods like MDF, plywood and materials like printed cardboard should not be used.
Just as an FYI, you shouldn’t burn MDF in wood burners as it can clog in your chimney and lead to fires!
Well-rotted manure is the perfect natural plant food. It is usually applied as a mulch on the surface of your soil, but sometimes people also dig it in.
You want to use well-rotted manure and not fresh manure. Fresh manure can actually be dangerous for your plants.
Well-rotted manure is manure that has been left to compost down in a pile for over a year at least. Make sure it is no longer hot and actively breaking down.
It should be darker than fresh manure, not as smelly, and cold. Usually, most of the straw will also have broken down.
25. Coffee Grounds
Coffe grounds can be scattered around plants to work as a natural fertiliser. Many people say it is acidic and should be used on acid-loving plants like Blueberries, azaleas etc.
You can scatter it around plants or turn in into a liquid feed by diluting it with water.