5 easy gardening hacks

Thrifty gardeners are always looking for ways to save money — so they can buy more plants, of course! Whether you call them “hacks,” shortcuts, tricks or just advice from your grandmother, these clever, penny-pinching gardening ideas might be worth a try.

How to Do a Simple Soil Test to Determine Acidity or Alkalinity of Your Soil

Before you plant a new garden bed, it is important to know the pH of your soil – if your soil is more acidic or more alkaline. Different plants thrive in different soil environments, and you may need to amend your beds, depending on what you plant. For the most accurate results, buy a soil test kit at a garden center or get a soil analysis through your local extension office. But if you just want a quick way to determine if your soil is predominantly acidic or alkaline, do this simple test. Take a sample of dry soil from your bed (about ¼ cup) and mix it with distilled water until the soil is the consistency of loose mud. Begin pouring household vinegar over the soil. If the mixture starts to fizz, it is more alkaline. Take another sample of dry soil and mix with distilled water as directed above. Then start sprinkling baking soda over the top. If the mixture bubbles, it is more acidic. If neither test produces a fizz or bubble, your soil is mostly neutral.


The color of your hydrangeas can tell you something about the pH of your soil. If your hydrangeas are blue, your soil is more acidic. If your hydrangeas are pink, your soil is more alkaline.

Another way to determine acidity or alkalinity is by observing your blooming hydrangeas. If your flowers are blue, your soil is more acidic. If the flowers are pink, your soil is more alkaline. Or, you can just look at the color of your soil. If you are gardening in our native red clay, chances are good that your soil is acidic!

And speaking of hydrangeas, many people want to control the color of their bigleaf hydrangeas. You can experiment using liquid soil drenches. For bluer flowers, increase the acidity of your soil by dissolving one tablespoon of alum (aluminum sulfate) in one gallon of water and then drench the soil around the plant in March and again in April and May. For pinker flowers, you need to make the bed more alkaline by adding one tablespoon of hydrated lime to one gallon of water and then drench the soil around the hydrangeas in March, April and May. Watch that you don’t splash the solution on the leaves.

How to Make Your Own Deer Repellent


To deter deer from your garden you can try several home remedies, including mixing up a recipe of rotten eggs, sprinkling soap, or placing fabric softener sheets or animal hair around your plants. Adding something with motion, like a whirly-gig, can surprise deer for a while, or, you can just get a dog!

When a group of gardeners get together, the conversation will eventually turn to discussing methods to deter these pesky critters from destroying the garden. Commercial deer repellent is expensive, so you might want to try some simple home remedies first. A good offense (offensive smells or tastes) is a good defense against deer damage. Many gardeners have had success mixing their own noxious egg spray. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources shares its recipe: 4-6 raw eggs mixed with one gallon of water and sprayed directly on plants. For a more intense spray, mix 6-12 rotten eggs with one gallon water, one cup liquid soap or shampoo, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp. cayenne pepper and 2 tbsp Tabasco sauce. Strain and test first before spraying all your plants. Other smell deterrents include sprinkling shaved Irish Spring or Dial soap or tucking fabric softener sheets around your plants. Hanging mesh bags or panty hose filled with human, dog or cat hair has worked for some. Others suggest using dirty diapers, used cat litter and unwashed athletic socks as deterrents! Some home remedies may work for a while until the deer become accustomed to the smell or taste, so it is best to vary your repellents.

How to Make a Tool Bucket to Keep Tools Sharp and Clean


Mix sand and mineral oil in a pot and leave your hand tools in the mixture to keep them clean and sharp.

If you are like me, you are lazy when it comes to keeping your hand tools clean and sharp. This easy hack will solve the problem and help maintain your tools. You will need a mid-size terracotta pot, large bucket of play sand and mineral oil. (If you can’t find mineral oil, use baby oil instead.)Cover the hole in your pot with a coffee filter to keep the sand from spilling out. Add sand and then mix in the mineral oil until the sand is slightly damp. Place your tools into the bucket mixture, allowing the sand and oil mixture to clean off debris and keep tools sharp. Leave tools in your pot until you need them.

How to Start Your Own Free Plants

Thrifty gardeners will always look for ways to add free plants to the garden. You can swap plants with friends, start plants from the seeds of last year’s crop, or using cuttings of a favorite plant to propagate more. One of my favorite hacks to add more shrubs to my garden is called layering. Hydrangeas, azaleas and gardenias are good candidates for layering. Look for a flexible stem that is growing near the ground. Bend the stem to the ground and make a small wound in the part of the stem that is in contact with the ground by gently scraping off some of the outer layer. Cover this part of the stem with soil. You can secure the stem to the soil with a landscape staple or by placing a rock over the soil-covered stem. Bend the tip of the branch being layered toward the sky. When roots have developed, you can sever the new plant from the mother plant, but let it remain in place for a few weeks to acclimate from being separated. Then, dig it up, plant it, and voilá…you have a new, free plant.


Milk jugs make great mini greenhouses for tender plants and also can serve as watering cans.

Winter sowing is the process of growing plants from seeds outside by creating a mini-greenhouse that keeps seeds moist while protecting them from cold and wind. Gallon plastic milk jugs or 2-liter plastic soda bottles make perfect mini-greenhouse containers for seeds to start.

You can find lots of information online on how to do winter sowing. If starting seeds inside, recycled yogurt containers, single-serving coffee pods, half eggshells or lemon rinds make great containers and cost you nothing! Place your seedlings on top of your refrigerator and you have a free warming unit!

How to Make Your Own Organic Pesticide Spray


Instead of getting rid of big logs from trees you have cut down, line a pathway with the logs, carve out the middle, add soil and plant some lovely flowers!

Most gardeners are looking for gentler approaches to controlling diseases and insect pests on their plants instead of using harsh chemicals that can damage the environment. You can mix up your own organic spray using two tablespoons of Neem oil, one tablespoon of liquid castile soap and water. Add the oil and soap to a 24 – 32 oz spray bottle, fill with water, and shake well to combine. This spray works well for fungal diseases and aphids. Make a fresh batch each time you use it and apply once a week to treat problems.

These five simple solutions only scratch the surface of how you can save money in the garden. Let me know your own thrifty ideas and gardening hacks. Email me at helanderb@comcast.net and we can share your tips and photos in a future article.


Bonnie Helander

I am a writer and blogger with a specialty in gardening and a proud graduate of the University Of Georgia. I live in Peachtree City with husband, Dan, and enjoy hiking, gardening, being a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club and rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs!

June 29, 2016