In these penny-pinching times, our gardens can be a real piggy bank of saved money. A little creative cheapness goes a long way. Here are some of my tips for frugal fun around the garden.
1One mow time: If your gas mower won't start, buy a $2 "one-pull" spark plug at a hardware store, fill the tank once with high-test gas, and you may be able to rejuvenate it. If it has breathed its last, consider buying a secondhand mower.
2Root, root, root inexpensively: Spend $3 on a jar of rooting hormone powder at a garden center and you'll have an inexhaustible supply of new flowering perennials and shrubs. Snip 6-inch sections of stems, strip off the lower leaves, dip the cut tip lightly in the rooting powder, place it in a hole 4 inches deep, and water it in. Soon roots will form and bingo, a new plant.
3Seed money: Save the seeds from Crenshaw or Canary Island melons, rinse and dry them and keep them over the winter in the refrigerator. Next spring, plant them. Do the same with Turk's cap, kabocha and butternut squashes, passion fruits and papayas (you can plant these now; they sprout best when fresh). My passion fruit vine bears hundreds of fruits every year; I see them for $3 in the produce section of the supermarket. You do the math.
4Feeling chipper: No need to spend money on mulch. Call a tree service and ask for a free delivery of chipped branches. Oak and cedar are the most attractive, and they give off a lovely woodland aroma.
5Love thy neighbor: Maybe you want to check with the people next door or your neighborhood association before you try this: Call a stable and ask for a free delivery of horse manure. Spread it 2 inches thick and water it in. It will take a few days for the barnyard aroma to fade, but your landscape will thrive, especially sandy, nutrition-starved soil.
6Presto pesto: Everybody loves pesto, but it's expensive in the grocery store, whether you buy a bunch of basil or a jar of pesto. Instead, plant basil or arugula in empty spots, in patio planters or as a vegetable-garden border. Buzz in the blender with Parmesan, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts or walnuts.
7Stretch your funds: Recycle panty hose as plant ties. Cut off the waistband for one tie; discard the foot and cut the leg into 10 rings; cut the panty section into three rings. Snip the rings into strips and you've got a bundle of plant ties of varying strengths.
8Grow your own garlic, blue potatoes and peanuts. Why shouldn't your garden contribute to the household's bottom line? Plant the bulbs, pods, seeds or sprouted chunks of what you buy at the store and you'll never have to shop again for gourmet groceries: grape tomatoes, new potatoes, key limes, guavas, sunchokes.
9Bye-bye, bugs: Buy a bar of Kirk's castile soap (80 cents in supermarkets). Drop it in a wide-mouth gallon jar, fill it with hot water and let it dissolve for a week. Mix 1 cup of this potion with a gallon of water and spray aphids, mites and whiteflies, as well as black spot and powdery mildew. To combat scale or mealybugs, mix 2 cups of soybean or canola oil into that gallon jar of soap solution, shake very well and spray. The soap penetrates the bugs' protective coverings and the vegetable oil suffocates them.
John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.