Gardening Hacks You'll Wish You Knew Sooner

Gardening is supposed to be such a relaxing hobby, what with all that item out in the fresh air and sunshine — not to mention the joy of seeing tangible rewards for all your hard work in the form of beautiful flowers and delicious fresh vegetables. While gardening may prove to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pastimes you've ever taken up, it also has the potential to be exasperating as heck, not to mention a huge time and money pit if you're not quite sure what you're doing.

Uncooperative weather, seeds that simply refuse to sprout, marauding wildlife that can make even a lifelong anti-hunting activist think twice, insect plagues of Biblical proportions, an overabundance of zucchinis that nobody wants (no, not even if you spiralize them) ... it seems as if gardening is seeded with pitfalls. While it's ultimately up to nature as to whether your garden stands or falls, you can always try to help things along with a few simple hacks that should make your horticultural experience a little easier and cheaper.

Start your seeds using recycled resources

Starting seeds is always a tricky business. Still, it's probably better to do so indoors than to simply dump the seeds straight into your garden. This way, you can already have some viable little green sprouts to make your garden look more like a garden and less like a patch of dirt. Luckily, DIY seed starters are super easy to make, and you can use a wide variety of recyclable materials. If you pick something biodegradable like an egg shell, a lemon rind, an ice cream cone, or a paper egg carton, Country Living shares that you can just transplant your starter pots straight into the ground without having to disturb the tiny plantlings.

Family Handyman shares that hard-to-start seeds might benefit from a micro-greenhouse made from a cut-off plastic soda bottle. Just hack of the bottom, remove the label, and place the capped bottle over your starter pot, and your itty-bitty greenhouse will help the soil retain moisture.

Make DIY plant waterers

While you can use a sprinkler to water your lawn, most plants require a more hands-on, gentle type of hydration. If you'd like to have a variety of different-sized watering cans, but you're also into saving money and/or re-purposing household waste, Balcony Garden Web suggests using an old milk jug to make your own watering can. You could also use a larger-sized plastic jug such as the kind used for laundry detergent. All you need to do is rinse it out well, then poke holes in the cap and fill the jug with water. Cap it, and you're ready to start sprinkling.

If you're growing indoor plants, here's an even easier idea for making a self-watering device: Buy a bottle of wine. Drink the wine. Fill the wine bottle with water. Stick the neck of the bottle in the soil of the plant pot. Refill as necessary. While Balcony Garden Web shows the wine bottle inserted into terracotta stakes, Instructables reveals that all you really need is the bottle. The soil will simply "drink" what it need when it needs it instead of gulping down the whole bottle at once.

Easily convert lawn space to garden space

Bob Vila, original host of This Old House, has a "zero dollar" hack for when you want to save yourself a lot of effort converting a patch of your lawn into a garden area. Before you can plant any seeds, you've got to get rid of all that grass, right? But the thought of all that digging ... Vila says you can skip all the work and do it the easy way by laying cardboard over the grass. Of course, it's going to take some time for the grass to die, so it will only work if you plan ahead. 

All you need to do is cover your garden-to-be with a few flattened boxes (Vila suggests overlapping them like shingles), then cover the whole thing with a few layers of compost or mulch. Water it until it's packed down, then wait about two months. Not only will the grass be gone, but the soil will be enriched with nutrients from the compost and will have taken on structure from the broken-down cardboard. In other words, it should now be the perfect planting space, at least if you haven't put things off till the dead of winter.

Use straw bales as a soil alternative

Yet another Bob Vila tip will work if you don't have the time to wait for the cardboard hack and/or you just don't have the right kind of soil to sustain any plantings. He suggests that straw bales, which aren't free but can be pretty cheap, make a great low-maintenance medium for planting anything from tomatoes to strawberries. The straw itself provides nutrients as it decomposes and is also practically weed-proof. 

Straw bales are also pretty absorbent, so they won't even need as much watering as soil plantings do. Plus, they'll give your garden that delightfully rustic touch, kind of a Halloween-y hayride vibe.

Keep pests away the natural way

Bugs are the bane of any gardener. But what can you do? In a world full of zillions of insects, humans are vastly outnumbered. Well, we fight back as best we can, but using all-natural insect repellents is less likely to result in long-lasting harm to the gardener, the plants, or the environment. Coffee grounds and crushed egg shells can both help keep insects away from plants, and they also have the added benefit of enriching the soil.

If you're bothered by a larger plant predator, perhaps one that goes by the name of Fluffykins, you can sprinkle some cut-up lemon peels around your garden. It won't hurt the plants a bit, but the citrus-y odor is evidently very un-a-PEELing to our feline friends.