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15 Smart Gardening Tips to Save You Time and Money

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When you consider putting in a vegetable garden, the expense of building raised beds, fencing, and renting a rototiller can seem daunting. But all aspects of gardening are not expensive. Here are 15 smart vegetable gardening tips that will save you time or money in the garden.

Growing these easy vegetable crops is another way to put yourself on the path to success in your veggie garden.

collection of garden equipment, plants in containers, and herbs in jars

Vegetable gardening tips for a successful harvest

Growing your own food doesn’t have to be expensive or all-consuming. Check out these 15 gardening tips to help your garden thrive with less work. Choosing companion plants, reducing disease, attracting pollinators, and more — these gardening tips will help your garden thrive.

1. Make your own garden soil

Make compost regularly using livestock manure, hay, straw, dried leaves, kitchen scraps, and other organic material. Compost that is turned and kept damp can turn into finished compost in just six weeks. Left in a pile it will be ready to use as soil in two years. Use finished compost as a top dressing on your vegetable garden.

More vegetable gardening tips: Find out how to grow your own garden soil here.

rows of garden vegetables mulched with straw

2. Mulch

Use grass, hay, or wood chips for mulch on the soil surface to inhibit weeds and conserve moisture. As the mulch breaks down it increases the nutrients available to your plants. Reapply every season, as necessary. If you are using wood chips, though, never till them into your soil. Just keep them on the surface, and add more on top of the last layer, as needed. [More on mulch and soil building here.]

3. Use poly row covers to extend the season.

The first frost of the season is usually followed by several more days of above 0° weather. If you protect your tender young plants from the first few frosty nights you may be rewarded with a few weeks more of ripe tomatoes, peppers, or cucumbers.

More vegetable gardening tips: Find out about growing under cover here.

garden plants and tools, vegetable gardening tips to try

4. Add Epsom salts to the soil to increase magnesium and sulfur and decrease chlorosis.

In highly acidic soils plants struggle to get enough trace minerals. Acidic soils lock up phosphorous, which plants need for flowering and fruiting. Adding Epsom salts raises soil pH slightly, while increasing the available magnesium and sulfur for plant growth, blossoming, and fruiting. Side dress with one tablespoon of Epsom salts per foot of plant height, around the base of each plant. You can do this every 6 weeks during the growing season.

5. Stir ashes into the soil before planting root vegetables

Wood ash contains potassium which is necessary for plant growth and reproduction. Beets especially benefit from the addition of ashes right before planting. Ashes also increase soil pH so only use it on soils that are acidic.

red striped apple hanging from a branch

6. Interplant rows of perennial fruit trees with vegetables and herbs

In commercial orchards, fruit trees are well weeded and there is nothing growing between the rows, not even grass. But this can be detrimental to good fruit set. Planting herbs and vegetables between rows of perennial fruit trees can be beneficial to both fruit trees and vegetables.

Herbs attract pollinating insects that are needed for good fruit set. Their strong scent also confuses orchard pests that find their fruit tree by smell or pheromones.

Fruit set is improved by the regular watering of vegetables near fruit trees. The fruit trees create a microclimate that prevents temperature extremes and wind damage to the vegetables. When you are planning your orchard, plan for vegetables, too.

More vegetable gardening tips: Find out about interplanting in “food islands” here.

7. Use diatomaceous earth to discourage spider mites and other greenhouse pests.

 

Diatomaceous earth is fossilized phytoplankton. It is rich in silicone, calcium, and magnesium. It is very hard and will pierce the exoskeletons of soft bodied garden pests like mites, flea beetles, and thrips. If you’ve ever had an outbreak of spider mites or white flies in your greenhouse, you need this stuff. Just dust it on the soil surface near your plants after watering. You’ll need to reapply it if it gets wet.

whitefly infestation on a leaf

8. Put crushed eggshells around tender spring lettuce or broccoli transplants to deter slugs, and increase the soil fertility.

Eggshells are calcium which brassicas need to grow well. Slugs ravage small brassica plants like those expensive hybrid broccoli and cauliflower transplants, you just put in. Eggshells cut the undersides of slugs and deter them. This method doesn’t work 100% of the time, though. Bigger slugs just slime their way over the egg shells. But add a copper screen or some trays of beer and you’ll have slugs that are too drunk to care about your hybrid broccoli.

More vegetable gardening tips: Make your own garden markers to track what you grow.

hand sprinkling eggshells in a potted plant

 

9. Inoculate the garden with oyster mushroom mycelium to encourage root symbiosis and increase plant growth.

Mushrooms are magical. When mushrooms are growing in your garden beds they increase the available nutrients for other plants growing in the same soil. The mushroom mycelium draw up nutrients from deeper in the soil and feed it to the plants growing near them. You get better vegetables and you get mushrooms.

More vegetable gardening tips: Find out about growing Oyster mushrooms here.

powdery mildew on squash plant

10. Spray leaves with diluted milk or diluted whey to discourage powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is not inevitable. Every fall when the temperature drops, squash plants, roses, grapes, and some berry bushes get a powdery, white mildew and start to die back, even before the frosts. As soon as the mildew comes the plants stop flowering and growth stops. Fruit that was set on the plant stops maturing.

A study in Australia found that milk diluted at 10% strength would stop the growth of powdery mildew, when sprayed on the leaves. Whey, left over from cheese making was also effective. Kefir, yogurt, and other fermented milk products that are past their prime would work as well. A 10% solution is about 1-2/3 cups of milk per gallon of water. Plants should be sprayed every two weeks to deter powdery mildew.

Click over to read about more ways to combat powdery mildew in the garden.

young basil plants from above

11. Companion plant with herbs and flowers to increase yields, attract beneficials, and deter pests.

Planting herbs in the same rows as your vegetables is smart gardening. Dill planted with cabbages, kale, and broccoli mean fewer cabbage moth damage on your crops. Dill attracts predatory wasps which lay their eggs on the caterpillars. No more broccoli worms. Dill planted with brassicas is just one of the many beneficial relationships you can encourage in your garden.

More vegetable gardening tips: Find out about smart companion planting techniques here.

12. Make a natural rooting hormone from willow cuttings

Use wild willow twigs, cut up and steeped in water to make a natural rooting hormone for rooting cuttings. Any variety of willow will work.

More vegetable gardening tips: Find out how to make your own rooting hormone.

willow for rooting hormone

13. Water your plants before the frost.

If frost threatens water the ground well the day before. Plants are less susceptible to frost damage if they are well watered. Well watered soil holds more heat than dry soil, further protecting your plants. Fruit trees can often be protected from a late frost by sprinkling the trees during the night with water, until after the sun is on the leaves. The water freezes on the trees providing a protective cover.

14. Use cinnamon to prevent damping off disease

When starting seedlings indoors, use cinnamon to prevent damping-off disease. Sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surface when you plant the seeds. Reapply once a month to inhibit molds and bacteria on these young plants. Cinnamon is naturally anti-fungal and antibacterial and won’t harm humans or pets. I use the older spices that I am replacing with fresh spice at the beginning of the holiday baking season.

yellow marigold flowers with a bee - companion planting is a great vegetable gardening tip!

15. Plant marigolds to attract beneficial insects and to combat root nematodes.

Garden areas that are converted from grassy pasture often have one or two seasons of productive growth and then decline noticeably. The cause is root nematodes that attack the plant roots, looking for food. Marigolds are toxic to root nematodes. Just planting marigolds with your vegetables will push root nematodes away. At the end of the season, chop up your marigold plants and dig them into the garden soil. The marigolds will take care of the damaging nematodes over the winter.

Originally published in December 2015; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Chris Dalziel

Chris is the author of The Beeswax Workshop: How to Make Your Own Natural Candles, Cosmetics, Cleaners, Soaps, Healing Balms, and More. She is a teacher, author, gardener, and community herbalist with 30+ years of growing herbs and formulating herbal remedies, skin care products, soaps, and candles. She teaches workshops and writes extensively about gardening, crafts, and medicinal herbs on her blog at JoybileeFarm.com. Chris's other titles include The Beginner’s Book of Essential Oils: Learning to Use Your First 10 Essential Oils with Confidence and Homegrown Healing, From Seed to Apothecary. Chris lives with her husband Robin in the mountains of British Columbia on a 140 acre ranch, with sheep, dairy goats, llamas, and a few retired chickens. They have 3 adult children and 3 granddaughters. All photos courtesy of Chris.

12 comments… add one
  • Emerson Dec 6, 2015, 3:14 pm

    TIPS not hacks.

  • Linda Marie Finn Dec 9, 2015, 9:18 am

    I love Chris’s Ideas and I’m glad you shared here today ! Love you site !
    Linda

  • Ramona Jan 29, 2016, 8:40 am

    Hi Chris, I just came across your website. This is great! I have signed up for your newsletter. Thanks for all your work & info.

  • Christopher Feb 1, 2016, 5:55 am

    Hi Chris,

    I love the post. I also think that planting rosemary near the kitchen or windows could go a long way repelling harmful insects and mosquitoes. You’ve mentioned growing marigold to attract beneficial insects and combating nematodes, is it also possible for marigolds to repel thrips?

    Thanks for sharing

    • Dini Jan 13, 2017, 6:04 am

      Thrips can be thwarted by spraying a mixture of garlic and water…this has saved my roses several times over! Pulverize the garlic in a blender with water, strain and spray…

  • The Walking Herbalist Feb 26, 2016, 3:25 am

    “Make a natural rooting hormone from willow cuttings”

    What cool advice! Definitely going to give this a try! Your article is fantastic overall. It made me think of another frugal tidbit we picked up along the way: use recycled materials for indoor seed starting for transplants! Milk cartons are a good one for this!
    Anyway, thanks for the article, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Mindy of The Walking Herbalist

  • Jen Apr 11, 2016, 12:33 pm

    Love love love this!! I am continually moving this direction! Love your tips! Anything for squash bug remedy?

  • Tina Jan 13, 2017, 8:20 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful advice-I am excited to try out many things in my garden.

  • Sharon Orpin Apr 17, 2017, 7:08 am

    thank ewe

  • Andrea Apr 13, 2019, 8:36 am

    Great info. Thx for sharing. We r all wiser thx to yur info!!

  • Shirley May 15, 2020, 3:24 pm

    I’m so grateful for the tip for worms on the brassicas. I’ve been invaded. Going to try it tomorrow!

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