By Jennifer Kelly Geddes | Apr 14, 2021
Think you’ve got a black thumb, and no amount of gardening advice can help keep your plants from meeting untimely demises?
We’re here to say that growing flowers and veggies is definitely an art, but it’s one you can learn fast with a few shortcuts—aka gardening hacks.
Here are some of the best gardening tricks of the trade approved by experts who say they really work. And the best part? Many of these ideas use home goods that you’ve got lying around the house already.
1. Fill your planters with bottles and cans to save dirt
Ever wonder how those ginormous planters get filled? Sure, you could use a 50-pound bag of pricey potting soil to get the job done, or you can try an easier, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly approach.
The trick here: Fill the pot about two-thirds of the way with cans or plastic bottles from your recycling bin, then pile the dirt on top. This way, you use far less costly soil from the garden center, plus you improve the aeration and drainage at the bottom of the planter. Oh, and you can move it around your patio more easily, too.
2. Divide your bulbs in half for more flowers
This one’s a two-fer: You can double your garden’s beauty and save money simply by dividing annual bulbs. (Tulips, irises, and daffodils are ideal for this.)
“When you see your flowers aren’t producing the way they used to, yank them up and then carefully pull the small, offset bulbs away from the base of the plant,” says Susan Brandt, master gardener at Blooming Secrets.
Plant these new bulbs, plus the original one if it seems in good shape (it’s worth planting again if the base is firm to the touch), and you may double your blooms without spending more money.
3. Take your soil’s temperature with a kitchen thermometer
That oven and grill thermometer isn’t just for your barbecues and Thanksgiving turkey. Yup, you can actually stick it in the dirt to determine whether your soil is warm enough (meaning above freezing) for planting. A standard meat or digital thermometer will work as long as it tests colder temperatures in the 40-degree range, says Brandt.
4. Line pots with coffee filters for easy repotting
Transferring plants to new pots or into the ground is a tricky project. The reason? Dirt can drop all over when you try to lift them out, and disturb their delicate root system. The fix here is run-of-the-mill coffee filters.
Place one at the base of your pot, fill with dirt and plant your seeds or plants right in this paper nest.
“And when you go to repot it, lift up the filter gently and evenly so it keeps loose soil from spilling on your workspace,” says Brandt.
5. Use zip or twist ties to keep climbing vines in place
A gorgeous grid of climbing clematis or other vines is easily achieved by grabbing a few twist ties (the ones that come with loaves of bread). Secure the vine stems to a wire backing, fence, or post, and you’ll be able to arrange the growth in any way you like.
6. Crush egg shells and mix with your soil
This gardening hack has some science behind it.
“Eggshells are an excellent source of calcium, and you can use them as fertilizer in areas with clay soil,” says Brandt.
When planting, add a little pulverized shell to each hole, suggests Oscar Ortega, maintenance care manager at FormLA Landscaping. These delicate wonders also contain potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which can help perk up house plants, too. (Sprinkle some in the dirt every couple of weeks.)
7. Fill an over-the-door shoe holder with plants
An old shoe holder is easily made into a pocket planter for succulents, ivy, or any perennial you want to showcase. Poke a few small holes in each section for drainage, add dirt and plant seedlings or small plants, and then hang it on a fence, shed wall, or any exterior door that gets good light.
8. Insert plastic utensils to scare off critters
Brandt isn’t sure why this one works, but theorizes that this small army of plastic forks standing sentry in the soil scares off rabbits and birds since it looks so unfamiliar to them. Save a few from your next picnic and try it!
9. Pour vinegar on weeds
Who doesn’t have a cabinet full of random vinegar bottles? The acid in this pantry staple kills weeds like dandelions, so douse a bit on each garden offender. You’ll have to put up with the sharp scent for a little while, but it’s a fair trade for weed-free flower beds.
10. Trap slugs and pill bugs in beer
While you might hate to share your suds this way, by putting a small dish of PBR near your plants you can catch and kill slugs and other slimy bugs. The reason: They’re attracted to the sweet odor of beer—and when they get close to it, they end up drowning. RIP!