Garden With Free Supplies




Do you want a garden? Are you broke? This is a list of ways to get all of your garden supplies for free! All you have to do is buy plants. I use all of these methods in my garden at my apartment (my landlady doesn't care if I dig up her yard).

Let's get started!

Step 1: Free Compost From the Landfill

If you live in a large city or surburban area, getting free compost may be as easy as calling your local landfill!

Many cities dispose of yard wast by composting it and then giving it away for free. So call up your local waste athorities and see what you can get.

One thing.... Sometimes the compost you get from the landfill is not completely broken down and will burn your plants. To solve this just plant your plants in a pocket of potting soil.

Oh, and another thing..... Occationally landfill compost is made with sludge from the water management department. It's sterile and non-toxic, but some people believe that it contains medication that has been flushed. I plant flowers so I couldn't care less if they contain viagra, however, if you plant veggies you may wish to proceed to step 2.

Step 2: More Free Compost

The other free way to get free compost is to make it. There are countless websites and instructables that give compost instructions but my favorite method is sheet or lasagna mulching.

The idea behind lasagna or sheet mulching is to compost, not in a pile in your back yard, but where you want to plant. Here is a basic recipe for lasagna mulch. At the bottom of the page I've listed several links that show other ways of composting including the traditional method.

Feel free to leave out steps 3, 5, or 7 if necessary.

1. Pick the spot where you want to plant. You shouldn't dig it up, just squish or mow it till it's mostly flat. Remove any large rocks if you see them.
2. Water that spot thoroughly until it's really soaked. It will be hard to get water down to this area when it's mulched
3. Sprinkle a light layer of coffee grounds and potting soil from an old potted plant all over the area this will encourage the worms to find your compost
4. Lay down 4-6 layers of wet newspaper (no colored ads) or 1-2 layers cardboard. This stops weeds
5. Cover the newspaper with a few pounds of leftover kitchen scraps (no dairy or meat).
6. Quickly cover the scraps with a 6-12 inch layer of grass clippings / yard waste with no thick branches
7. Cover layer 6 with several inches of finished compost or garden soil if possible
8. Cover the entire area with several inches of mulch (see the mulch section of this 'ible for more info)

Now you have 2 options:
If you were able to top the lasagna with enough soil in step 7 you can plant right away.
If not, which is most likely the case for us broke people, your going to need to wait for it all to break down...i.e. 3-6 months

I know that's a long time! But it's totally worth it because in the end you will have the most amazing soil on the planet right where you need it. If you live up north then this is a great project for the fall cause the you can just let is sit all winter and it will be ready for you in the spring. If you live someplace warm like I do (Southeast Florida) you should do this in the summer when the intense heat and summer rains will help the mulch decompose faster. Remember: a dry compost pile is a dead compost pile.

Also, as it decomposes the mulch will eventually compress to the same level as the ground around it. So don't worry if it looks kind of out of place at first.


Explaining Sheet / Lasagne Mulching

Step 3: Fertilize With Coffee

Need free fertilizer? Need coffee?

If you've answered yes to both of these questions then Starbucks has got you covered!

Used coffee grounds contain a ton of the nitrogen that your plants need to grow, and it just so happens that Starbucks has a policy to give used coffee grounds to any customer who requests them.

They even package them with a sticker that gives you fertilizing directions!

Of coarse you could just use leftovers from your coffee maker, but I don't drink coffee so I use starbucks.

And in case anyone is wondering, coffee grounds are virtually acid free because all of the acid is transferred into the coffee pot during percolation.

Step 4: Fertilize With Tea

Fertilizer tea is a home brew created to give your plants a quick boost when they look a little down.

Fertilizer tea is sometimes made with store bought ingredients, but here is the free method:

Stuff a large bucket full of yard clippings
Fill with water
Let it sit 12-24 hours
Pour the now nutrient laden water on your plants

There are lots of other recipes for fertilizer tea on the Internet, and depending on your resources you may be able to make some of them very inexpensively. Experiment with what's out there and do what's right for you and your garden.

Step 5: Borrow Your Tools

Borrowing tools is an age old tradition shared by neighbors everywhere. I borrow my landlady's shovels all the time. Just make sure that you take good care of them and return them in a timely fashion. Thanking your neighbor with baked goods or fresh garden produce is a great way to insure that you can repeat this tradition anytime you need to. Parents and other family are also great people to borrow from because you can usually borrow what you need for a longer amount of time.

Warning: if you are well known in your family for breaking / loosing things you may want to stick to your neighbors.

Step 6: Free Pond

So you want a pond for your garden? No problem if you're not picky. All you need is a large plastic bin, some rocks, water, and a couple of plants.

First find a large Tupperware-like bin (the really big ones that small children can hide in...60 QT?). You probably have one lying around in your attic/basement/garage/storage unit. If not ask your friends and family. (Also, I've noticed that curbside recycling bins are about this size so if you have the know-how to plug up any drainage holes by all means use one of these.)

Bury the bin if you want or decorate it as desired. (Note: if your plastic bin is transparent you MUST paint or bury it. Otherwise the light shining through will cause your pond to fill with algae and become gross.

Next, procure enough smooth hard rocks to generously cover the bottom of the bin. For some of us this means visiting our local nature areas, and for others it means visiting our neighbors' rock gardens...I'm not asking where you got them; I'm just telling you what you need.

Fill the bin with water and let it sit for 24 hours. This will allow any sediment from the rocks to settle and also allow any chlorine in the water to dissipate.

Finally your new pond needs plants. Plants help create and maintain a natural ecosystem in the pond. Good places to find plants are local lakes and friends' fish tanks. Just set them gently against the rocks on the bottom of your pond and wait to see if they take.

Congratulations! You now have a pond!

Step 7: Free Garden Art and Furnature

For free garden art or furniture you only need 2 things. Patience and creativity.

Some of the most beautiful furniture I've seen has been made out of junk found on street corners. Remember that broken ladder? Make it a plant stand! Rusty chair? Plant beans around the bottom and use it as a trellis! Keep an eye out and let the materials come to you.

I never expected to put benches in my garden until someone in my building threw out their entertainment center. The center itself was beyond repair, but it was easy to see that the Asian style doors would make great bench seats. Four cinder blocks later my neighbors were complementing the new addition to my garden.

(I will admit that I cheated and bought the cinder blocks, but I was just too excited to wait for the wastestream to provide them. They cost me 5 dollars)

This is your chance to be creative (in a non-plant kind of way)! Have Fun!

Step 8: Free Mulch

Mulch is wonderful. It insulates plants, keeps them moist, and it looks pretty. Unfortunately, we are trained to think of mulch as wood chips when in fact mulch can be made our of any dry brown material such as dried leaves, pine needles , sawdust*, dried seaweed, etc..etc...

So instead of looking for mulch at your local home improvement store, try taking a walk down the street. Chances are that your neighbors are as anxious to get rid of their dried leaves as you are to have them. Sometimes you can even find them bagged and ready for you to take (the leaves, not the neighbors). I like to get sawdust from behind a warehouse on my way home from work.

Also, remember the landfill? If your landfill makes free compost then chances are that they make free mulch too. Make sure you give them a call!

*Be careful using sawdust. Don't use dust from pressure treated wood and always mix it with something like coffee grounds or grass clippings or it will suck nitrogen out of the soil.

Furthermore, an important note to my northern comrades: While on your quest for mulch you may come across the idea that hay is the answer. JUST SAY NO! Hay contains seeds, and a thick mulching of hay will cause you countless hours of weeding. I read somewhere that if you soak it in water a few days you'll kill the seeds but I wouldn't take the chance.

Step 9: Go Forth and Garden

I hope that you've enjoyed this instructable. Now go buy some plants and get started already! (Unless you're lasagna mulching in which case you have some time to think about it)

Most of all just have some fun!

Good Luck




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    23 Discussions


    3 years ago

    were can I get free compost in manchester m18


    9 years ago on Step 8

    "Clean" hay is a just say no item, but when I first began treating the hardpan clay in my yard, I went to the local racetrack and asked if I could take the used hay cleaned out of the horse stalls.  Wear old clothes and gloves for this!  The up side is that the urine and horse dung mixed into this used hay will break down quickly and make hardpan clay into soft, friable topsoil within one season and it is FREE!  I never had trouble with seeds in this used hay sprouting and crowding my plants out.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Used hay is excellentt, I used cane mulch absolutely made my garden beautiful and rich flowers veg popping out like you could not believe


    Reply 3 years ago

    Hay has the seeds, straw doesn't. The horse bedding was probably straw.


    3 years ago

    you have wonderful ideas and am thankful for them all thank you jj in atlanta


    3 years ago

    Excellent way to speed up the process! I think citrus peels are not going to break down well in the kitchen waste layer. Another source of mulch could be from shredded paper to mix in right above the newspaper layer. Just not so much color paper. Straw is preferable instead of hay, but most farmers have caught onto this and want $ for it.


    9 years ago on Step 6

    I was told by a man who used to build ponds professionally that you must have a waterfall, or some way to keep the water moving. Maybe a small, 12v pump with a wall plug adapter? Also, I would use a food-grade container, not just a plastic bin, to prevent toxins from getting in the water.
    Very cool idea though, and thanks for the Instructable - You've helped inspire me to start gardening again.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 6

    Good idea. I've got a friend who has uses a cattle waterer as a buried pool, along with a waterfall. It's 150 gallon, I think. I help him care for it. We don't put any plants in it, as it has become a cool-down pool for his black lab. While the dog isn't jumping into it and splashing about, it sounds great and is relaxing. It also has a lot of plants around it, which seem to love it, despite not being in the water.


    5 years ago on Step 2

    Howdy fellow Floridian! Greetings from the 863! Loving the idea of composting, as it's organic, cheap or free, and fun. Gardening is therapeutic for me and my mental issues.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    The biggest problem with land fill compost is they are composting all those things no one will put in their compost bin at home - roots, hardy weeds, possible sick plants if these are not composted properly they will cause you problems.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Other than that even plants can be obtained for free - Many veg and flowers contain seeds we can successfully plant.


    Another good source for tools, plants & garden supplies in general is you local Freecycle or Freegle group.
    Over the last eight or so years I have picked up two330 litre compost bins, a 550 litre water butt with stand, two electric lawn mowers, a really nice shredder, cordless hedge trimmers, garden furniture, a rigid pond liner complete with pump & filter, planters, pots & countless packs of seeds & seedlings.
    I have also found new homes for an unwanted petrol mower, a small compost bin, a garden bench, a kettle barbecue & countless seeds & seedlings. gardeners always seem to have more seedlings than they need so several of the members of my local freegle group have set up a little group of their own to swap & share their extra seedlings.
    I have seen topsoil, sheds, greenhouses & even complete conservatories offered along with pretty much everything else you could ever want for your garden or anywhere else around the home for that matter.
    Another thing worth thinking about is if you have chickens or have any neighbours that dos the waste from cleaning them out daily is great to add to your compost bin.


    7 years ago on Step 6

    The reason why you want to keep the water moving is 2 fold.

    1) mosquitos can not breed in moving water

    2) moving water = oxygenated water. in English, that means that anything that breaks the water's surface & keeps the water moving, puts oxygen in the water which makes it possible to have fish in there...

    3) I forgot about this one...
    moving water can not & will not stagnate; get nasty stinking look yucky, etc


    7 years ago on Step 8

    Newspaper->Hay->Compost->RoughMulch->Water + 1 season = Healthy soil.


    7 years ago on Step 3

    You forgot to add free seed from and You just send a SASE and they give you free seeds.

    Jim L.

    8 years ago on Step 6

    Another thing (not free, but cheap) you'll want to put some gold fish (sold as "feeder fish" for about $0.25 a piece and maybe some fresh water shrimp) to keep the algae and mosquito population at bay.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    For free raised beds, go to your local RV dealer. They get almost all of their shipments in wooden boxes that need almost no alteration to make into a bed. For other colorful planter ideas, use tractor tires (most farmers will give them to you if you haul them away.) Used tires you have to pay to get rid of, why not ask, and get them for free? It isn't free, but 2.50 cents is damned cheap, I use dixie cups to start all my seeds, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper than those green houses they sell you. For a second potting, I use cut off soda cans. Pallets can be procured (for vertical planters) from RV centers as well. As far as borrowing tools, I don't have the luxury, but the dollar store actually has a demmed good selection if you go in the early spring. They also have solar lights. For a buck. I can't get over that. The best idea for free gardening, is the idea it doesn't hurt to ask. Notice someone isn't using something? Ask if you can have it. The worst they can say is 'no.'


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Another way to make an inexpensive pond is to dig a hole, laydown 4-5 layers of newspaper and cover with a cheap plastic tarp, blue works fine but camo or brown will look more natural. fill with water. Thats it, if you want you can cover the outter edge of the plastic with dirt/plants or rocks


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Sign up for the yahoo group freecycle and get almost anything free. I have used my local freecycle group to get rid of the left over divisions from my once over grown plants. Every two - three years I divide my huge perrenials and all the plants that no longer have a place in my yard go into countless other peoples yards. Plants find a new home and stay alive and happy, and my own garden stays nice and orderly, and other people get new and varied plants for free. I have also gotten several divisions of new and varied plants for my own yard from other freecyclers.