Landscaping can be costly, whether in new yards or old, tired ones. Flowers and fertilizer can add up quickly, and weeds seem to take over within hours. Take back the landscape without spending a fortune. With a little time and effort, your yard can be lush and green while keeping the budget in the black.
Last night's leftovers can feed those azaleas. Composting food waste and yard trimmings creates soil amendments that promote lush, healthy plants. There are many methods to making compost: piles, bins, containers and composting directly in planting beds. All use the same principle--organic waste will break down, over time, into organic fertilizer. Choose the method that best suits the time and amount of material available. Once the compost area or bin is prepared, begin adding grass clippings, leaves, leftovers and many other organic scraps. Do not add diseased plants, meat or fats, or pet waste. Maintain the pile, and, depending on the temperature, moisture and mass of the compost, over time the scraps will become a source of free fertilizer.
A pick-me-up cup of mocha can also, indirectly, perk up tired soil. After the coffee is brewed, used coffee grounds can be added to compost, worked directly into the garden, or simply side-dressed around plants. High in nitrogen, used coffee grounds feed plants, add a rich, organic texture to the soil and, best of all, they are free. In fact, many large coffee chains encourage customers to take the grounds as an earth-friendly act. If a local coffee shop doesn't have such a program, ask the manager to save the grounds. Be sure to provide a container, if necessary.
For free weed control, choose paper bags at the grocery store, and save that newspaper. Newspaper can be set down in layers, wet with the hose and covered with mulch. Use the same method of layering and wetting when using paper grocery bags. The layered paper creates a barrier between overwintering seeds and sunlight, keeping the seeds from germinating. It will also smother small weeds; larger weeds should be pulled first. The paper will break down over the season, adding healthy organic matter to the soil.
Many cities and utility companies have tree-trimming departments maintaining utility lines, public easements, parks and other properties. When offending branches and trees are removed, they are chipped before taken to a dumping area or to the landfill. For the effort of a few phone calls, a free truckload of mulch can be picked up or, surprisingly, delivered directly. The mulch may have large pieces or whip-like branches that must be removed by hand, but the newly chipped mulch will, when spread in the yard, add a clean, finished touch.
Most communities have at least one garden club, if not several. Garden enthusiasts hold regular meetings to exchange ideas, solve problems and trade seeds, cuttings or plants. Many members thin mature plants in the spring or fall, and will freely donate the culled plants. Not only a source of free new plantings for the landscape or garden, a garden club is also a source of education and friendship. Don't expect free handouts for no effort; participate, offer trades and learn how to propagate cuttings. The reward will be worth the investment.