Marianne Binetti

Four money-saving ideas for your garden as summer winds down

You can save money by reusing this year’s potting soil. Just be sure to aerate and add nutrients.
You can save money by reusing this year’s potting soil. Just be sure to aerate and add nutrients. Olympian file photo

The last half of August is a good time to prune raspberries that are done producing fruit, harvest herbs and early vegetables and continue to dead head or remove the faded flowers from annuals and perennials to keep them in a blooming mood.

The Dog Days of summer is also when gardeners look to sniff out money-saving bargains and to cut back on maintenance. Here are a few of my favorite penny-pinching tips:

Don’t buy more potting soil — reuse this year’s soil next spring.

Just be sure to aerate and add nutrients in the form of compost or fertilizer to old potting soil before you recycle it into your containers.

One practical approach is to empty all your pots into a wheel barrow or on top of a tarp in the spring. Turn the old potting soil to help aerate the mix, as winter rains can compact potting soils. Remove any large roots and dead plants.

Next add compost to the old potting soil and mix well. The amount of compost to add depends on whether you are growing thirsty plants, such as fuchsias and begonias (add 25 percent compost) or plants such as geraniums that prefer a quick draining soil (use 10 percent compost for plants that hate dampness.)

Once the potting soil looks fluffy, dark and aerated again, it’s ready to be placed back into your containers.

Turn grass clippings and fallen leaves into a free weed-blocking, water saving mulch.

Creating a nourishing, weed-blocking mulch does not have to be complicated.

In the fall, rake brown leaves and stuff into a large garbage bag. When the bag is half full, add one shovel of soil and two shoves of green grass clippings. Then fill the top half of the plastic bag with more fallen leaves.

Close the bag and then grab a screw driver or pair of scissors and madly stab the plastic bag all over to make air holes. Store the bagged leaves out of sight until spring.

In a few months, you’ll have a weed-blocking bag of leaf mold to layer under shrubs and on top of weeds. Leaf mold as a mulch on top of plants not only cuts back on your water bill but also is a free and natural fertilizer.

Free shrubs: August is the month to make new plants from your favorite shrubs.

This month you can take tip cuttings of camellias, daphne, hydrangeas, magnolias, nandinas, viburnums and rhododendrons. You can make a cutting and root from just about any shrub this month but those listed above are the easiest for beginner propagators.

Here’s how: Strip leaves from the lower half of a branch tip cutting that is about as long as a pencil. Dip the cut end of the shrub into a rooting hormone powder before you poke it into a pot of soil.

Make your own rooting solution from willow water.

Soak willow tip branches cut into one inch segments for three nights in a jar of water. (Remove the leaves from the willow first.)

Once the jar is half full of cut willow tips add tap water to fill the jar. The salicylic acid from the willow will leach into the water and this is the magic ingredient that encourages new cuttings to take root.

Let the cutting sit in the willow water for three nights. Then poke the cuttings into a soil mix that is half potting soil and half sand. Four cuttings into each gallon container is about right. One out of the four should take root.

Cover the top of the pot with a plastic bag or mist daily to keep the air humid. Place the pot in a bright spot out of direct sun. In the winter, move the pots to a protected area so they don’t freeze. .

In May, your shrub cuttings will have roots and you can transplant them up into their own containers, move them into your garden or start a nursery.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her through her website at or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.

Money-saving tips

Marianne Binetti will offer “dirt cheap tips and gardening shortcuts” at 11 a.m. Sunday (Aug. 20) at the Auburn Transfer Station as part of the Auburn Farmers’ Market Free Garden Seminar. More information is available at