Marianne Binetti

Cheaper gardening techniques often work best

Homeowners waste a lot of money trying to have a lovely landscape. The biggest waste could be the amount of water used to keep lawns green and plants healthy.

Local water districts have been offering free classes and garden seminars to educate their customers on how to use water most efficiently to keep their lawns and landscapes healthy. I’ll be speaking at Point Defiance Zoo at 6:30 p.m. on April 21 about “The Un-thirsty Landscape” as part of the Friendly Tacoma Yards Program. Register at 253-798-4708 or by email at

Here are 5 Dirt Cheap Garden Tips that you can bank on any time:

1. Mulch around your trees and shrubs now to seal in spring moisture. A mulch is like a frosting that sits on top of the soil to keep out weeds and conserve water. Bark dust, wood chips, gravel and composted cow manure are all types of mulches that can pay dividends later in the summer with fewer weeds and lower water bills. Mulch is an investment that saves our liquid assets.

2. Learn how to grow a healthy lawn without chemicals. By aerating your lawn in the spring, using lime to break up clay and keep down moss, and not mowing the grass too short you can skip the expensive weed and feed products in favor of slow release nitrogen lawn foods that will keep the grass thick enough to crowd out weeds.

The most important time to fertilize your lawn is in the fall and spring before summer weeds can take over. Mow your grass when the blades are three inches tall and remove just one-third of the blade so the grasses are never shorter than 2 inches. One more thing — leave the grass clippings on the lawn. They will decompose to add free nitrogen to the soil.

3. Invest in smaller, less expensive trees and shrubs and watch them grow. Young shrubs in one gallon pots are easier to transport, easier to transplant and will adjust more quickly to your soil. You’ll also have the joy of watching them grow up and out for years before you have to worry about them growing too large for their space.

4. Look to your kitchen cupboard for dirt cheap pest control. Aphid and white fly can be sprayed with a soapy mix made from a mild dishwashing soap. Scale insects can be controlled by dipping a cotton swab into rubbing alcohol, and black spot on roses can be prevented by using skim milk painted on the undersides of the foliage. I’ll be giving more details on these alternative pest control recipes at the Puyallup Spring Fair at 1 p.m. on April 19.

5. Recycle and reuse, especially containers. Cardboard egg cartons make great seed starting cubbies, and recycling galvanized buckets, garbage cans or even wooden packing pallets are all ways to grow more while buying less. One of the best ways to recycle empty water bottles is to use them in the bottom one-third of large pots as drainage material. The empty plastic bottles not only keep the planter lightweight and draining freely but also mean you’ll need less potting soil to fill up your container.