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A garden cluttered with weeds and debris can be intimidating even to the most experienced green thumb gardener.
Gardens demand a great deal of TLC, especially before winter sets in and again in the spring. Throughout the summer, gardens need maintenance as well. In short, gardens need help year-round.
It's easy to spend a lot of money cleaning your garden of weeds and other impediments so your crops can grow. Unfortunately, many "guides" are simply advertisements for expensive products you don't need.
Save money and grow your garden the right way by applying these steps to clean your garden without expensive supplies, equipment, or decorations.
1. Supercharge Your Compost
Store-bought fertilizer is costly and can be questionable from a long-term environmental standpoint. It's better to fertilize naturally with your home compost, but some composts are better than others.
In the weeks leading up to your spring planting, make sure these super-fertilizers make it from your household waste into your compost place:
Manure can be a highly valuable item to consider, but it costs more money than you might expect — and, of course, carries a strong odor. Still, it's often worth it, especially if you can get a good deal on it from a nearby farmer.
2. Use a Deck Brush + Some Elbow Grease
Buildups of moss on your fence, lichen on your containers, and mud on your walkway can leave a garden looking dirty and unpleasant. The fix to this is free if you already have a deck brush, and under $20 if you don't.
Fill a bucket with equal parts of vinegar and water to kill moss and remove stains while breaking up deposits of sap and similar sticky bits. Scrub thoroughly, then rinse it off with your hose. The result will look clean and fresh, transforming your garden.
This could "rough up" the wood on your fence, so a little sanding afterward is sometimes necessary. It's worth the effort, though.
3. Get Zen About Pulling Weeds
Weed pulling is an endless task for any gardener and requires the application of two Eastern philosophical concepts.
The first you'll need to apply is shugyo. Shugyo refers to a period of maximum effort applied in the right way at the right time. It comes from martial arts, where working out to utter exhaustion is considered a necessary part of training.
Don't worry, we’re not talking about exhausting yourself here. Instead, we’re talking about applying a concentrated effort to an important task: removing your existing weeds. Block out the day, invite some friends, and pull every weed. Think of this stage as spring cleaning for your garden. It gives you a clean slate to work with going forward.
Afterward, apply some aspects of Zen to keep your garden weed-free. Zen is a philosophy that focuses on mindfulness, concentration, and appreciation, and it’s often applied to mundane tasks like doing the dishes.
If you think of weeding your garden as an unpleasant chore that never really ends, you're in for a rough road. But if you instead embrace the experience of being in your garden, enjoying the smells, feeling the soil, and feeding your family through your effort and expertise, this tedious task can become a joyful experience in and of itself. And it's free. The only cost is your effort and time.
4. Make Homemade Weed Killers
You must put in the effort to keep your garden weed-free. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn't accept all the help you can get to keep your weeds under control. Commercial weed killers are much like fertilizers, though. They can be costly and aren't ideal for the environment — or the kids who might play in the garden or eat what grows there.
There are dozens of great recipes for homemade weed killers you can make in a dollar-store spray bottle. Here are a few of our favorites:
A mix of 1/2 gallon vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 tablespoon dish soap
Pure lemon juice (use juice squeezed from fresh lemons)
A 1:1 solution of water and Borax
A mix of 1 quart water and 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol
A 3:1 solution of water and salt
You can also kill many weeds by pouring boiling water over the top, or by spreading old newspapers over areas where you just cut weeds.
>>Having some serious weed problems? Learn how to when weeds take over your garden here!<<
5. Tidy Up the Edges
Once you're done, use a broom to sweep up the clippings. Be sure to add them to your compost pile. Also, trim the edges of any bushes that are getting in your way.
6. Give Your Containers a Quick Paint Job
You don’t need to buy whole new containers to give your garden a facelift; you can give them a new look with some paint. Somewhere in your house or garden shed, you likely have some half-used cans of colorful paint. Make sure they're non-toxic. Then have fun painting the wood of your boxes, the ceramics of your pots, and whatever other containers are in your garden.
Some people like to make sure all the colors match. But others feel a mixed approach is most appropriate for the wild array of colors their garden will eventually produce. Either way, get creative with designs and decorations as you paint!
7. Gravel Your Paths
A half-inch of pea gravel — or mulch, sand, or whatever path cover you prefer — creates an attractive, uniform place to walk while inspecting your garden and weeding your plots. It should cost no more than $20 for most gardens.
First, it covers whatever muddy or dirty path you already had in place. It's like a paint job for the ground. Second, it provides a walking surface that won't get messy and dirty up your shoes each time you walk on it. In the end, your garden will look cleaner all season.
You can also make major cosmetic improvements to help your garden shine without spending too much. Some we've seen used to great effect include:
Inexpensive solar lighting
Dollar-store mirrors placed in strategic positions
DIY bird feeders made out of old cans
A trash can or mailbox repurposed to store garden tools
Stroll through your garage or dollar store to look for inspiration. You might be surprised by what you discover. In the end, you can have an HGTV-inspired garden at a bargain price.