5 Compact Plants For Small Gardens

5 Compact Plants For Small Gardens

You’re probably interested in frugal gardening tips because you’re on a budget. But I’ll bet that many frugal gardeners also have to carefully budget gardening space. Most people don’t have a lot of room to work with. And even if you have a large property, it’s likely that not all areas are conducive to growing plants.

Growing within a constrained space is also a fun challenge. It’s a great way to try out new plant varieties and come up with ways to grow upward.

I’m a big fan of compact plants because even though I’m lucky enough to have plenty of space to work with, I love the neat and tidy look of compact varieties.

Here are some of my favorite compact plants for growing in small spaces or containers. Their miniature sizing also makes them great for growing indoors.

Orange Hat Tomato

This teeny-tiny tomato plant is one of the smallest I’ve ever grown. It doesn’t get taller than 9 inches and takes up minimal space. If you’re a fan of cherry tomatoes, it’s a great variety to grow on a balcony or patio. Because the plants are mighty small, consider planting a few for a bigger yield.

Seeds available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Orchard Baby Sweet Corn

I don’t grow corn often because squirrels usually make off with the ears before I can enjoy them, but this variety is an excellent pick for tiny, squirrel-free gardens. The small ears of corn are ultra-cute, and the stalks don’t get taller than 5 feet. Don’t plan a corn roast after planting these mini corn plants, though. Each stalk produces just a couple of ears. That said, it’s a fun way to try out this crop that usually takes up a lot of room. And it’s a great plant to grow with kids.

Seeds available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Baby Milk Bok Choy

Bok choy is one of my favorite crops to grow, and this variety is perfect for compact gardens. I love the unified look of the plants after harvest and the bright white stems. Their miniature size makes them great for steaming or stir-frying whole.

Seeds available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Little Gem Lettuce

This is actually the first variety of lettuce I ever grew. And it remains a staple crop to this day. I have some growing in my indoor hydroponic garden right now! Head lettuce can sometimes take up quite a bit of room, but this plant produces crispy, shrunken heads of lettuce that are perfect for one or two people. And the leaves are super tender and tasty.

Seeds available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Parisian Carrot

Here’s another variety that was a first for me back in my newbie gardener days. These small orange globes pack so much carroty goodness but don’t require as much soil depth as regular-sized carrots, making them an excellent choice for containers. They also look fancy when cooked and plated. Like little gem lettuce, Parisian carrots are a variety I still grow.

Seeds available from Hudson Valley Seed Co

Using Shredded Paper As Garden Mulch

Using Shredded Paper As Garden Mulch

Should you use shredded paper as garden mulch? Normally, I spend my time telling you that the advice you’ve heard countless times is bogus. But using shredded paper in your garden is actually a great idea.

What is mulch?

Mulch is a substance added to the garden that helps soil retain moisture and stay cool. It also keeps weeds away and can prevent frost damage in the winter. Organic mulches break down and can eventually improve the condition and nutrient composition of the soil. Non-organic mulches, like plastic mulch, can’t break down but can often be reused year after year.

Other things you can use for mulch include:

  • wood chips
  • leaves
  • straw
  • coco coir
  • compost
  • plastic

And yes, you can use shredded paper as mulch! One huge benefit of paper mulch is that it’s FREE and super easy to make. If you regularly use a paper shredder, emptying the canister and using the remnants in your garden is a good way to recycle them since most recycling plants don’t accept shredded paper.

How to use shredded paper as mulch

The main task you need to complete before using paper as mulch is shredding. You can use a paper shredder to rip the paper into pieces or do it by hand.

If you need to make a lot of paper mulch and don’t have a shredder, try getting the family involved in shredding paper.

Be careful when selecting the paper you’ll be shredding. Anything thick and glossy—like pages in a color magazine—contains heavy metals that can leach out into the soil. But newsprint and regular printer paper are generally safe to use as mulch.

As with any kind of mulch, cutting it into small pieces is key. Plus, if you tried to stick sheets of paper over the soil, they’d quickly end up blown elsewhere.

After applying shredded paper to your garden, dampen it with water to keep it from flying all over the place.

Did you know that you can also add shredded paper to your compost bin? If you have plenty of mulch and not enough room in your recycling bin, shredded paper can go into the compost and takes about 2 to 6 weeks to break down. It’s considered a “brown” ingredient, so if you drop a lot of shredded paper into your bin, make sure to balance it out with “green” ingredients like grass clippings.

5 Ideas for Using Up All That Basil


Using up all the basil in your herb garden can be challenging, especially when growth is in full swing. Here are some ideas for how to use it.

Using up all that basil growing in your herb garden initially sounds like it’ll be an easy task. But now that we’re deep into the summer season, you probably realize there’s a lot more of this pungent leafy herb than you ever thought possible.

If left alone to grow, many herbs will eventually start to flower. This turns the flavorful foliage bitter and unappetizing. The key to growing herbs and keeping them from bolting is to harvest often. But when plant growth is in full swing, finding ways to cook with basil can be tough.

Here are 5 ideas for working with all that extra herb on your hands


Ask your social network for ideas to use up basil, and they’ll probably suggest pesto. But a person can only eat so much pesto. At some point, you’ll get sick of it.

But you can pair fresh basil with pasta in more ways than just processing it into a garlicky green paste. One of my favorite ways to use this herb is to slice it up thin and add it to a squash-based sauce—squash is another veg you probably have too much of.

Need a recipe? This one is in my regular rotation, and it’s easy to customize with what you have on hand: Summer Squash and Basil Pasta

Dry it

Drying or dehydrating the leaves is an easy way to use up an abundance of this tasty herb. If you plan on dehydrating many herbs, I recommend a dehydrator. Otherwise, use your oven and go low and slow to avoid burning the leaves.

Freeze it

This is another option for preserving basil. Depending on how you plan to use it, you can freeze it as a paste or with leaves intact. In the dead of winter, when the garden is asleep, you’ll thank yourself for putting in the effort to freeze your extra basil. Add cubes of frozen basil to soups, stews, and pasta sauce.

New pesto ideas

Okay, I know I said no pesto. But if you’re bored of the usual pine nut and basil combo, there are some clever ways to turn basil into a pasta-ready sauce.

My two favorites include:

Walnut Pesto

15 Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta


This is the obvious choice. Fresh basil leaves on pizza add a flavor boost that turns regular pizza into something a bit more gourmet.

Consider making a pesto pizza sauce if you want a convenient way to use up pesto that doesn’t involve pasta. Pair the tasty pesto sauce with a few dollops of ricotta, fresh mozzarella, or goat cheese.


Can Styrofoam Be a Substitute for Perlite?

Can Styrofoam Be a Substitute for Perlite

Can you use styrofoam as a perlite substitute? You might also be wondering why to use perlite in the first place. Here’s the lowdown on this helpful garden amendment.

What is perlite?

Perlite is sourced from volcanic glass with high water content. During the manufacturing process, the application of heat turns the glass into small, white balls.

These tiny white balls help aerate the soil and improve its water retention abilities. Unlike vermiculite, another popular garden product, perlite doesn’t absorb as much water.

Both perlite and vermiculite are considered non-renewable mineral sources.

Many commercial soil mixes contain either material to improve soil condition.

Perlite is relatively inexpensive and easy to use. But working with perlite can get dusty, so make sure to wear a mask when mixing it with soil.

Styrofoam as perlite substitute?

Not everyone can source perlite easily. So can you use styrofoam instead?

The short answer? Yes.

However, not all types of styrofoam will work. Things like packing peanuts are a poor choice for a perlite substitute.

Some gardeners swear that grocery store meat trays (as long as they’re thick) will work just as well as perlite when zapped through the blender.

Unfortunately, styrofoam is pretty terrible for the environment. It’s not biodegradable and contains chemicals that can leech out into the soil, polluting groundwater.

Overall, styrofoam is a bad substitute for perlite. I would not recommend it for use in gardening.

In fact, I’d suggest completely avoiding products packaged in styrofoam.

Other substitutes for perlite

Aside from perlite, gardeners can use the following:

  • vermiculite
  • sand
  • horticultural grit
  • finely crushed gravel
  • rice husks

Peat is another substitute for perlite, but it’s not one I recommend. The reason is that while peat moss is technically a renewable resource, harvesting it damages valuable wetlands. Additionally, peat moss takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years to form.

5 Reasons to Keep Tabs On The Weather Forecast

5 Reasons to Keep Tabs on the Weather Forecast


I’ve only used my garden hose a handful of times this season. I filled my garden boxes up with perennials and a few plants from a local nursery and knew that I wouldn’t have the energy to keep things up and maintain the garden as I usually do. I was right. But by taking a step back, I realized the importance of keeping tabs on the weather forecast.

I’ve let Mother Nature do most of the work, and despite my very laissez-faire gardening attitude, my garden is still doing surprisingly well. Things are growing, flowers are blooming, and pests aren’t devouring my kale as I expected.

It’s been a sweltering hot summer, so I really thought plants would wilt and die due to the continuous heat waves. But they’ve managed to hold on and grow despite the intense heat. While my gardening activities have been mostly on pause for the season, I have been running outside quite a bit. That means I check the weather forecast just as much as I did before.

I’ve discovered that despite my lack of watering, the garden has done quite well. And the weather forecast has given me clues as to why. We’ve had a pretty rainy July, and even though there were definitely many days between downpours, the garden still held on.

What does that mean? It means that in the past, I’ve probably watered when I really didn’t need to.

Paying attention to the weather forecast is something I’ve always done. But this summer has shown me that maybe sometimes I’m quick to grab the hose. Granted, I’m also not growing too many thirsty plants. Plant choice matters a lot, too. Instead of struggling to keep plants like lettuce and Asian greens well-watered, I picked drought-tolerant ones. The mix of annual and perennial flowering plants has also greatly reduced pest activity. My kale, usually eaten up by cabbage worms by now, is thriving.

This little gardening break has taught me the importance of letting things go. Currently, Mother Nature is in pain. Our gardens are taking a pummelling because of climate change, but there are ways to work with the environment around us. Sure, I could have dropped some pesticides in my garden years ago to try and deal with the cabbage worms and squash bugs. But to see things right themselves naturally has been incredibly rewarding.

By planting a variety of native plants in addition to my favorite edibles, I’ve improved the tiny ecosystem that is my front yard garden. I encourage you to try it. Save some space for some native perennials. Plant more flowers among the leafy greens. If something isn’t working, don’t try to force it. Find an alternative.

Doing this with the garden is an approachable way to get more comfortable with letting nature its course. Eventually, I hope we all do the same with our useless lawns, too. Although I’m not in my garden as often, I’ve been lucky enough to spot many wild lawns on my runs this summer. Here’s hoping we get back to surrounding ourselves with nature instead of tearing it all down.


4 Frugal DIY Drip Irrigation Systems



4 Frugal DIY Drip Irrigation Systems

Buying a fancy drip irrigation system is one way to go. But it’ll cost you. Instead, consider a DIY drip irrigation system. Either way, you’ll need to spend time installing irrigation, so why not save a few bucks, too?

Benefits of drip irrigation

You’ve got a hose or a sprinkler, so why invest time and effort into building a DIY drip irrigation system?

Here are the advantages of this type of watering system:

  • Less water waste. Water doesn’t evaporate as readily with a drip irrigation system.
  • Targeted watering. Because the tubing is close to plant roots, water gets right to where it needs to go—which means less waste and higher efficiency watering.
  • Less disease spread. With drip irrigation, water is unlikely to splash onto plant foliage. That means fewer chances for contaminated soil to spread pathogens.
  • Easy watering. Once installed, an irrigation system makes watering incredibly easy. No more lugging around a heavy hose. You can even install a timer and have the system work completely on its own.
  • Fewer weeds. Because water goes right to plant roots, weeds are less likely to grow between plants.

DIY drip irrigation systems

You’ll need to spend a bit of money on materials to build your DIY drip irrigation system, but the initial cost is worth it, considering how much time you’ll save down the line.

Here are some ideas for creating DIY drip irrigation systems:


  • Soda bottles: This is an easy drip irrigation system for the frugal gardener that costs next to nothing. It’s a great option for small space gardeners. Here’s a video on how to use soda bottles to create a cheap drip irrigation system:


  • Rain barrel system: Here’s a video that shows you how to use a rain barrel in a drip irrigation system to minimize water waste:

  • Bucket: Got a bucket? You’re in luck! You can build a simple DIY drip irrigation system easily. This video shows how you can pair drip tape or tubing with buckets to create a low-tech irrigation system that doesn’t require a hookup to a nearby water source:

This setup is even simpler:

Staying Safe While Gardening During a Heatwave


Staying Safe While Gardening During a Heatwave

Many gardeners look forward to the summer because it means that the gardening season is in full swing. By mid-July, plots are lush with produce, and flowers are in full bloom. But mid-summer is also a ripe time for heatwaves. As the summers get hotter, it’s getting more and more important to prepare for scorching weather.

After all, you can’t garden if you’re suffering from heatstroke. Gardening in the heat requires careful planning and listening to your body.

Tips for gardening in the heat

These tips for gardening in the heat have less to do with caring for your plants and more to do with taking care of yourself. Plants can grow back. But you can’t. So let’s make sure you stick around to garden another season!

Here’s how to stay safe when digging during the hottest months of the year:

  • Avoid the afternoons. The middle of the day is always the hottest. Don’t try to do effort-heavy tasks when the sun is out in full swing. You’re asking for trouble if you do this. The morning and evening are the best times for hot weather gardening.
  • Stay hydrated. If you must go out when it’s very hot, make sure to stay hydrated. Bring water with you—ideally with ice.
  • Find some shade. Chances are, your garden is probably in full sun. If you need to, use some kind of portable shade to keep from overheating.
  • Take breaks. Regularly stop what you’re doing and head to cooler spots in the garden (or inside where there’s air conditioning.) When it’s really hot outside, don’t try to do tasks in long chunks. Split up your gardening day into short mini trips.
  • Cool off with the hose. I don’t usually advocate for wasting water like this, but don’t hesitate to use your garden hose to cool down if you’re overheating.
  • Ask someone to check on you. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of heat. If you know that you struggle in hot weather, ask a housemate or neighbor to check on you periodically.

Signs of heatstroke

Heatstroke is a potentially fatal yet preventable condition that first starts with heat exhaustion. If you notice you’re experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, find a spot to cool down and make sure you hydrate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Excess sweating
  • Pale, clammy skin that feels cold to the touch
  • Rapid heartbeat may feel weak
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cramping
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

If you throw up, get worse, or have symptoms that last longer than an hour, the CDC recommends seeking immediate medical attention.

If a person has an extremely high body temperature, hot skin, and a rapid, strong heartbeat, they may be experiencing heatstroke. They may also be confused or pass out. Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Another tip: Whenever you’re outdoors, don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Just because it’s cloudy or cold outside doesn’t mean you should skimp on sun protection.

7 Places Where You Can Get Free Mulch


7 Places Where You Can Get Free Mulch

Mulch is one of the most useful tools for gardeners. It’s especially helpful at a time when the weather is unpredictable. We’ve begun to see the drastic effects of climate change in earnest, namely hotter summers. And while many garden plants love warm weather, there’s a point where the heat becomes unbearable—even for heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. Mulch is a multi-purpose substance that can help gardeners conserve moisture, control soil temperatures, and improve soil consistency.

But where do you actually get mulch? Sure, you can buy bags of mulch from a garden center, but are there ways to get mulch for free?

The answer: Absolutely!

How to get free mulch

The first strategy is to make your own mulch. Free sources of mulch around the home include:

  • Leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Pine needles
  • Compost
  • Straw

Other sources for free mulch

Other places where you can get free mulch include:

  • Arborists: These are the people who provide tree care services around town. When they cut down trees or branches, they’ll usually turn pieces into mulch and take that to a landfill for disposal. There’s no guarantee that they’ll share the stuff with you for free, but you can ask politely! Just don’t expect it to arrive neatly bagged. Make sure you have a spot on your property to accommodate a truckload of dumped wood mulch.
  • Local municipalities: Many cities have yearly environment days to spread awareness about earth-friendly activities. Some cities, for instance, offer free compost to interested citizens. Other towns may have garden products like compost or other types of mulch available upon request. Not sure if your city offers any garden supplies for free? Just ask!
  • Neighbors: Not everyone is a gardener, but your neighbors may have many useful garden amendments lying around their yard. If your property is devoid of leaves, but they have a pile of leaves to rake every fall, consider offering your raking services in exchange for taking that free mulch home.

Tips for mulching

Get your free mulch and take it home. Now it’s time to apply it around your plants. The key to applying mulch is not to lay it down too thick. Too thick a layer can prevent plant roots from breathing and eventually suffocate them. Yikes!

Aim for about 1 to 2 inches of mulch around the base of a plant. After mulching, water deeply. You may have to reapply mulch throughout the season, but one application is usually enough to last a whole gardening season.

To Prune or Not to Prune? Keeping Tomatoes in Check


To Prune or Not to Prune Keeping Tomatoes in Check

To prune or not to prune, that is the question! Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden plants for a reason. They’re fairly easy to grow, produce an impressive yield, and are available in many interesting varieties. There are many schools of thought when it comes to tomato pruning. So what’s the right way to do things? Should you let tomatoes grow wild? Or keep them neat and tidy?

Tomato pruning

I believe that you should do what works for you. Whether you decide to prune heavily or not, you’ll probably end up with at least some tomatoes if all other conditions are met. Pruning heavily results in a neat and tidy look. It ensures that most of the plant’s energy goes into creating fruit.

But pruning aggressively can also be a lot of work. It requires paying close attention to your plants. I used to prune heavily, but now I’m a lot more laid back with it. Picking the suckers off is pretty easy to do, especially if you check on your plants regularly.

If even that sounds like a lot of work, choose tomato varieties that require no pruning, like compact and dwarf determinate varieties.

The dos and don’ts of pruning tomatoes

Here are things you should and shouldn’t do when pruning tomatoes:

  • Do give tomatoes enough room to breathe. Crowding plants reduces airflow and invites pests and disease. Pruning can help improve airflow and allow you to plant tomatoes closer to one another without suffocating plants.
  • Do keep enough foliage to protect the plant and fruits from sun damage. Removing too much of a plant leaves it vulnerable to weather and sunburn. Instead, keep some leaves around for protection.
  • Do remove foliage that’s touching the ground. Soil keeps plants alive, but it’s also a potential breeding ground for all sorts of nefarious fungi and bacteria. So even if you’re a lazy gardener, make sure to prune the lower leaves of a tomato plant to avoid potential contamination.
  • Do use cuttings to propagate new tomato plants. Just because you’ve snipped off a branch doesn’t mean you need to toss it into the compost. Instead, you can propagate a whole new tomato plant by placing the cutting in a cup of water. Within a week or so, you’ll notice roots start to appear, and soon after, you can plant the cutting and enjoy a whole new tomato plant.
  • Don’t prune determinate tomatoes. Some pruning at the base of the plant may be required, but you should prune determinate tomatoes minimally. By removing stems and offshoots, you risk limiting your harvest.
  • Don’t prune after rainfall when plants are still wet. This is a good way to spread and introduce disease. Instead, wait till the plant is dry before pruning.
  • Do make sure to give support to tomato plants. Whether you use bamboo poles or cages, tomatoes need support structures to stay upright. Plants that sprawl on the ground are more likely to pick up diseases.
  • Don’t use inflexible ties. You’ll need ties to fix tomato plants to support to keep them from bending or toppling over. Use flexible ties to do the job to prevent damage to the stem as the plant grows.

What Is the Real Cost of Growing Your Own Food?


What Is the Real Cost of Growing Your Own Food

What’s the real cost of growing your own food? This is a loaded question with a lot of answers. You’ll have to spend some initial cash to set up a garden, but ultimately, it can be as expensive as you want it to be. Here’s a breakdown of the costs to expect when setting up a garden to grow your own food.

The real cost of growing your own food

Let’s start with the basics. These are the things you absolutely need to grow food—the bare minimum required involves:

  • Soil. You can get this for free if you’re digging up in-ground beds. The cost goes up if you plan on DIY-ing raised beds or buying pre-fab containers. The benefit of in-ground beds is that they’re free to install. But they do require some manual labor. Also, not everyone has high-quality soil on their property. Starting a garden in very poor soil can actually end up costing you more in the long run because you’ll need to add nutrients and work hard to improve fertility. In some cases, DIY or storebought beds are a better, more economical option.
  • Seeds. Obviously, you can’t start an edible garden without seeds! Buying starter plants from a nursery is a possibility, but you’ll get way more bang for your buck with a packet of seeds. On average, a packet of seeds typically costs less than $5, depending on the variety. And most packets include enough seeds to grow many plants.
  • Water. The cost of water depends on where you live. Where I’m located, water is free to use with minimal restrictions when it comes to gardening. But I’m also cognizant that wasting it has a huge impact on the environment. Cost analysis doesn’t just involve factoring in real $$$ but the potential for harm. In some places where drought is an issue, the cost of growing your own food involves calculating the cost of water.
  • Light. If you’re growing outdoors, sunlight is free! Yay!
  • Nutrients. Even if you start with perfectly fertile soil, you’ll need to feed your plants and replenish the soil at some point. Starting a compost pile involves minimal costs, but it can take a while for organic matter to break down. If you don’t want to start a pile, check with your town. Many municipalities give away free compost to interested citizens. Some farms also share compost for a small fee.

Oher costs of growing your own food

If you only factor in the basics, you’ll conclude that growing your own food is ultra-cheap. But gardening also involves a lot of challenges and unexpected events. Pests, for instance, can quickly turn a gorgeous edible garden into a leafy patch full of holes. Last year, I spent money on pest covers. I didn’t anticipate needing to do this, but it was an additional cost I had to factor into my budget.

Are there any other real costs of growing your own food? You betcha!

When someone asks me about the real cost of gardening, I make sure to mention the time aspect. Consider the time and effort you put into your garden as a type of cost. A garden doesn’t just produce food that ends up automatically onto your plate. You need to harvest and prep ingredients once they’ve matured. You need to be willing to put in the time and effort. And in today’s modern world, time and effort often go hand in hand with $$$.