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The joys of gardening are plentiful. Being at one with the earth, learning to grow your food, planting flowers to help the pollinator population, and beautifying the neighborhood are but a few of the positives.

But let’s not pretend that gardening can’t be backbreaking work that comes with all kinds of frustration and disappointments, too. Not to discourage anyone, but when materials become expensive, you find yourself drowning in weeds, and critters are destroying your seedlings, things can become overwhelming.

Not to worry. Here are a few great tips that can help you get through the spring a summer a little more easily, a little more cheaply, and in a way that benefits the earth and the environment just a little.

1. Rethink Your Seedling Pots

Source: Michele Pacey/YouTube

This might not be a revolutionary idea at this point, but there is no need to be buying seedling starter trays these days. Cutting plastic bottles in half and using the base as a seedling starter does the trick just fine. Yogurt or pudding cartons and the bottom half of Tetra packs do the job, too. Make sure you poke drainage holes in the bottom of everything before you fill it with soil.

The plastic containers that supermarket salads and blueberries come in are really good as they already have holes in the bottom, and the lid makes for a tiny greenhouse!

Thrift stores are full of icecube trays. These make great seedling starter trays. The spaces are quite shallow, but they are great for starting lettuce and annual herbs like basil. Again, just remember to drill a hole in the bottom of each cup.

If you want to go completely biodegradable, you can make your seedling pots from old newspapers, or old cardboard tubes. These pots are great as the whole thing can be planted instead of having to disturb delicate roots in the transplant.

2. Use Biodegradable Weed Barriers

Before building a new garden bed, cover the weeds and/or grass with a biodegradable weed barrier. You can use old cardboard boxes, old cotton sheets, shirts, or towels to cover the space where you want to kill the grass. Now, this isn’t a long-time weed solution. This layer will eventually go back to the earth, but it will give you a bit of weeding respite and a chance for little plants to get established.

Once you have built your bed on top of the weed barriers, don’t forget to puncture a hole in the barrier underneath any new plants that you plant. This is to let the roots find their way into the earth below.

3. Space Out Your Seedlings

Source: C-I-L Lawn and Garden/YouTube

A fun and inventive way to space out your seedlings is to use a muffin tin. When you press a muffin tin into prepared soil in your garden beds, you are left with divots that help to guide you to sow your seeds or plant transplants at an equal distance apart.
Another idea is to press wine corks onto the prongs of a garden fork. Then, use the corked fork to make holes in the soil. You can then pop a seed into each hole and then thin the seedlings out much more easily down the road.
You can also make yourself a giant ruler from the handle of your garden spade or rake. Just use a marker pen to make marks on the handle of your tool at regular intervals- inches, feet, or centimeters! Lay the rake down along your garden bed and sow seeds or plant seedlings at the recommended distance apart.

4. Let Your Greens Go To Seed

Source: Loganberry Forest/YouTube

Though this technique might not work for very small gardens, letting a few of your lettuce, mustard, and arugula plants go to seed can have many benefits.

First of all, you will be allowing your plants to produce flowers that will undoubtedly please the local pollinators. As well, you are allowing the chance of self-seeding to occur. This is when a plant creates seeds and disperses them naturally in the surrounding area. With this method, you allow for the chance for multiple volunteer plants to come up in the next growing season.

Depending on your out luck, this could be a blessing or a curse. How do you feel about cilantro, arugula, and lettuce popping up all over your garden beds and mulched pathways?

You can always intercept this from happening by deadheading dried seed pods and saving the seed for next season.

5. Recycle Your Old Washing-Up Sponges

Source: GrowVeg/YouTube

Instead of throwing your old washing-up sponges away, drop them into the bottom of plant pots before you fill them with soil. The sponge helps to block the drainage hole at the bottom, preventing soil from dropping out. It also acts as a reservoir for holding water in the plant pot and making it available to the plant roots for longer.

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