Money-Saving Ideas for Plant and Flower Food

Grow healthy plants and flowers with these gardening remedies.

Give the alkaline-loving flowering plants and vegetables in your garden — such as clematis, lilac, hydrangea, and cucumbers — an occasional special treat with a shower of 1/4 cup ammonia diluted in 1 gallon (3.7 liters) water. They’ll especially appreciate the boost in nitrogen.

Wood ashes have a high alkaline content and trace amounts of calcium and potassium, which encourage blooms. If your soil tends to be acidic, sprinkle the ashes in spring around alkaline-loving plants such as clematis, hydrangea, lilac, and roses (but avoid acid-lovers like rhododendrons, blueberries, and azaleas). Avoid using ashes from easy-to-ignite, pre-formed logs, which may contain chemicals harmful to plants. And be sparing when adding ashes to your compost pile; they can counteract the benefits of manure and other high-nitrogen materials.

Baking Soda
Give your flowering, alkaline-loving plants, such as clematis, delphiniums, and dianthus, an occasional shower in a mild solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda in 2 quarts (2 liters) water. They’ll show their appreciation with fuller, healthier blooms.

See more uses for Baking Soda.

Banana peels, like the fruit itself, are rich in potassium — an important nutrient for both you and your garden. Dry out banana peels on screens during the winter months. In early spring, grind them up in a food processor or blender and use it as a mulch to give new plants and seedlings a healthy start. Many cultivars of roses and other plants, like staghorn ferns, also benefit from the nutrients found in banana peels; simply cut up some peels and use them as plant food around your established plants.

Castor Oil
Give your sickly ferns a tonic made by mixing 1 tablespoon castor oil and 1 tablespoon baby shampoo with 4 cups lukewarm water. Give the fern about 3 tablespoons of the tonic, then follow with plain water. Your plants should be perky by the time you use up your supply of tonic.

Club Soda
Use club soda to water your indoor and outdoor plants. The minerals in the soda water help green plants grow. For maximum benefit, try this tip about once a week.

Coffee Grounds
Don’t throw out those old coffee grounds. They’re full of nutrients that your acidic-loving plants crave. Save them to fertilize rosebushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, evergreens, and camellias. It’s better to use grounds from a drip coffeemaker than the boiled grounds from a percolator. The drip grounds are richer in nitrogen.

Epsom Salt
Want those Big Boys to be big? Add Epsom salt as a foolproof fertilizer. Every week, for every foot of height of your tomato plant, add one tablespoon. Your tomatoes will be the envy of the neighbor-hood. Epsom salt is also a good fertilizer for houseplants, roses and other flowers, and trees.

A raw potato can give a fledgling geranium all the nutrients it could desire. Carve a small hole in a potato. Slip a geranium stem into the hole. Plant the whole thing, potato and all.

If you use dry fertilizer, try putting it in a saltshaker to use when fertilizing seedlings. It gives you lots of application control so you can prevent fertilizer burn on your tender babies.


  • Sprinkle new or used tea leaves (loose or in tea bags) around your rosebushes and cover with mulch to give them a midsummer boost. When you water the plants, the nutrients from the tea will be released into the soil, spurring growth. Roses love the tannic acid that occurs naturally in tea.
  • Schedule an occasional teatime for your ferns and other acid-loving houseplants. Substitute brewed tea when watering the plants. Or work wet tea leaves into the soil around the plants to give them a lush, luxuriant look.See more uses for Tea.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest