Cheap Gardener's Guide for Kitchen Reuse

An egg carton with seedlings and soil in it.

There’s a running link between the kitchen and the garden, and not just when you grow edibles. Many savvy gardeners believe that full, vibrant beds shouldn’t mean a costly trip to the gardening store—in fact, there are many things for sale there that can be made or found right in the home to save money and get some reuse out of leftovers to boot. Here are some of the most clever and helpful ideas we’ve seen for reusing kitchen goods to the benefit of your plants.

Mix Eggshells and Coffee Grounds into Compost Tea

Coffee grounds in a red bowl next to egg shells.

Use in place of: Bagged compost, fertilizer

Composting is obviously a great way to get a second use out of kitchen scraps, but the turning and layering that compost piles require is more than some of us want to commit to—or can’t, due to space limitations. If that’s the case in your home, then this next tip is for you. It’s called compost tea, and it’s basically just a smaller, liquid version of the compost we all know and love. Start off with two basic ingredients: coffee grounds and eggshells. Mix these together into a large jug or bucket (five gallons is usually enough for average-sized raised bed), and store it somewhere warm and dry, letting it steep for one to five weeks. Give the mixture a shake every day or so to keep a scummy film from developing on top. After that, it can be poured directly onto plants for a supercharged dose of nutrients that costs next to nothing. The eggshells give this concoction a balance, offsetting the acid from the coffee, but you can drop in other compostable scraps as well—tea leaves and other soft leftovers work particularly well.

Fertilize with Leftover Coffee

Use in place of: Liquid fertilizer

Coffee is a magical elixir, and not just to get you through the work day. Brewed coffee contains nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium, essential nutrients for healthy plant growth. Save any coffee you have left in the pot, and use it as liquid fertilizer for your garden. However, one word of caution: along with all those nutrients, coffee contains high amounts of acid. For some plants, particularly flowering shrubs and trees like magnolias and azaleas, that’s fine—they love acidic soils. But clematis, sweet william, oregano, and other alkaline-craving plants may suffer from an acid overdose. Mitigate the damaging effects of too much acid by adding a little tap water—it’s usually just a little bit alkaline, which will even out the levels—to the leftover coffee before you pour.

Regrow Plants with Vegetable Scraps

A bottle with a vegetable cutting growing in the top.

Use in place of: Seeds, live vegetable plants

The one genius thing about plants is their ability to replicate—a power that thrifty gardeners can make use of to benefit their bank accounts. Celery, carrots, cabbage, and especially expensive items like basil, scallions, and lettuce, can all be regrown fairly easily from scraps and replanted in the garden. Prop vegetable ends or cuttings in water until you start to see them grow roots and new foliage (for carrot, celery, and lettuce heads, you can use toothpicks to give the ends a lift). Once the root structure is fairly well developed, just pop them into the ground and watch them grow. Buying vegetable plants seems like a racket now, right?

Plant Seeds in Egg Cartons

Use in place of: Peat pots

Biodegradable peat pots make starting seeds easier, but they’re just one more thing to buy to get a garden going. Empty cardboard egg cartons will do the job for free. They’re already separated into segments and can be planted straight into the ground, just like their more expensive couterparts. Just make sure to water them frequently—thirsty cardboard dries out fast.

Use Soap Ends as an Insecticide

A Mason jar with soap and water in it.

Use in place of: Insecticidal soap

One thing aphids, fungus gnats, and spider mites don’t like is a mouthful of soap. Store-bought insecticidal soaps are great because they’re effective at warding off pests without being harmful to beneficial insects like honeybees and ladybugs. But it’s not necessary to buy an expensive brand name product when you have the ingredients to make it in your home right now. You know all those soap ends and bits in your shower? Collect them and mix them up with a gallon of water. Add the mixture to a leftover spray bottle that’s been cleaned out well with vinegar to rid it of residue.

Note: This idea works best in homes with soft water because the minerals in harder taps reduce the soap’s effectiveness. However, you can soften your water by boiling it first, and letting it sit until the calcium and other residue filters to the bottom of the pan. Then, gingerly scoop the filtered water out and into your soap bucket.

Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener, and aspiring home owner whose work can be read on She lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes full-time.