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Dirt Cheap : Frugal gardeners share their ideas for cheap containers plant labels, bug remedies, mulches and more


Some saved 12 cents by mailing us postcards; others reused old envelopes and wrote their letters on the backs of office memos, one proudly pointing out that his old typewriter had come from a thrift shop. Most admitted to being thrifty types.

Said Annie Ko of Torrance in her letter, "As you can see, I am a real cheapskate, using the free note pad from the local Realtor."

They were responding to our request for frugal gardening ideas, little or big ways to save money in the garden.

Another began, "I love to reuse. I also love to garden, and here is how I combine the two." Most of the frugal ideas submitted had to do with reusing and recycling things.

There were ideas for cheap containers, plant labels, homemade bug remedies, inexpensive mulches and a whole garden built for $35. But plant ties were the most popular use for second-hand materials, beginning with the ties this newspaper comes wrapped in.

This and several other money-saving suggestions were sent in by more than one reader, so the prizes--tickets to the Los Angeles Garden Show in October--will go to those with the earliest postmarks.

Penny-pinching plant ties

The plastic ties that bind this newspaper were used by lots of readers. Suzanne Pavlocak of Walnut said they are "sturdy stuff." Several, including Jane Czajkowski and Joe Aviles of West Covina, loop Times' ties together to make string that can be used to trellis sweet peas and other climbers.

Tying together the rings that hold beverage six-packs also creates a trellis, said Carolyn Meredith of Pasadena.

Slice up strips of dry cleaning bags, suggested Julie Markes of Los Angeles, who searched for years for "clear tape to tie my white 'Cecile Brunner' to my white columns," before discovering it in her closet.

Second life for stockings

Stretchiness is important in plant ties that are to last longer than a season, so the tie can expand along with the branch. Readers have discovered that stockings and pantyhose work perfectly, and Masago Armstrong of Claremont pointed out, "Women throw out stockings with runs by the handful."

They can also be used to make hammock-like slings for the fruits of melons and other large vegetables when the plants are trained on trellises, suggested Michele Hewitt of Canoga Park. Hose can also be slipped over growing cabbage heads to keep cabbage worms away.

"I no longer curse when my pantyhose gets a snag; it has a second life," Hewitt said.

Men have their equivalent: Rose Thomas of Victorville told us her husband cuts up old undershirts for plant ties.

Pest control for pennies

Save all your eggshells, crush them in a paper bag and use them to encircle plants, suggested Irving Hansen of Encinitas, if you want to keep snails and slugs away. The slimy creatures don't like to crawl over the sharp edges.

Or encircle plants with wood ash from the fireplace, one of several tips from Barbara Beckner of Studio City.

She lures slugs and snails out of hiding with citrus skins. "In the morning, gather the skins and discard, or remove and destroy the slugs and snails and reuse skins for two to three days." Use of gloves is advised.

Another of her home remedies: Undiluted buttermilk or a mix of one part water and two parts rubbing alcohol works great on mealy bugs and scale. Daub a little on the insects with a cloth scrap.

"Plant cosmos at the ends of each row of corn, and you will have no ear worms," said E.J. Graff of Glendale.

Ordinary yeast in a mayonnaise jar will trap flies, according to Dan and Linda Yokoyama of Fullerton. Drill three 3/8-inch holes in the lid, add one envelope of yeast and fill one-quarter full with water. "It will soon fill with flies," they said.

"Straight white vinegar on weeds in cracks will do away with them safely," wrote Jeanne Dore of Ventura.

Fill an empty squeeze-type catsup bottle with water and some dishwashing liquid, shake it up and--without inverting it--squeeze frothy soap bubbles onto aphids. "I found this more effective than soap sprays and much, much cheaper," said Jeanne Caputo of Valencia.

Double duty

"While working in the garden or mowing the lawn, I wear my golf shoes," said Mona Asorian of Palos Verdes Estates. "The cleats go into the ground and naturally aerate the lawn. Two jobs at one time!"

Labels from leftovers

Plant labels were a close second as a use for recycled materials.

Cut-up sections of discarded mini-blinds make perfect plant labels, and the first to send in this clever idea was Masago Armstrong of Claremont.

Strips cut from white bleach bottles were suggested by Jerry Dubb of Montebello, and others mentioned cutting up a variety of other plastic containers.

Megan and Jason Dietz of La Can~ada Flintridge, ages 12 and 10, respectively, use a leftover that's common in their lives--Popsicle sticks.

Cheap stakes

Several readers suggested saving tree prunings for plant stakes, and Janet Jones of Long Beach collects the stakes from politicians' signs as well.

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