31 Free Classes, Services and Project Plans to Hone Your Landscaping and Home Improvement Skills

Are you considering trying your hand at organic gardening, wondering if you have the skills to build a gazebo or thinking about investing in solar panels…but you aren’t sure where to begin or what your next steps should be?

Homeowners who are interested in do-it-yourself home improvements, improving their vegetable garden, reducing their carbon footprint or lowering their water bills might be surprised at the number of free classes, home improvement project plans and services that are available to help them achieve their goals.

For example, did you know the you can get free compost or mulch for your garden if you live in San Diego?

Or that you might qualify for a free rain barrel?

Or that an Energy Specialist will come to your house and perform an energy survey at no cost?

There are also free gardening classes, free energy conservation workshops, free online tutorials, free project plans, and free workshops where you can learn how to do your own home repairs and home improvements.

Some of the free services and classes listed below are only available to residents of the City of San Diego or San Diego County, but some are free for anyone living anywhere.

If you do not live in the San Diego area and are interested in energy audits, water surveys or other services and classes you see below, look online or contact local agencies to see if similar programs are available in your area.

31 Free Classes, Services and Project Plans for Homeowners


1. SDG&E provides free in-home energy surveys for customers interested in saving money and going greener by reducing their home’s energy usage.

Call (800) 411-7343 to schedule an appointment with one of their Energy Specialists.

If you do not have time for an in-home energy survey or are not a SDG&E customer, you can still learn how to conserve energy from watching a five-minute video available on their website in English and Spanish.

2. If you are a homeowner in San Diego County, you may qualify for a free rain barrel through one of the programs offering up to $400 in rain barrel rebates.

If you live within the city limits of San Diego, go here to learn more.

If you live outside of the City of San Diego but in San Diego County, go here to learn more.

3. Residents of the City of San Diego can improve the health of their soil and increase its ability to retain water with free mulch from Miramar Greenery.

With proof of residency, San Diegans can help themselves to up to two cubic yards of mulch or compost at no cost.

Call Miramar Greenery at (858) 492-6100 for more information.

4. If you live within the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department’s service area, you can schedule a free water survey to help identify leaks and learn ways you can conserve water at home.

Download this brochure to learn more, or call (619) 570-1999 to schedule your free in-home water survey.

5. Solana Center for Environmental Innovation offers both paid and free workshops to help you live a greener lifestyle.

Free workshops being offered at the time of this writing include manure management and composting.

Check their events calendar regularly for upcoming free classes.

You can also visit their page dedicated to upcoming free composting workshops to find one close to you.

6. Alta Vista Gardens offers paid and free classes for adults and children.

Most of their gardening classes cost around $5.00, but there was a free composting workshop coming up when I checked their calendar for this article.

Check their events calendar to see when free and low-cost classes are coming up.

7. BeWaterWise.com offers four 15-minute, online mini-tutorials to help home gardeners learn the basics, including Getting Started, Plant Selection, Irrigation System Basics, and Planting and Maintenance.

8. If you are ready to go beyond the basics of gardening, BeWaterWise.com also offers four 60-minute, online classes (in English and Spanish), including Landscape Design Basics, Efficient Irrigation Systems, Plant Selection and Plant Care.

9. All Armstrong Garden Centers offer free gardening classes, and you do not even have to make a reservation to attend them!

You can get on their email list to receive notifications for upcoming free classes, or you can visit their gardening classes page to see what is being offered.

10. If you are in the mood for something a bit more out of the ordinary, you should definitely check out the current class offerings at Barrels & Branches in Encinitas.

At the time of this writing, this garden center and gift shop is offering a free workshop on how to create a butterfly garden.

11. The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon offers paid and free classes to help you hone your gardening and water conservation skills.

Free classes being offered at the time of this writing include a home composting workshop and a workshop on how to hire a landscape contractor and save money.

To learn more or register for a class, call (619) 660-0614, extension 10.

12. Home Depot offers free home improvement workshops each week where you can learn things like how to install a faucet, how to lay tile, how to repair drywall or how to build a bookshelf.

Their offerings change all the time, so see what is coming up by visiting their free home improvement workshops page.

13. Lars Remodeling & Design offers workshops through their Lars University program to help homeowners learn about remodeling and how to plan their next home improvement project.

You can register for upcoming workshops on their website.

14. DIY Network offers tons of free step-by-step how-to guides for everything from setting up a home workshop to container gardening to remodeling your kitchen.

They also have educational videos to help you hone your gardening skills, and you can watch full episodes of home improvement television shows on their site for free.

15. Some Starbucks — and other coffee houses — offer free used coffee grounds for use in your compost pile.

Contact your local Starbucks to see if they participate in this program, or ask your favorite, local coffee house what they do with their used grounds.

16. OpenLearningWorld.com offers a free, 18-hour, online course on Vegetable Gardening that covers planting techniques, succession planting, maintaining and harvesting vegetables, planting trees, pruning and more.

17. If you need a few pointers on how to maximize a small backyard, About U offers a Small Space Garden Design class online for free.

You can sign up to have a new lesson emailed to you each week, or you can go through the lessons at your own pace via links on the website.

Other free online classes about About U include Herb Essentials, Landscape Planning and Planting, Pick the Right Plant and Alternative Landscaping.

18. Better Homes and Gardens has 11 free vegetable garden plans available on their website.

You have to scroll past some ads and links to other articles to find them, and you need to sign in or create a free account in order to download them.

19. If you are considering raising backyard chickens, you can get free chicken coop plans here, here and here.

20. If you do not mind giving out your name and email address, Decks.com has hundreds of free DIY deck plans you can download from their site.

21. The Family Handyman is a truly handy website for do-it-yourselfers and has free project plans (and step-by-step how-to guides) for lots of small projects you can do yourself.

From simple bookcase plans to plans for a DIY screened gazebo, this is a great place for somewhat-handy homeowners to find project plans with all of the information they need to successfully complete home improvements.

22. Solar Energy International offers its six-week, online RE100: Introduction to Renewable Energy class absolutely free.

You do have to create a free account on their website and register for the class, but that only takes a few minutes and is worth it to take this free class that can help you better understand renewable energy sources and which solutions might be best for your home.

23. SDG&E’s Energy Innovation Center offers lots of classes for customers and professionals.

Their free class offerings for customers include Solar for Homeowners, WaterSmart Landscape Design for Homeowners and California Friendly Landscape Training for Homeowners.

It will take you a minute to hunt for the classes of interest to homeowners among the many classes they offer for industry professionals and business owners on their calendar of events, but it is well worth it to find classes that help you conserve energy and water.

24. Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) offers some fantastic, free workshops for San Diego area homeowners, including Solar for Homeowners, Solar Water Heating Basics for Homeowners and their Home Energy Upgrade Workshop.

To see which free workshops are coming up, visit the CSE Events and Workshops page.

25. Use this free landscape watering calculator to help you determine the best weekly watering schedule and the amount of water your landscaping needs (specific to the San Diego area and our weather and soil conditions).

26. Gardening123 offers six self-study, online courses at no cost, including Basic Plant Propagation, Houseplant Maintenance, Introduction to Organic Gardening, Low Maintenance Gardening, Perennial Maintenance and What’s Eating Your Garden, Doc?: Wildlife in the Lawn and Garden.

27. ACS Distance Education offers three online classes at no cost that may be of interest to budding gardeners.

Learn more about their Landscape Design, Hydroponics, and Vegetables and Herbs courses here.

28. The San Diego County Water Authority offers a completely free, four-part WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Series, which includes four workshops, a vendor expo and a design coaching session.

This series is offered all over the county and includes these free classes: Toss the Turf, Design Your Space, Plant Selection and Coaching Session, and Intelligent Irrigation.

You do have to apply online, and about one to two weeks before the class, one of the coaches will come to your house to measure the area where you plan to replace your natural grass in preparation of working with you to create a plan for your landscape redesign.

29. Lowe’s has lots of free plans and how-to guides for fun DIY projects, like these wall-mounted succulent planters and this arbor and bench project.

30. If you have a sewing machine and some basic sewing skills (or the patience to learn some), try this free pattern to sew your own patio furniture cushions.

31. If you prefer a power drill over a sewing machine, check out the free plans and instructions for making your own wood patio furniture over at Instructables.com.


Free Inspiration


Once you have taken advantage of energy auditing services, learned a thing or two about gardening, or picked up your free compost, here are links to some previous articles that might inspire you:

    • Outdoor Living Ideas and Tips
    • Landscape Design Ideas and Tips
    • Urban Farming Ideas and Tips
    • Home Improvement Ideas and Tips
    • Low Maintenance Landscaping and Eco-Friendly Solutions


Your Turn…


Do you know of other free services or classes? If so, we would love to pass them on to our readers!