Free Fertilizer for Flowerbeds + Vegetable Gardens + Natural Lawns {PRO Guide}

Free Fertilizer for Flowerbeds + Vegetable Gardens + Natural Lawns

It is no secret that plants are more likely to flourish when properly fed, but it is also well known that commercial fertilizers are often ridiculously overpriced for what they are. The three things your plants need most — nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — can be conveniently found in those bags of compost, mulch or fertilizer at your local garden center, but they can also be added to your soil for free with just a little effort on your part.

All of the free fertilizer options you will find listed below can be added to a backyard compost bin, so if you are a home composter, you likely are already familiar with at least some of these items. This post is most beneficial for those who do not have room for a compost bin, do not want to wait for their scraps to turn into compost before using them, or would like to bolster their backyard compost usage by continuously adding nutrients to their soil.

When adding these items directly to the soil, you will want to make sure that you grind or blend them into small pieces to foster decomposition. You will also want to make sure that you only mix them into the top few inches of soil and to not disturb the root systems of your plants.

Here are nine benefits of using free fertilizer for your flower beds, natural grass lawn or vegetable garden:

  1. You can save money by not purchasing fertilizer.
  2. You will improve the health of your soil.
  3. You will be supporting the ecosystem in your garden, including feeding the earthworms.
  4. Your plants will be healthier due to living in healthier soil.
  5. You can help save the planet by keeping the things you use as fertilizer out of landfills.
  6. You can make connections with your neighbors and small businesses in your community.
  7. You will not have to wait for your compost bin to produce compost to fertilize your garden.
  8. Regularly working free fertilizer or compost into your soil can help you avoid compacted soil.
  9. Some fertilizer options allow you to save time, such as using grass clippings or leaves rather than raking and bagging them.

Now that you are convinced that free fertilizer is an excellent choice for your landscaping needs, let’s look at 13 ways you can acquire everything you need to fertilize your garden for free.

13 Sources of Free Fertilizer

Kitchen Scraps Make Great Compost

1. Free Mulch or Compost from Community Programs

Some cities have programs offering free mulch to residents. For example, folks who live within the City of San Diego can receive up to two cubic yards of compost or mulch free of charge from Miramar Greenery. If you have proof of residency and would like more information, call (858) 492-6100.

2. Horse or Cow Manure from Local Ranches

Contact boarding stables or dairy farms in your area to see if they are one of the many that give away horse or cow manure to folks willing to pick it up. You may be able to get leads on ranches giving away manure by connecting with other gardeners in your area. Keep in mind that you should allow the manure to age a bit before adding it to your soil.

3. Rabbit Manure from Friends and Family

Pet rabbits are good for more than cuddling and looking incredibly cute while they steal carrots from your garden. They also provide an excellent, natural source of plant food for your garden. If you do not have any rabbits in your family, find rabbit parents among your friends who will probably be more than happy to part with their rabbit’s poop — especially if you volunteer to clean the cage to get it.

Cow Manure Makes Great Free Fertilizer

4. Juicing Pulp from Local Juice Bars

If you have an extraction juicer then you know just how much pulp is left over after juicing fruits and vegetables for healthy, green juices. Instead of letting that pulp go to waste, spread it around your garden and work it into the top few inches of soil. For even more free juice pulp to use as plant food, contact local juice bars to see if they are interested in giving away their pulp.

5. Coffee Grounds from Local Coffee Shops

Used coffee grounds are a tried-and-true way to add much-needed nitrogen to garden soil. The easiest way to acquire them is to simply recycle the grounds from your morning coffee, and this is possible even if you use K-cups. While K-cups are not very environmentally friendly, you can make them a little more so by taking the time to open them after use and extracting the grounds for use in your garden. If you are interested in an eco-friendlier option, you can get a reusable K-cup that you empty after each use.

For more free coffee grounds, check with your local coffee shops. Some Starbucks and many locally owned coffee houses give free grounds to folks for use in their compost bins or gardens. Some even package them and leave them out for folks to grab on a first-come-first-served basis.

Coffee Grounds Add Nitrogen to Soil

6. Not-So-Pretty Produce from Grocery Stores and Produce Stands

This one is not for everyone since it involves either asking a store for their old produce or diving in a dumpster to retrieve it yourself. If you are not shy about asking for overripe bananas and squishy tomatoes, start asking for the produce manager when shopping at different stores in your area. Ask what they do with the fruits and vegetables they can no longer sell. If you can build a relationship with the produce manager at a store or two that is willing to hand over their past-prime produce, you will be amazed at just how much old produce you can get your hands on.

Some of it will actually be perfectly fine for eating right away or freezing for future use, and the stuff that is beyond salvation is perfect for tossing in a blender and mixing into the soil in your garden.

Some larger grocery chains no longer donate expired foods and produce that is past its prime due to potential liability issues. These chains are also not likely to give away overripe fruits and vegetables that are, instead, tossed into dumpsters behind the store. But you should be able to find smaller stores, local produce stands and some larger stores that are willing to give away produce rather than throw it out. Of course, if you are up for some dumpster diving, you can find all sorts of free fertilizer options.

7. Weeds from Your Yard or Friends’ Yards

Some people are wary of adding weeds to their compost bin or allowing them to decompose in their soil for fear that this will make their weed problem even worse. The trick is to always pull your weeds before they go to seed since it is fine to include them in your compost if there are no seeds to spread. Of course, you only want to use weeds that have not been sprayed with chemical herbicides. This means that you should really stick to weeds from your own yard or weeds from the yards of family members or friends. You cannot really know what might be on the weeds or if there were any seeds if you collect weeds from neighbors or other sources.

Wood Ash is Great for Your Garden

8. Wood Ash from Fireplaces and Fire Pits

Ash from wood that has not been treated or doused in lighter fluid is a great addition to your soil. So next time you clean out your wood-burning fireplace or fire pit, save that ash from the landfill and feed it to your plants instead. If you do not use your fire features very often, you can also ask your friends or family members for their wood ash. They are even more likely to give it to you if you are willing to go to their house to scoop it out of the fire pit or fireplace. A little goes a long way with wood ash, so spread it thinly around your plants to avoid harming them.

9. Grass Clippings from Landscape Maintenance Companies

Grass clippings add nitrogen to soil and break down quickly, which makes them great for adding to soil, particularly if you do not have a compost bin. The trick here is that you need to be able to trust the grass clippings provider to only give you clippings that have not been exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. A lot of people with natural grass lawns use these products to care for this high-maintenance landscaping feature, so you need to be sure that you only get clippings from companies that provide all of the care for the donor lawn and that do not use toxic treatments.

Of course, if you have a natural grass lawn that you maintain without conventional fertilizers, pesticides or weed killers, you can use the clippings from your own lawn to fertilize your flowerbeds, lawn or vegetable garden for free.

10. Eggshells from Local Bakeries and Restaurants

If you do not produce enough eggshells from your morning breakfasts to meet your gardening needs, connect with a local bakery, diner or other eatery to see if you can pick up their discarded eggshells and keep them out of the landfill.

Once you have acquired your eggshells, you will want to prepare them a bit before putting them in your garden. Even in a compost bin, eggshells take a very long time to break down, so you definitely do not want to put large pieces directly into your soil. You can either crush them in a blender and sprinkle them around your plants or toss them in a bucket of water for a week or so to make an eggshell tea to use in your garden.

Make Eggshell Tea for Your Garden

11. Plant Trimmings from Your Garden

Leaves, broken stems, and any leftover bits from pruning can go right back into your garden to feed the very same plants from which they came.

12. Dead Leaves from Your Yard

Instead of filling up your yard waste bin after raking your yard and gathering piles of dead leaves, take some of those leaves to work into the soil in your flower beds or vegetable garden. If your dead leaves are on your natural grass lawn, you can just mow right over them to shred them up and leave them to decompose to feed your lawn.

13. Fruit and Vegetable Peelings from Your Kitchen

Keep a bucket or compost keeper on your counter so that you can conveniently toss in the scraps whenever you eat an orange or peel a carrot. Once you have enough to make a trip to the garden, grind it up in a blender or food processor and work small amounts into the soil around your plants.

Composting Resources

If you are interested in also starting a backyard compost bin or pile, here are some previous articles that can help get you started:

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, impure_with_memory; morgueFile, jdurham; morgueFile, shanblan; morgueFile, wenx; morgueFile, mzacha, morgueFile, DuBoix