5 Household Ingredients Useful in the Garden

00:00 March 18, 2013


I am a neighborhood-centric creature, like many New Orleanians. I try to bike everywhere and support local stores. I used to curse the lack of garden stores within biking distance of my yard, but necessity is the mother of invention and I’ve learned to cope. When my garden needs help (in the form of fertilizers or pest control), I turn to the cupboard underneath my sink for resourceful, effective and earth-friendly solutions, rather than expensive sprays and unnecessary soil additives.

Read on to see what garden problems you can solve with simple ingredients that can be found in your kitchen or nearby drugstore.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds are a common garden and compost additive, but many garden experts have differing opinions about their benefi ts. Grounds are actually close to pH neutral (around 6.9), and not acidic—the acidity washes out in water, so it stays in the coffee, not the grinds. The only problem with adding grounds in quantity directly to garden soil is that it can create an environment for mold and pathogens. But coffee grounds have nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium—all nutrients that plants need. Regardless of that, I still add coffee grounds directly to the garden; I just try not to concentrate them in large quantities in one area.

Besides the nutritive benefi ts that coffee grounds provide, they can also be an effective pest deterrent. Supposedly, they deter cats from digging in your garden soil, and they seem to be effective in my garden at keeping slugs at bay. I scatter the grounds around my lettuce plants as they grow.

Coffee grounds are also useful at planting time.

When planting seeds outdoors, apply a thin layer of coffee grounds on top of the covered seeds. When planting transplants, sprinkle a ring around each transplant. This will keep vicious predators like cutworms from going after and annihilating new seedlings (cutworms, like the name implies, will eat right through an emerging seedling, cutting the top right off).


I have two prolifi c egg-laying ducks, so I’m lucky enough to often have an abundance of eggshells. I sometimes add the shells straight to the compost pile, but I also use them to deter crawling pests in the garden. To do so, add crushed eggshells to garden beds in areas that need to be protected from caterpillars, cutworms, snails and slugs. The jagged edges are tough for soft-bodied, legless insects to navigate over and around.

Eggshells are also a good source of calcium for certain heat-loving plants, including tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. These vegetables are susceptible to blossom end rot, a condition that causes the blossom end on what was turning into a beautiful-looking fruit to rot off, making the whole thing inedible. Blossom end rot is caused by calcium defi ciency, which is usually a result of irregular watering. Adding an extra source of calcium to the soil at planting time helps nourish the soil, and the plants. Simply add crushed eggshells to the bottom of the hole in which you intend to plant the eggplant, pepper, or tomato, and be sure to water vegetables regularly—that also means not watering them when it’s been raining. I continue to add eggshells to the soil around the base of these plants as they grow too.

Baking Soda

Baking soda works as a weed deterrent and a mildew suppressant. For plants prone to mildewing in the humid weather, try a mixture of 2 teaspoons of baking soda dissolved in 2 pints of water, with a just few drops of dish soap to hold it all together. Add the mixture to a spray bottle and spray directly onto affected leaves.

For shady brick patios prone to mold, spray a baking soda and water solution on the slippery bricks. I use a mixture of 1/2 lb. of baking soda and 1 gallon of water and apply it liberally, allowing it to sit on the patio overnight to kill any mildew or moss. Sweep the next day, if necessary, with a stiff broom.

And for weeds in the cracks of a patio or sidewalk, simply pour or sweep a thick layer of baking soda into the cracks. The baking soda will kill any small weeds that are already there, and prevent new ones from sprouting.

Dish Soap

Dish soap is extremely useful for making homemade garden sprays. For problems with aphids, mix a pint of water with 4 drops of dish soap and add to a spray bottle. Spray affected leaves twice a week, until it (hopefully) clears up. To rescue plants from caterpillars, mix 2 tablespoons of red pepper powder and 6 drops of liquid soap in 1 gallon of water. Let the mixture sit overnight, and stir thoroughly. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle, shake well, and spray weekly on the tops and bottoms of the leaves.


Vinegar has so many purported household uses and health benefi ts that I can’t even keep up. But I do know that weeds don’t like being doused in it! Attack weeds with a concentrated spray of vinegar mixed with a just few drops of liquid soap.

Vinegar is also helpful for deterring fi re ants, but I can’t be sure if the vinegar kills the colony, or just pesters the ants into relocating.

*Ducks Not a household ingredient for most, but they are extremely useful pest-and-weed eaters, and highly entertaining!

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