Save time and effort with our top 10 gardening hacks

Spring is a hectic time in the garden and it can feel like there’s too much to do. So, having a few easy shortcuts up your sleeve can save you time, money and effort, making you feel more organised.

You don’t need to spend lots of money at the garden centre: instead make use of items lying around the house or that are cheap and easy to come by. Think laterally – you might not have a greenhouse, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow plants from seed somewhere else.

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1. Make free fertiliser  Is your garden overrun 
with naughty nettles? Pop them in a bucket to make 
a fabulous fertiliser high in nitrogen. Cover the nettles with water and put a lid on top – it’ll become a bit whiffy as the nettles break down. After three weeks remove the sludge and put it on the compost heap. Decant the liquid into clean plastic bottles, label and store somewhere cool. Dilute one part feed to 10 parts water and use on leafy green plants.

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2. Make a picnic table for £2 Pallets are a favourite among recyclers and DIYers – they’re ideal for making all sorts of garden furniture, vertical planters, Adirondack-style chairs, tool racks and even decking. This simple idea uses two pallets (1.2x1m/4x3ft 3in) one on top of the other, smartened up with Sadolin Classic Woodstain, £34 for 2.5L. It’s easy to buy used pallets online – £2-£5 if you can collect them; most pallet recycling companies only deliver in much larger quantities. Or ask if they have some at your local garden centre, or recycling facility.

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3. Create a fancy water feature Build a stylish mini pond using a metal mesh cube. Buy a preformed gabion cage (£17.99 for 45cm3) or make your own from metal grids available from builders’ merchants. For self-assembly cages, leave the top panel off. Part-fill with large stones (such as Scottish cobbles) and place a 30cm (12in) black plastic washing up bowl in the centre. Add more cobbles to hide the sides of the basin. Fill with water from a water butt if available, or tap water. Leave for a few days to allow the chlorine to dissipate before adding small aquatic plants. Ours cost about £30 from Waterside Nursery. Don’t forget to include an oxygenator to keep the water sweet.

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4. Keep tools garden ready Fill a bucket with sharp sand and add 400ml 
(14fl oz) of vegetable oil. Stir to mix well. Position the bucket in your shed and when you come in from 
a day’s gardening, simply plunge tools into the oily sand. The mixture cleans, polishes and sharpens your tools and coats them with oil to prevent rust.

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5. Line containers Wrought-iron and mesh hanging baskets 
offer little by way of water retention for plants. Whenever you water them, the moisture drains right through, leaving plants thirsty. Fortunately, there’s something you can add 
to the basket, aside from water-retaining gel, that solves the problem: a nappy!

First, split open the absorbent central section with scissors (otherwise the nappy will hang onto the water). Place the nappy on top of the coir liner, then fill with compost in the usual way. Don’t add the nappy to the compost heap at the end of the season unless it’s 
a biodegradable, organic design.

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6. Waste less seed It can be hard to see where seed has fallen when you’re sowing direct into the soil. It’s only once they’ve germinated that you can spot any clumps and large gaps. For more even spacing, make your seed drill then line it with a strip of toilet paper. Mist the paper with 
a water spray so the seeds stick to the wet paper. Sow 
the seed evenly and gently position seeds as required. Carefully fold the paper in half then cover the drill with 
soil and water. The paper gradually decomposes in the soil, leaving the seeds in the right place to germinate.

7. Beat slugs with garlic Great news for hosta fans – spraying plants with a garlic tonic is said to make the foliage unpalatable to slugs. The tonic is quick and easy to make at home, too. Simply take two garlic bulbs and crush with the flat blade of a knife. Place in a pan and pour over a litre of water. Bring to 
the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat 
and leave to cool. Strain the liquid through a sieve then store in old plastic milk bottles that have been thoroughly cleaned and keep somewhere cool. To apply, mix 15ml (½ fl oz) of tonic in five litres of water and spray onto the leaves of plants such as hostas and delphiniums (but not edibles). Reapply every couple of weeks, or more frequently in wet weather.

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8. Upcycle plant supports Rather than using shop-bought wooden trellis panels or bamboo canes for plant supports, repurpose items stashed away behind the shed or visit a reclamation yard for inspiration. All manner of metal frames such as old metal beds (£30-£50), gates and rebar (the steel mesh used in reinforcing concrete) – can provide support for clematis, sweet peas and climbing beans. Old wooden ladders (£15-£20) can be sanded and painted to make a ‘theatre’ for a collection or group of smaller potted plants.

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9. Create a coldframe crate If you don’t have space or budget for a greenhouse, try this nifty idea using a plastic storage crate with a lid. Place pots or module trays inside and line the bottom with absorbent kitchen roll. Add drainage holes with a drill. Take the lid off on sunny days and replace at night or if rain is forecast. If frost is predicted, bring your crate inside; multiple crates can be stacked so they don’t take up lots of space. Use it for hardy annuals from mid-March and for half-hardy annuals from mid-April.

10. Make a parcel shelf propagator Line a shallow watertight box with kitchen 
foil to reflect lots of light, then position your seed pots inside it. Place the box on the parcel shelf of your car. Temperatures can fluctuate widely, so ventilate on hot days by opening a window slightly and using horticultural fleece to shade plants so they don’t scorch. The fleece also comes in handy if cold temperatures are forecast. To avoid damage, cover the parcel shelf with a waterproof oilcloth. Think about where you park too – a space under trees is too shady.

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