11 Secret Ingredients That Can Help Your Garden Grow

Updated: Feb. 05, 2024

Who knew that these pantry ingredients were so good for the garden?

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Put pantry staples—like baking soda, vinegar and olive oil—to good use in your garden. These genius ideas will encourage growth, keep pests at bay and ensure your garden is the most beautiful one on the block.

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Make Flowers Bloom with Baking Soda

If there were an award for most versatile of pantry ingredients, baking soda would certainly be a nominee. In addition to these clever ways to clean with baking soda, you can sprinkle it on the surface of your soil to make your geraniums, coneflowers, daylilies and clematis bloom like crazy. That’s because baking soda is alkaline, and those flowers thrive on alkaline soil.

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Repel Ants with Cream of Tartar

No one wants to share their outdoor dining table with ants, but if you’re not inclined to use chemicals to keep them away, you can use cream of tartar instead. Simply sprinkle a bit of cream of tartar on the perimeter of the table or wherever you want to “dust their trail,” recommends the Farmer’s Almanac. In case you’re wondering, here’s what cream of tartar actually is and how you can use it in the kitchen.

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Repel Squirrels with Cayenne

Squirrels are adorable until they start digging up your daffodil and tulip bulbs. To deter them, sprinkle cayenne pepper around your bulb gardens. Reapply when you see the squirrels returned. Here’s your guide to all the different peppers you might have in your kitchen.

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Erase Algae with White Vinegar

Forget renting a power washer! All you need to get rid of that unwanted icky green stuff on your patio is to spray it with full-strength distilled white vinegar. Vinegar, like baking soda, is a pantry superstar—here are other ways to use it at home.

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Use Baking Soda for Sweeter Tomatoes

A more alkaline soil makes tomatoes sweeter. To grow sweeter tomatoes, simply sprinkle baking soda on the surface of your soil in your tomato garden. After you harvest your sweet tomatoes, let them shine in these recipes.

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Clean Garden Tools with Olive Oil

Rub olive oil onto the cutting and digging surfaces of your garden tools, as well as on your lawn mower blades. This will repel dirt and rust and make it easier to clean them next time. For cooking, learn how to find the best olive oil.

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Fight Fungus with Baking Soda

While baking soda doesn’t kill fungus, you can use it to prevent fungus because its alkalinity creates an environment hostile to fungal growth. Simply stir a teaspoon of baking soda into a liter of water and spray the leaves of your fungus-prone plants (these include tomatoes and lilacs). Here’s why you should never confuse baking soda with baking powder.

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Turn Pink Hydrangeas Blue with Vinegar

Unlike baking soda, distilled white vinegar is acidic, and acidic soil is the secret to turning your pink hydrangeas blue. (Note: This doesn’t work on white hydrangeas.) Vinegar also enhances the soil of acid-loving plants like azaleas, rhododendrons and gardenias. Use a cup of white distilled vinegar to a gallon of tap water. Do you know the difference between apple cider vinegar and white vinegar?

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Say Goodbye to Beetles with Dish Soap

My biggest complaint with Japanese beetles is how they can quickly turn beautiful zinnia leaves into lacy remnants of their former selves. They also decimate over 300 other types of garden plants. Unfortunately, the best way to get rid of them is to hand-pick them off your plants…and drown them in a mixture of water and dishwashing soap. Sorry…not sorry….we’re talking zinnias here!  For your own safety, these are the safest dish soaps you can buy.

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Attract Earthworms with Coffee Grounds

Adding coffee grounds to your soil benefits your soil by attracting earthworms and microorganisms (both of which make your soil healthier and more fertile). But note: fresh coffee grounds are acidic, whereas used coffee grounds are neutral. If you are enhancing the soil of an alkaline-soil loving plant (such as geraniums or sweet tomatoes), then used coffee grounds are the way to go. Find more ways to repurpose coffee grounds.

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cornmeal weed preventer
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Keep Weeds Out With Cornmeal

Ditch chemical weedkillers and opt for an all-natural solution instead. Cornmeal, aka that stuff you use in cornbread, or more specifically corn gluten meal (CGM) is great for killing weeds—but only if they haven’t germinated yet. It’s best to clear out the grown weeds first, then sprinkle corn gluten meal to kill the seeds—otherwise, you might accidentally provide the weeds with extra nutrients.