Free garden ideas: 13 ways to refresh your outdoor space without splashing the cash

These free garden ideas will transform your backyard – they're perfect if you're on a budget and are simple to achieve

free garden ideas – clean patio with parasol
(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

Looking for free garden ideas? Then we're here to help. With a bit of know-how and creativity, you can give your outdoor space a new lease of life without having to spend all your savings.

It's no secret that costs can quickly add up when updating an outdoor space. Even a trip to the garden center for new plants can become surprisingly pricey. Many landscaping ideas can feel totally unattainable if you're watching your wallet. And, that's before you get started on the furniture – a brand new outdoor sofa generally isn't cheap. But, if your lacklustre backyard is crying out for a lift (especially with summer approaching), then giving it the pick-me-up it needs doesn't have to be eye-wateringly expensive. In fact, it can be free!

From clever upcycling hacks to embracing the community spirit and more, we've rounded up plenty of free garden ideas that are easy to try. And for even more inspiration, why not take a look at our cheap garden ideas, too?

1. Save your seeds as part of your free garden ideas

collecting seeds

If you're after new plants, then collecting seeds from your own garden is a fantastic solution for free garden ideas

(Image credit: Gary K Smith/Alamy Stock Photo)

Growing flowers from seeds is always cheaper than buying plants from garden centers. However, if you're after free garden ideas, then why not harvest the seeds yourself for growing next year? Just one flower head can have tons of seeds, which means there's the potential for lots more plants – without the need to spend.

Once your flowers have turned to dry seedpods, cut them off using sharp and clean garden scissors or secateurs. Collect them in brown paper bags or envelopes – never polythene, advises Gardeners' World expert Monty Don. Monty also suggests to label as you go, so you don't forget what you've gathered when you come to sow them the following year.

Remember to collect seeds from the best-performing plants for the most successful results. Need more advice? Our guide on how to grow flowers from seeds is full of tips.

2. Have a garden sort-out

garden storage and reclaimed trays with garden mirror

Sort out all your garden bits and bobs for a clean and tidy look

(Image credit: Future)

Patios, sheds, and that narrow bit by the side of the house can all build up clutter over time. From kid's toys to old pots, garden tools and forgotten bags of compost, a jumble of garden paraphernalia can look messy and take away the wow-factor of any outdoor space. Not to mention, it can make access tricky.

Putting an afternoon aside for a good sort out is a great way to get things looking orderly and is completely free. You never know, you might even come across some treasures which can be repurposed, reused, or positioned elsewhere. We're loving the use of this mirror to increase the feeling of space, for example.

Garden storage ideas can be expensive, but old trays, crates, jam jars, and even Tupperware boxes can be useful containers to store bits and bobs. They make great additions to free garden ideas – just be sure to add labels so it's easy to know where everything is.

3. Opt for bark chippings

bark chippings and bistro set with potted plant

Try bark chippings as part of your free garden ideas for easy landscaping

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

Hard landscaping materials can be expensive, especially when it comes to paving or decking. However, if you're after free garden ideas, then why not opt for bark chippings instead for a more rustic yet totally-charming look? 

Local tree surgeons often have huge piles of the stuff that they're looking to offload, or try online marketplaces – they're often free of charge. Failing that, bags from your local garden center are much cheaper than paving stones.

Then, why not try laying your garden path ideas or seating spot yourself? Make sure to clear the ground of weeds first. Then, put down a weed-suppressing layer – either use landscaping fabric (if you're happy to spend a little), or try cardboard which will break down into the soil over time. Top with your bark chippings for a simple yet effective ground cover.

If you're okay with spending a little more, pea gravel is another good budget choice for backyards. Our garden gravel ideas are full of inspiration.

4. Update your plot with a splash of color

blue ladder and trellis with geraniums

A burst of color is a simple way to liven up a space, so is definitely one to add to the list of your free garden ideas

(Image credit: GKSFlorapics/Alamy Stock Photo)

Okay, so unless you have some old tins of paint lying around, you might need to spend just a little bit of cash for this idea. However, a tin of the best exterior wood paint is much cheaper than buying a brand new piece of furniture. Plus, it's a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon outdoors, and means you can really customize what you already have to make it fit your garden's theme.

We're loving this serene blue hue on an old stepladder, complemented by the trellis behind. Bright red pelargoniums make a gorgeous contrast. If you're looking for something more subtle, try a creamy-white shade as part of your free garden ideas. Alternatively, charcoal tones are bang on-trend and great for a more industrial vibe.

5. Clean up your patio

free garden ideas – clean patio with parasol and living wall

Give your patio a good clean as part of your free garden ideas

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

Is your grubby and algae-tinged paving leaving you feeling underwhelmed? Then it's time to find out how to clean a patio. Just a bit of elbow grease and your space will be looking refreshed and welcoming – it's a wonder what a bit of soapy water can do.

On that note, why not discover how to clean outdoor furniture, too? Your seating space will be looking as good as new in no time.

6. Get new plants for free by taking cuttings

pelargonium cuttings in pots

Pelargoniums can be grown from cuttings – which means lots of new and free plants

(Image credit: Mike Powles/Stone/Getty Images)

Plants are expensive. However, even if you've only got a few, then there may well be a chance that you can take cuttings from them to make more. It's a fantastic option if you're after free garden ideas and is simple to do.

Not every plant can be multiplied in this way – but there are lots of beautiful species that will work. Softwood cuttings can be taken from the likes of fuchias, pelargoniums, penstemons, and hydrangeas. Take them in spring or early summer, from the tender new growth of the season, as advises the RHS

All you need to do is trim below a node or leaf joint using a sharp knife, to make a cutting about 2-4 inches long, they explain. Then, remove the lower leaves and pinch out the soft tip. You can also dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder or liquid. Plant it into a small container of cuttings compost, keep it moist, and cover with a plastic bag somewhere warm (lifting it twice a week for ten minutes to allow ventilation).

Our guide on how to take cuttings from plants has more advice.

7. Grow seedlings in eggshells

egg shells with seedlings

Give your plants an eco-friendly start

(Image credit: Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Moment/Getty Images)

Plastic seed trays aren't great for the environment, so if you're keen on sustainable gardens then try opting for eggshells instead to get your seedlings off to a good start. Of course, using kitchen waste in this way is free, too.

A bonus point of this tip is that the shell will naturally decompose when you add it to the soil, meaning the entire thing can be planted when it's time to introduce your seedlings to your garden. What's more, as they do so, they will add lots of nutrients to the soil.

All you need to do is fill half an eggshell with moist seed compost and your seeds. Plant two seeds in each. Then, pop them back into the old egg carton to keep them from toppling over, and place on a sunny windowsill, remembering to water when needed. Harden them off before transplanting into their final outdoor position, and when you do so, crush the shell ever-so-slightly before planting.

8. Make your own compost

hands holding compost

Want to avoid splashing the cash on expensive bags of compost? Try making your own for your free garden ideas

(Image credit: jopstock/Moment/Getty Images)

Bags of compost can quickly add up in price, so if you're after free garden ideas, it's well worth knowing how to compost at home. You don't need to buy a fancy compost bin – making your own with old pallets is a budget-friendly alternative.

Position on an earth base in semi-shade, and fill with kitchen scraps such as veggies and fruit peelings (avoid meat), and garden waste (but not weeds). As the RHS says, aim for between 25 to 50 percent soft green materials such as grass clippings, vegetable kitchen waste, or manure. These will help to feed the micro-organisms that will break down the mixture into compost. The rest should be woody material, such as wood chippings, cardboard, dead leaves, or straw. 

It can take from six months to two years until the compost is ready. But, as it's a great way to use up kitchen scraps, encourage healthier plants, and save on money, it's worth the wait.

9. Or, try making leaf mould

maple leaf on pile of leaves

Leaf mould can be used as potting compost, as mulch, or as a soil conditioner

(Image credit: Photo by Supoj Buranaprapapong/Moment/Getty Images)

If you've got a number of deciduous trees in your backyard then learning how to make leaf mould is a brilliant option. Not only will you avoid having to buy bagged compost from garden centers, you'll also be putting all those fallen leaves to good use.

It's super-simple to do – just collect up the leaves and put them into large plastic bin bags pierced with a few holes. Add a little water to the mix if the leaves are very dry. Secure loosely and put them somewhere out of sight whilst they get to work breaking down.

After a couple of years, the mixture will have decomposed and can be used as seed compost, or mixed with grit and soil for potting compost. Or, it can be used as mulch or soil-improver.

Some leaves break down easier than others, however, so check your tree before you get going. Other, thicker-leaved types such as chestnuts and sycamores need a little shredding beforehand, to help them on their way.

10. Repurpose old tins

old tins recycled as plant pots

Reuse interesting tins for your free garden ideas

(Image credit: Jo Tyler/Future)

If you've come across a particularly nice tin whilst preparing food in your kitchen, it can seem a shame to throw it away. Well, repurposing them as plant pots is the perfect solution for simple and free garden ideas, and will give your plot more character, too.

Just remember to punch or drill holes in the bottom to ensure there's enough drainage for your plants. We love the look of this mini herb garden above – it's ideal for a courtyard, windowsill, or even your balcony ideas.

11. Or, give them a makeover for a hanging display

free garden ideas with hanging tin plant pots

A pretty and budget-friendly feature

(Image credit: Polly Eltes/Future)

If space is at a premium, then making the most of the verticals is the way forward. And, we're loving this easy upcycling trick using old tins. 

They don't have to be particularly pretty – just regular old cans will do. Wash them out, remove the labels, and glue a pretty piece of fabric around them, secured with a piece of jute. With an extra piece of jute attached to the top, they can make gorgeous hanging plant plots, or even containers for LED candles.

Looking for more clever upcycling hacks? Our guide on how to use salvage for garden upcycling ideas has plenty.

12. Pep up your outdoor occasion with painted pots

terracotta pots filled with garden party accessories

Terracotta pots make a chic feature to this party table

(Image credit: Polly Eltes/Future)

If you're throwing a big (or small) bash outdoors this summer, then it's easy to let the spending get out of hand. However, garden party ideas don't have to cost a fortune.

Take these cute terracotta pots for example, which are handy for holding cutlery, napkins, and straws. A simple makeover with paint and a home-made stencil is all you need to give them an elegant boost and make your buffet or bar table a little more special.

Of course, there are all kinds of designs you can try when decorating terracotta pots for everyday use – our garden planter ideas will fill you with design inspiration.

13. Throw a seed-sharing party

seed packets

Bring the garden community together as part of your free garden ideas

(Image credit: Gary K Smith/Alamy Stock Photo)

Sharing is definitely caring when it comes to free garden ideas. For instance, a seed-swapping party is a great way to bring fellow gardeners together and share unwanted seeds or half-used packets which would otherwise be left unused. If you're all sharing seeds that you've collected from your own plants – even better.

You could also encourage your guests to bring along unwanted garden tools, extra pots of cuttings, or other garden bits and bobs to swap. Serve up some refreshments and embrace the garden community spirit.

How do you landscape a garden with no money?

foxgloves and brick path

Reclaimed bricks make a versatile landscaping material for free garden ideas

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Future)

If you're after landscaping ideas for free, then try these tips below: 

  1. Find free landscaping materials. Have your neighbors been renovating? Maybe they have some leftover bricks or stones that they no longer want. Offer to take them off their hands – it'll save the need to hire a skip, so you might be doing them a favor.
  2. Check online marketplaces for other freebies – old beams or sleepers can be used for raised beds or DIY decking, slices of log can make fantastic stepping-stone paths, or old bricks can be used for garden edging ideas or even to build your own fire pit.
  3. Hiring a professional is expensive, so be prepared to do the work yourself. Make sure you've got clear instructions to follow, and have all the necessary safety precautions in place before taking on an outdoor project. Our guides on how to lay a patio or how to build a garden pond are great places to start.
Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.