5 Surprising Pantry Ingredients That Can Actually Help Your Plants Thrive

published May 27, 2022
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Tending to a small group of potted, non-toxic plants

If your houseplants look like they need a pick-me-up or pests are, well, pestering your garden, it’s time to take action. Before you head out and buy an expensive fertilizer or pesticide, know that there are effective (and non-toxic!) homemade solutions that can easily aid your green thumb efforts — and they’re all conveniently stored in your pantry or kitchen.

We’ve rounded up five common kitchen ingredients you can use to help your plants thrive. Grab your garden gloves, and let’s take a look!

Note: As with anything you apply to your plants, be sure to test in a small area or use a low dosage to start.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani/Kitchn

1. Baking soda

If powdery mildew — a common white fungus that often spreads quickly — is causing your plants trouble, baking soda and its antibacterial properties may help. Combine 1 teaspoon of baking soda and a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a 32-ounce spray bottle, fill the rest of the bottle with water, give everything a vigorous shake, and thoroughly spray any affected areas of your plant (including the underside of leaves). Apply early in the morning for three to five days and remember: The key is to catch powdery mildew in its beginning stages, before it’s taken over your entire plant.

2. Dish soap

Aphids are gross. These sticky little insects tend to cluster together — often under leaves or in budding flowers — and feed off plant sap, excreting sugars from your unhappy plant that can attract hungry ants. (Fun fact: Ants will “farm” aphids, moving them from infested plants to healthy ones to ensure a scrumptious supply of sugary ant food.) The good news? A little gentle dish soap can help repel aphids and other tiny pests, including thrips and whiteflies. Shake up a tablespoon of dish soap in a 32-ounce spray bottle full of water, and then let the aphids have it! Knock them off your plant with the hardest nozzle setting, drenching the affected area and the soil where they fall. If any sticky residue remains, wipe away with a wet, soapy cloth.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

3. Club soda

If you find a half-empty bottle of flat club soda hiding in the back of your fridge, don’t pour it down the drain — give it to a thirsty houseplant! Club soda is filled with nutrients that help make leaves greener and root systems stronger. Just be sure the soda is unflavored and has lost its fizz — many plant varieties won’t appreciate bubbles or the acidity of, say, a hint of lemon or blackberry.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

4. Chili peppers

One of the joys of gardening is attracting wildlife to your outdoor space. But there is a fine line between sharing your garden and being taking advantage of. If birds, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and other furry and feathery creatures are nibbling and digging up more than you’d like, this spicy concoction can help. Wear gloves to prevent irritation, then mince five or six fresh hot chilies (seeds and all!), and let them soak in a half cup of vegetable oil for three or four days. Next, strain the spicy oil (there’s no need to keep the pepper bits and chunks) into a gallon of water with four tablespoons of dish soap. Give the mixture several shakes in a spray bottle and thoroughly spray affected plants (and the soil around them) either early in the morning or in the evening. Do this for several days in a row and hopefully the critters will move on to a less-spicy snack. One word of warning: Many find that this spray can change the flavor of edibles (chili-flavored lettuce is no one’s favorite!), so you may want to avoid spraying anything that may end up on your dinner plate or snack bowl.

Credit: Kristin Teig

5. Beer

Do you know who else likes cold beer after a day working in the garden? Slugs. That’s right, those pesky garden critters can’t resist a beer trap. In the evening when slugs are particularly active, fill up a few tuna cans (or a similar-sized container) with beer and place them strategically around the garden, especially near crops or plants that are getting chomped on. When you wake in the morning, you’ll find that your plant’s unwanted slimy companions will have climbed into the tins and drowned in the brew. There’s no need to use your fanciest IPA or lager — a simple can of cheap beer will do.

What other pantry items have you used to take care of your plants? Tell us in the comments below.