As they prepare to dig into the dirt, budget-conscious gardeners might consider a trip to the City of Austin’s Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center. The center, near Ben White Boulevard at , has a variety of items that gardeners might find useful. And the price is perfect: nothing.

"People are always very excited to get free stuff," said Scott Johnson, environmental program specialist with Austin Resource Recovery.

The most popular garden freebie is the wood mulch, which is made from yard trimmings collected curbside, according to the city. Getting the mulch is self-serve, so people need to bring their own gloves, shovels, containers or other tools; staff members are not available to help. As well, the mulch is "not available to businesses," according to Austin Resource Recovery. Mulch is available during the center’s open hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

(However, Johnson recommends not to arrive just before closing time hoping to fill up a big truck.) No appointment is necessary.

Ana Maria Lerma, 60, and two family members recently filled the back of a pickup truck with the wood mulch.

Using 5-gallon buckets to dump the mulch into the truck, the three women took about 20 minutes, she said. "I think it’s a record," said Lerma, a gardener. She said she gets some free mulch a few times a year, "whenever gardening season comes around."

The center has other items gardeners might like. For example, large quantities of cardboard are available; this can be used for some gardening projects, such as for ground cover.

An elementary school near the center recently received 1,400 pounds of cardboard for a garden, Johnson said.

As well, the center also sometimes has various other garden-related products — from fertilizers to fungicides — that have been collected through drop-offs at the center.

Though not an official city program, Johnson said, about two years ago such garden products started getting set aside.

"We were collecting reusable materials," Johnson said. If the items are still in an original container with the label and still "serviceable" (for example, the squirter still works), Johnson said, those items could be set out to be taken for reuse.

"It’s kind of a pet project," Johnson said. "I’d rather help people grow food than make garbage."

Johnson asks that people wanting to check out what products are available make an appointment with him via email, at Scott.Johnson2@austintexas.gov. His hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays.

Usually a couple of people a week make appointments, he said.

He cannot reserve items, he said, so he recommends that people make multiple trips over time.

"It’s first come, first serve," he said. "We usually don’t have everything one person needs at one time."

"This program collects lawn and garden supplies and makes them available to community/home gardeners, schools, churches, and basically anyone who is involved in gardening in their community," according to information from Johnson.

Although "we can’t promise anything," said Susanne Harm, public information specialist senior with Austin Resource Recovery, "this is a good resource for gardeners."

Besides helping gardeners, "It saves the city money because it costs the city money to properly dispose of chemicals," Harm said.

Also, "To help Austin reach its Zero Waste goal by 2040, the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center’s main goal is to keep these resources from ending up in landfills," according to Harm.

"There are times when there is lots and lots of stuff in here," Johnson said. One day in mid-April the sparsely filled shelves in a shed contained items such as organic fungicide, diatomaceous earth, root stimulator, grass and weed killer, soil activator, horticultural molasses and liquid seaweed, among others.

Occasionally, more esoteric items, such as orchid food, can end up in there, and popular name brands can be found sometimes, too.

Organic gardening supplements are among the most popular items people take, Johnson said. "It seems to be what most home gardeners would want to use, and it can get expensive," he said.

Those who take such free items (not including the mulch or cardboard) are asked to sign a waiver that states, among other things, "The City of Austin stresses that it CANNOT GUARANTEE the integrity, safety, usability, or effectiveness of the products that are taken."

(However, Johnson said, "I am vigilant as far as not putting out banned chemicals.")

In an attempt at fairness, the waiver also asks recipients to take "only what they need."

Overall, Johnson said, "People are very appreciative; especially in community gardens and in schools, money can be tight."