If you're creating a container garden, you may have noticed one particularly important piece of the puzzle can be hard to come by—the dirt!

One big tip right off the bat. As you hunt for dirt, you want to make sure it's clean fill, which means it's free of debris and contaminants. Usually this is the case when someone is doing a project like putting in a pool, driveway, or other project where they're digging into the property. It's not so often the case in construction sites or excavation areas. So when you're searching, make sure you know what you're getting.

Sources for Free Soil

Craigslist A favorite site for bargains, surf the "free" section or post a wanted add for clean fill. People are sometimes surprised at the amount of dirt they need to get rid of when doing projects, and it could be your free way to a container garden. You might also ask people if they have dead plants in pots they want to get rid of. Since these are usually a giant chunk of dirt and root when they come out of the containers, you can easily cart away the "icky" part that can become great soil with care and some extra compost.

Landscaping Companies These will be more of a challenge, since it's likely they'll want to keep dirt for themselves for future projects. But it's worth a phone call to the companies listed in your yellow pages to see if they have extra dirt from a recently completed project that they'd be willing to part with.

The Dump Your local dump might be a source for free dirt. Sometimes they have composting facilities and, with luck, they offer finished compost for free. If it isn't free, it's likely pretty cheap. It's definitely worth calling nearby dumps to see if they offer this, and if not, if they know of local facilities that do.

Tons of Dirt A website called TonsofDirt that connects dirt havers with dirt seekers just might be the thing you're looking for. You sign up and can access maps and listings for free fill for your project. It's easy to use and you just might get lucky by finding someone close by with dirt to unload right into your containers.

Free Dirt Another website to check out is FreeDirt You plug in your zipcode and up pops listings of places offering free dirt. When you click on a listing, it gives you more details like the quality and how much is available. Not everything listed, though, is free.

Google If you Google "dirt fill exchange" or something similar, you might find some local organizations that can help you out, such as gardeners networks.