Inside: Whether for landscaping or food, find out how to start gardening on a budget.
Maybe it’s where we live with the nice climate and mild winters as everyone seems to have a garden. Whether it is small plantings, elaborate landscaping including hardscaping, or removing lawns in favor of naturescaping, plants are everywhere around here.
We…well we are rather lazy gardeners and try to do our gardening on a budget. So, we haven’t torn up our entire yard to landscape or naturescape as so many of our neighbors have done. But, we do appreciate nice looking plants, a few edibles and trying to do it all without spending a lot of money.
So, what do we do? We started small, tried a few different plants over the years to see what works, and slowly build our garden.
Seeds cost around $1 to $3 per packet and so it is the obvious choice for saving the most money on plants. You can start seeds indoors with a few supplies such as a warming mat and grow light which can be reused each year. Or, if your growing season is long enough, sow the seeds outside in the garden once the soil has warmed.
Now, if your seed starting efforts have been hit-or-miss or your growing season is short, you may prefer to buy starts. You can find small starts for about $3-$7 for a six-pack. A more mature plant could cost upwards of $20 or more, so the smaller starts in the 2” cells is often a better buy.
I have done both seeds and starts, and lately have been buying mostly starts. It isn’t the least expensive option but is one that works for me and my not-so-green thumb. We usually restrict this to plants such as tomatoes, basil, and peppers along with a few annuals for container plantings.
Only plant foods you like
If you are going to plant fruits and vegetables, the surest way to make it a money-losing proposition is to buy things your family doesn’t like.
We have blueberry bushes and strawberry plants along with some herbs and those all get used and provide greenery. But, we have wasted money on things like peas and green beans. They were great to grow, but I am the only person in the family that would eat them, so it wasn’t worth it, in my opinion.
Take the time to make a list of fruits and vegetables that your family likes, then cross off any that don’t grow well in your area or take up more garden space than you can allot. After that, you should have a good list of edibles on your list.
Plants that might be good for kids to grow (ie: are harder for me to kill) include peas, green beans, radish, mesclun greens, zucchini, mint (in a pot only!), and strawberries.
Share with friends
Another great way to save money on gardening is to share with friends. You can do this from the start by sharing seeds. If you have a smaller garden, you will find that many seed packs come with more seeds than you can use in a year or two. In that case, get together with a friend and share seeds with one another. You can also share divisions and rootings.
You can also share your harvest with your friends. Maybe you had a bumper crop of tomatoes and she is waist deep in cucumbers. Do a swap and you can share in each others bounty and get a few good salads out of it as well.
Rather than buying expensive fertilizers for your plants, use compost. You can save the most money by making your own compost with yard debris and fruit and vegetable bits that would normally go in the trash. There are tutorials on how to make your own compost using various methods.
Some municipalities offer inexpensive compost for sale from composted yard debris they pick up or farms may offer manure for free (especially scoop-your-own).
The compost not only feeds the plants but helps improve soil structure.
While not absolutely needed, it is recommended you use mulch. Mulch cuts down on weeds and helps the soil retain water. You can find free or cheap mulch by calling tree trimming services to ask if they have wood chips for free. In the fall, if you use a lawn mower, mow your leaves to shred them and then use those as a free mulch in your garden.
Use perennials and self-sowing plants
Remember how I said we are rather lazy gardeners? If that is you and you also like to save money, then perennials are your friend. Plant once, enjoy for years.
You can usually propagate your perennials for more plants, free. I have divided ferns, hosta, and daylilies successfully and our rhubarb will be ready to divide this fall as well.
Check for your particular plant, but most can be divided in the fall or early spring. This gives the roots time to recover and establish themselves before growing season. Some plants you can periodically divide, thereby getting more, free (or to swap with a friend) include:
- Black-eyed Susan
Other plants may self-seed, also giving back with little to no effort. Some of these self-seeding plants include
- Shasta daisy
- Bachelor’s buttons
- California poppy
For us, we have experience with the shasta daisy and borage. They were very easy to care for and readily self-seeded. In fact, maybe a bit too easy. You may want to check with local gardeners or nursery to see if certain plants are harder to contain in your area.
On the other hand, about 5 years ago I planted a small globe oregano plant which has slowly spread to a 2’ x 4’ patch. We also divided a huge fern in the back yard. The division looked sad the first year and then took off. Now I am hoping to divide both plants again so we can have a few more ferns in the yard.
Gardening on a budget
Gardening is a great way to get some fresh air, exercise, and save money on healthy food. Keep in simple and inexpensive by grabbing a shovel, some seeds and a bit of water to get started.
What are your tips for saving money on gardening?