Gardening is a great way to increase the curb appeal and value of your home, save money on organic fruit and vegetables, get fresh air and exercise, relax, and enjoy nature. However, for many people the costs of plants, fertilizers, gardening implements, furniture, building materials, and more can quickly add up. Here are ten simple ways to save money and still have a beautiful garden.
1. Don't go to garden shows or read gardening magazines
These events and publications are professionally designed to make you discontent with what you already have in order to separate you from your money. Don't fall for it. Focus on the experiences and tastes you want to get from your garden and make it happen without too much outside input. If you need solid and specific information, you can't beat the gardening books at your local library. They can help you do pretty much anything, from planning a whole home farm to finding a plant that loves shade for that one spot where nothing will grow.
2. Use what you have
Before you purchase anything, whether it is a plant, a gardening tool, or a piece of lawn furniture, take a thorough and creative look at what you already own. Are there plants languishing in one part of your yard that would do better elsewhere? Do you have a patch of daylilies, irises, or creeping phlox that you can divide and use to fill in a bare spot? Do you really need a special bulb planting tool, or will your trowel work just fine? One time, I decided I wanted a fire pit for our back yard. I looked at all kinds of fancy and overpriced metal fire pits online until I realized that the least expensive ones were nothing more than a metal ring to keep the fire contained. I re-purposed some bricks we already had in our yard, and, Voila! A fire pit that didn't cost a cent.
3. Plant for the long haul
You know those home improvement store ads that feature improbably large swaths of brightly colored flowers in a suddenly transformed lawn? Many of those featured flowers are annuals...plants that only last one growing season and then have to be repurchased and replanted the next year. There is a reason the stores want you to buy this kind of plant: they get to sell it to you every year! Instead, look for plants that are labeled "perennial." They'll keep coming back year after year, all on their own, and some even self-propagate. Imagine, instead of buying dozens of plants every year, you could buy a plant once and have it spread and multiply itself into abundance. That is the kind of deal that will keep you in the green!
4. Start your own seeds
Perennials are great (see point number one) but sometimes you'll want to grow annuals. Most vegetables, for instance, are annuals, as are a number of showy summer flowers. Instead of shelling out for the plants at your local home improvement store, though, you can save a lot of money by starting the plants yourself from seed. Starting seeds instead of relying on live plants will also exponentially increase the varieties you can grow. Through seed catalogs you have options you will never have at your local store...everything from purple tomatoes to dinner plate sized flowers.
5. Buy at the end of the season
You already know that you should buy your winter coat when the store is starting to stock spring clothes, right? The same holds true for plants. For major purchases like trees and shrubs, it can really pay off to wait until the end of summer to buy them. For instance, I'd been looking for a long time for the right tree for our front yard and when I finally found the Blue Colorado Spruce of my dreams, it was the end of the growing season. I paid a fraction of the full price because it was fall. Another benefit? Fall is a great time to plant shrubs and trees. The cooler temperatures give the plants a chance to grow and establish themselves before they have to endure the heat of a summer. Bonus tip: try the same strategy for lawn furniture. Retailers want to unload that before winter too.
6. Shop the clearance section
Another way to get a deal on plants is to check to see if your store has a clearance section. This is often a shelf or two with plants that look like they lost a potted version of the TV show Survivor. You'll pay pennies on the dollar, and it can be a fun gamble to take. The worst you'll do is lose a (very small) amount of money. If you can nurse the plant back to health, though, your enjoyment will come with a large helping of self-satisfaction.
7. Do the free stuff first
I think I first came across this idea at The Simple Dollar. It's a frugal principle that applies very well to gardening. There have been plenty of times that I wanted to go buy flowers at the store when what my garden really needed was general upkeep. Don't procrastinate by spending money! Get out and do what needs done. Odds are by the time you've deadheaded the petunias, weeded the vegetables, mowed, raked, tied up the beans/tomatoes, and trimmed the edges of the lawn, you'll be too tired to go to the store anyway. See that? Your garden looks great and you didn't spend a dime.
8. Make friends
Talk about gardening to the people you interact with on a daily basis. It can give you something fun to talk about with otherwise difficult people, and who knows? They might have extra plants to share! Once I decided I wanted a simple (and very common) spider plant for my hanging basket. I asked my Facebook friends if anybody had extra (it's a self-propagating plant) and sure enough, I ended up with a free plant that would have cost about $8.00 at Home Depot. Score!
9. Turn your trash into treasure: Compost!
Instead of spending large amounts of money on fertilizers for your garden, compost your kitchen scraps. It's good for the planet, your wallet, and your garden. Don't let the hoards of information on composting scare you. It can be very simple and easy: Contain the scraps in something that will tamp down the smell until you are ready to dig your garden under for the winter: then dig in the compost pile too.
10. A stitch in time
Pay attention to your garden. Don't neglect it for too long and you will be able to head off problems before they become bigger and possibly more expensive to fix. For instance, trimming back excess vegetation will allow air to circulate and dry off leaves so blight doesn't set in. Guide peas and beans, corral tomatoes, and dig out thistles before they all get out of hand.
11. Don't water your garden unless you have to
Depending on your climate and what that season's rainfall has been like, you could actually do more harm than good to your garden by watering it, especially if you water it from overhead with a hose. Feel the dirt to see how moist it is and then--only if you need to--water at ground level. More of the water will get to the roots and less will settle on the leaves and promote disease. You certainly don't want to have to pay for the privilege of making your plants sick!
If you are like me, you'll enjoy your garden even more when you sit back and think of all the ways you saved money while making it a beautiful and bountiful space. Happy gardening!