Gardening is a perfect outdoor activity. It can be hard work, depending on what you start with, but think of it as your workout time. Other people go jogging. You get a shovel and start digging! The good news is there are ways to garden on a budget, but you have to be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity at a moment’s notice. Here are ways to save money and still have the garden of your dreams.
1. Plan your garden.
Whether you are starting with an empty lot or working with a neglected space, you need to start with a plan. The first thing to do is to critically look at what currently exists.
Are any trees or shrubs salvageable with a little pruning and some TLC? Do you like them and do you like their current location? If you want to have a vegetable garden, you need to locate it in the sunniest area of your yard. If that spot has a tree in it, you will have to make a choice. Do you plan on raised beds or ground level gardens, or both?
After you figure it all out on paper, go out in your yard with some landscape paint or some way to mark your plan for real. You may decide that a ten-by-ten-foot veggie garden won’t be nearly large enough to grow what you want. This is the time to make changes. Make a master list of all the plants you would like in your yard and how many. That way, if you see a plant sale, you will know what you need.
2. Start digging.
This part of gardening on a budget is free! Start digging out the sod and debris from the areas that will be your garden. Once the area is cleaned, you can start to amend the soil to prepare the area for planting. Start a compost pile out of the leaves and lawn clippings. If you know anyone who farms, ask if you can have some aged manure to add to the soil. If not, watch for sales of compost and fertilizer at the garden centers.
3. Edge your borders.
This may just be digging in the edge with a shovel right now, but you will be ready to add the stone border or edging strips later. There may not be a single plant at first, but everything is ready to go when you are.
4. Spread the word.
Let all your friends and relatives know that if they have any unwanted plants or they need to divide their perennials, you will help in exchange for some free plants. Ask if they have more seedlings than they want and offer to buy them. Most gardeners will just give them to you or sell them for less than you would pay at the garden center.
5. Buy seeds on sale.
Until the new seeds come out each year, seed companies try to sell high-quality flower and vegetable seeds on sale. Seeds that are left from the current year are sold at a significant mark-down. There is nothing wrong with the seeds; you just may need to compromise on the variety you want. Keep the seeds in a sealed container until spring, and they should be fine. If you are worried about germination, test them by placing some seeds between two sheets of damp paper towel. Keep the paper damp and see what percentage of the seeds start to sprout.
6. Start your seeds indoors.
If you can start your seeds indoors instead of buying plants at the local garden center, you will save a ton of money, especially if you bought your seeds during a seed sale. At the garden center, plants are sold in packs of three, four, or six. The problem is that you may not want three cherry tomatoes or four kale plants.
Or maybe your favorite color is pink, and you want all your flowers on your patio to be shades of pink. Your garden center only sells zinnias in six-packs of mixed colors. The seed company sells you a package of pink zinnia seeds for less than the cost of a six-pack.
7. Save seeds.
Some flowers produce lots of seeds each year if you let them. When their growing season is ending, allow the flowers to go to seed and collect them for next year. Flowers like columbine will flower in early spring and then go to seed. You can collect the seeds and just scatter them where you want more. Only a few will grow (some will be eaten by the birds, and some never make contact with the ground to set roots) but, if that is okay with you, this is the easiest.
You can, of course, start the seeds inside with tools like the Park Seed BioDome Seed Starting Kit during the winter and plant outside in the spring and guarantee the number of plants you want. Other flowers like cosmos set lots of seeds and, if you collect them in the fall, they can be planted in the spring directly into the soil.
8. Take cuttings.
Many plants root very easily from cuttings. Two that are very easy are impatiens and coleus. Choose the plant you want to duplicate and cut the ends off each branch. The cutting should be about four inches long. Some gardeners like to start their cutting in water. Roots will grow from the stem when in water.
As soon as you see the roots are showing, plant the cutting in soil. The preferred method is to plant directly in soil. Just don’t let the soil dry out. Keep the soil damp and use a rooting compound. This is a powder, and you dip the stem of the cutting in water and then in the rooting compound and plant in soil. The compound will encourage the plant to form roots.
By spring, you will have many substantial-sized plants. Try taking cuttings of any plant you particularly like and want more of. It won’t hurt the original plant and you may be successful with some of them.
Spend your money on the plants you really want and need in your garden and fill in with your free and almost-free plants. Soon you’ll be able to pay it forward by sharing your excess plants.
Tip: If you are new to gardening and don’t have any tools, check out estate sales. They can be a great source of quality tools sold inexpensively. A little cleaning and sharpening may be all you need to do.