Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned veteran, saving as much money as you can while growing organically and enjoying the best garden possible makes sense. After all, who wants to throw money down the drain? These practical yet unique tips can help you make the best of what you have so that you can hold on to more of that hard-earned cash.
1. Do your research
It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out or have an established garden – the more you know, the more you’ll save, and there’s always something new to learn. Research gardening websites online, read books, magazines and anything else you can find. Just keep in mind that when it comes to free advice (and even advice you pay for), profits may motivate some of it, so double check if you aren’t sure.
2. Be a savvy shopper
Before you buy anything, including garden-related items, it pays to comparison shop. Both price and quality can vary dramatically depending where you go – buying local is a good idea when you can as you’ll be supporting your local community, though you might find good bargains from online garden centers too. Be sure to factor in the shipping cost when purchasing from catalogs or online retailers. To avoid shipping fees, it may be best to check with your local nursery first. If that’s not an option, you may want to make a larger purchase via catalog or online so that you don’t have to pay any more for shipping than you absolutely have to.
When you are out and about, shopping at your local nursery or home improvement store, do your best to avoid impulse buys, and be sure you have an appropriate spot for that plant before you take it home or it could up being a total waste.
If you’re able to share the costs with gardening neighbors or friends, buying in bulk can save you lots too – the same applies if you need to rent equipment like a lawn aerator or tiller. If you can find one or more other people who can use it, you’ll pay a fraction of the cost. When you need gardening tools, pots, containers and so on, check yard sales and your local classifieds as they can be a treasure trove of good deals on supplies, especially when compared to the retail cost.
3. Think carefully about your garden’s location
It’s important to do some careful planning when it comes to the location of your garden because if it ends up failing or having to be relocated, it’ll be a big waste of both time and money. The position of your garden should first and foremost be chosen for convenience. After all, it is for your enjoyment. If you have to walk 10 minutes to get to your vegetable garden, for example, odds are, you’re going to forget about those important things like weeding, watering, and harvesting.
Pay attention to your yard in the months before planting, and note which areas get the most sun and which get some shade. A vegetable garden should be getting at least six hours of sunlight each day and have good drainage – plants can’t grow in waterlogged soil. The position of your garden should be somewhat elevated, if it sits on a hill or in an indentation in the ground, it will have a hard time drying out and your plants will suffer. The garden also needs a level location with loose, rich soil, and a water source nearby.
4. Make the best use of the space you have
No matter how big or small, you can make that return on investment stretch further by making wise use of the space you have. That means growing as much as you can, but in a carefully planned out way. You might consider square foot gardening, for example, which uses a square or group of squares to devote certain plants; create raised beds or even grow vertical. You might be surprised t find just how easy it is to train some plants, like cucumbers or tomatoes, to grow upward.
5. Plant from seeds instead of buying plants
If you buy plants from the store for your garden, you’re going to be paying a lot more than if you’d started them from seeds. Seeds typically cost just pennies, while plants can run several dollars or more. Plus, you can start seeds indoors to get a jumpstart on your harvest too. Just keep in mind that there are some plants that are particularly difficult to start from seed, or struggle at transplanting and may decide they don’t like their new spot in your garden. Do some research first about the variety you’re thinking of planting before sowing seed.
6. Save your own seeds
While it’s exciting to go through all of those seed catalogs in the winter and dream about everything you might be able to grow in the spring, it’s also easy to end up spending hundreds on all of those amazing varieties. By saving your own seeds, you can save big, just be sure to save non-hybrid, or heirloom seeds only. You can also spoil yourself and get a few new varieties each year as a special treat if you really want to.
7. Participate in a seed swap
If you don’t have all the seeds you need but have some, you can see if someone else in your area is in a similar situation. They may have some of the seeds you want and vice versa. This season, be sure to save more of the seeds than what you’ll need personally so you can do a swap next time. Not only is it fun, but those seed savings can add up rather quickly.
8. Choose high-yield plants and those that are pricey at the store
When you devote your time, money and space to planting, you’ll want to choose plants that will bring the highest yields in order to get the biggest return on your investment. That’s even more important when working with a smaller space so that you can make the most of what you have. While it’s under a bit of a debate, in general, some of the best, most cost-effective yet high-yielding varieties tend to include:
Growing vertical, as mentioned, not only makes the best use of space, it will help to stretch your yields even more. Another thing to consider is that you not only want high yields, but you want to be able to save money at the grocery store, so be sure to grow fruits and vegetables that you frequently use and enjoy, but also tend to have the highest prices in order to maximize savings.
9. Grow perennials
For the most part, perennials cost more to purchase than annuals, but once they’ve been established, they will come back year after year, and you’ll not only save money in the long run but also the time of starting them year after year. Plus, for the price of a little digging, you can double or triple your perennial holdings and trade divisions with your friends and neighbors. Spring is the perfect time to that – by choosing certain plants, like asters, campanula, rudbeckias, hostas, coral bells, daylilies and cranesbill geraniums, you’ll have an easy time and they’ll reward you with practically care-free growth.
10. Make your own planters and trellises with materials you have on hand
If you wanted to, you could spend an arm and a leg on gorgeous planters and trellises, but unless you have a ton of extra cash to spare, why not make your own? Odds are, you have materials on hand right at home, or you might be able to restore old ones, and save lots of money in the process.
This is the time to get creative – what do you have lying around? Happen to have an extra tub or toilet, lying around after a recent renovation? Transform your old bathtub into a vegetable garden or make an herb garden in your toilet bowl. An old wooden or aluminum ladder is perfect for supporting climbing pole or runner bean tendrils, just open the ladder in the garden and plant seeds at its base. If you have an old inner-spring mattress sitting around, you could turn it into a bean trellis – just attach it between a couple of wooden 4X4s and smother them with vining pole beans, which can then easily be harvested from both sides of the metal frame – it could also be used to grow squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes or pretty much any other vining crop.
Items found around the house, garage, shed, or thrift stores can be made into raised beds, trellises, garden markers, and more. It’s an ideal way to personalize and add character to your garden.
11. Start a compost pile
While it may be a more obvious tip, this is one that should never be overlooked. A compost pile can create lots of organic fertilizer from your very own kitchen scraps, like uneaten fruits and vegetables, eggshells and coffee grounds, which can easily be composted. Of course, you can also add the usual grass clippings, leaves and such. Once the hot summer months hit, your compost pile should start breaking down quickly, creating a nutritious addition to your soil.
12. Use leftovers in creative ways
In addition to tossing some of those leftovers into your compost pile, you may be able to use them in other ways to benefit your garden soil, and that includes the water that’s left over in your pan after cooking vegetables. While few would think twice about pouring it down the drain, that water is actually chock-full of vitamins and minerals that your plants could be using, so why waste it? After the water has cooled down, you can use it to water your garden while putting precious nutrients back into the soil.
13. Look for free manure
Manure can cost $5 or more for each 50-pound bag that you buy at the store, and that small amount won’t go a long way. But if you live within a reasonable driving distance of a rural area, you’re likely to be able to find at least a farm or two with a surplus of manure – and many of those farms are looking to get rid of it when spring rolls around. Most realize that local gardeners can use it, so you may see those farms posting in the classified or online on sites like Craigslist and other forums. Take advantage and you’ll save big, while your garden gets some important nutrients too.
14. Save on water
Water is a precious resource – and, it can be expensive in some areas. In areas affected by droughts, it’s even more important to conserve it, but no matter where you live, finding creative ways to water your garden is a good idea. Just a few of the things you can do include:
Collect rainwater in rain barrels. They’re a great way for harvest free water to use in your garden. In fact, the average gardener can save more than 1,000 gallons of water every summer simply by using a rain barrel. Better Homes & Gardens offers an easy DIY rain barrel you can put together within just a couple of hour right here.
Water your soil and not the foliage. That way you don’t waste it, and it gets to the roots where the plants actually need it.
Reuse grey water. Reuse your household grey water – that includes water from your shower, tub, sink and washing machine, but not water that’s come into contact with feces, either from washing cloth diapers or toilets.
Grow native plants. By growing native plants that are well-suited for your particular growing zone, they won’t need supplemental watering.
Be sure to use mulch. As much as 70 percent of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if you don’t have mulch as a protective layer on top. This is one of the best moisture holding strategies you can employ as it prevents evaporation from the soil surface, helps suppress water-thieving weeds from growing and it may add vital nutrients to the soil at the same time.
15. Properly care for your garden tools
Good quality, well-maintained garden tools can last for generations. Simply rinse soil off digging tools after each use by making a pit stop at the garden hose. Dry thoroughly afterward and then keep them indoors, hanging up, and away from moisture at all times.
16. Extend your growing seasons
Adding time to the beginning or the end of your growing season means adding to what your garden will be giving back to you. And, more produce means less money spent on produce at the store. If you live in a colder climate, a DIY greenhouse can prevent your plants from freezing. The “Empress of Dirt” offers free instructions for a great mini-dome greenhouse here.
17. Let nature do what it does best
Being a neat freak is not a good thing when it comes to your garden – nature is messy because that’s what it requires to exist. Remember, moist things live on decaying matter, so for example, instead of getting rid of that old tree stump, let it stick around so that it remains a big component of the food chain.