The best way to save money gardening is, of course, to grow your plants from seed starting 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. If you didn’t get an early start, don’t worry: here’s how to save money at the garden center using these tips.
1. Know what grows well in your climate. If you live in the northern reaches of the country, you’ll never coax an Angel’s Trumpet vine to cover your gazebo in one season, and it won’t live longer than that outdoors. Likewise, Southern gardeners will find pansies don’t last past late May, and cilantro bolts almost as fast as you can plant it. Spend the time researching your plant hardiness zone (they’ve changed recently!) and select specimens that do best in your particular climate.
2. Buy mostly zone-appropriate perennials. Perennial plants bloom year after year, with the best flowering taking place in the second year and beyond. By filling your garden primarily with perennials, you only have to pay once.
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3. When buying annuals, look for those that reseed themselves. Poppies, larkspurs, coreopsis, cosmos, hollyhocks and some other showy annuals will reseed themselves at the end of the flowering season, so next year you won’t need to buy them again.
4. Look for multiple seedlings in a pot. Many times you’ll find two seedlings growing in the same pot, so you can get two plants for the price of one. Before purchase, make sure the plants aren’t root-bound (check the bottom and make sure no roots are growing out of the holes there). When you get it home, carefully tease the seedlings apart with your fingers and plant them in individually prepared holes at the recommended spacing.
5. Shop late in the season for good deals. Since our summers tend to be very hot, our local garden center cuts the price of perennials by 2/3 starting in late June, a time when most people are afraid to plant because the new plants require so much watering. I’ve scored great deals by waiting until late June to buy some of the more expensive perennials I’d been hankering for. By running a timer-operated soaker hose at their base, I’ve had great luck getting them to grow despite planting them during a heat wave.
Bonus tip: Get a jump start on next year’s garden by saving seeds from this year’s plants. Just let a few set seed, collect the pods, and sun-dry them before storing in labeled envelopes. Over the winter you can check for the recommended time to start the seeds indoors, or sew them directly in the garden after your last frost date.