Growing your own produce and flowers can be more expensive than buying them from the store unless you know how to save money gardening. That’s something I learned the hard way with my first garden, an impromptu undertaking I launched because I was bored one Saturday. My husband, who was an equally inexperienced gardener, helped me rip the sod off a 20×20 foot corner of our backyard, then amend and till the soil.
We figured the cost of renting a tiller and adding bags of compost and sand to lighten our clay soil would be the biggest costs. The following weekend when we went to the garden center to buy plants we learned better.
Of course, by that point it was already so late in the growing season that directly sowing seeds into the soil wasn’t an option. We wound up buying several dozen vegetable and herb seedlings and almost as many flower starts. The total cost was almost as much as our monthly mortgage payment!
Okay, so the garden looked amazing that year, and we were proud of our abundant homegrown vegetables. I learned how to can things like salsa that summer and when it was too hot to fire up the canner, I’d take armfuls of produce to our grateful neighbors. But as we put the garden to bed for the winter I realized we had to learn how to save money gardening or my new little hobby would land us in the poorhouse.
That was almost twenty years ago. Despite moving house several times, I’ve continued to garden because I enjoy it so much. Fortunately, I’ve also learned how to save money gardening and now it typically costs me less than $40, not including the water bill. Here’s how you can reduce your gardening costs, too.
How To Save Money Gardening
These six tips will help you keep costs down without sacrificing variety and enjoyment.
1. Location, location, location.
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. Think long-term
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 but you’ll enjoy them for years to come. Some vegetables are perennials, too. Asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, globe artichokes, and watercress will all return year after year, making them worth the investment if they’re also suitable for your hardiness zone. Berries which grow on brambles like raspberries and blackberries are also perennial, though they can quickly take over a garden so should be planted carefully.
3. Sow what you reap
Many showy annual flowers like poppies, larkspurs, coreopsis, cosmos, and hollyhocks will reseed themselves at the end of the flowering season, so next year you won’t need to buy them again. Allow other annuals to set seed then harvest and dry them on a paper towel indoors for a week. Once they’re thoroughly dry, slip the seeds into an envelope, seal and label it for next year. Do the same with vegetable seeds, like those from peas, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, even tomatoes. Note, though, if you’re harvesting from F1 hybrids the plants you grow from their seeds next year might not be the same.
4. Double up
The process for growing plants from seed at the garden center is the same one you use at home: sow several seeds in a container, keep them moist until they grow, and thin them before they get too big. Sometimes garden centers aren’t as thorough about thinning seedlings as a home gardener, so you’ll find two or more seedlings growing in the same pot. If they’re not a plant which doesn’t handle transplanting well (like beets and peas), then buying a container with multiple seedlings is actually a bargain. When you get home, carefully tease the seedlings apart with your fingers and plant them in individually prepared holes at the recommended spacing. Now you’ve got two or more for the price of one!
5. Don’t rush
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 buy because 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. Waiting until late August to buy small trees and shrubs will also save you money, and actually, fall is the best time to plant them.
6. Watch the calendar
Most seeds need to be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. You can do this indoors with individual seed pots purchased from the garden center, or plant several seeds in an old flower pot. Keep the soil moist by misting several times a day until the second set of true leaves appears, then transplant them into their own pots to continue growing until they’re ready to plant in the garden.
Once you know how to save money gardening you’ll be able to grow your own vegetables and flowers economically, which means you’ll have more “green” in your wallet, too!