Growing flowers, herbs, and vegetables is a wonderful hobby. But it can get expensive unless you know how to save money gardening.
Have you seen the Facebook meme about someone growing tomatoes? They spend a small fortune to raise things they could’ve bought from the store for a couple of bucks. It’s funny because it’s true. Or, rather, it can be if you don’t know a few tricks to save money gardening.
Hoping to Grow Your Own Food to Save Money?
Gardening can get expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s something I learned the hard way with my first garden. One boring Saturday, I decided we needed to grow our own food. That sounded good to my husband, who also had no experience gardening. That day we ripped up sod in a 20×20-foot corner of our backyard.
We knew, at least, that we needed to improve the soil, which would mean tilling. At that point, we hadn’t even decided what to plant. But we figured renting a tiller and buying stuff to improve our soil would be our biggest costs. So, we spent that weekend digging in compost and a little aged manure.
I Did Everything Wrong with My First Garden
Now, starting a garden can be hard work. So it took us several days to recover before we were ready to go back to the garden center. That’s when we also learned that it was too late in the growing season to direct sow seeds. We were stuck buying live herb, flower, and vegetable plants to fill our garden.
The total cost of the plants alone was almost as much as our monthly mortgage payment. But we had a huge bare patch of dirt in our suburban yard that couldn’t just sit empty. So, we handed over our credit card and ate ramen for the next month.
Hopefully, You’ll Learn from My Mistakes
In all honesty, our garden looked terrific that first year. We were proud of our abundant homegrown vegetables, and I loved having fresh flowers in the house. I learned how to can things like salsa and jam that summer. When it was too hot to fire up the canner, I’d give armfuls of produce to our neighbors. They loved it.
But as we put the garden to bed for the winter, I realized we had to learn how to save money gardening. Either that, or we needed to fill in that back corner with new sod. I could not bear the thought of eating more ramen.
That was over twenty years ago. Despite moving house several times, I’ve started a garden at every new home. It’s one of the most rewarding hobbies I’ve ever had and can be a fantastic exercise, too. But I’ve only kept at it because I finally learned how to save money gardening. Now, I spend roughly $40 on plants and seeds each year, and my garden saves us far, far more than that.
How To Save Money Gardening
Here are six tips I’ve learned in 20 years of growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers. They’ll show you how to save money gardening whether you’re starting from seeds or buying plants at the store.
1. Don’t Fight Your Hardiness Zone
Your hardiness zone determines which plants will thrive in your climate. Don’t fight it. Spend time researching your plant hardiness zone. If you think you know yours, check again — they’ve changed! Then select specimens that do best in your particular climate.
Are you dreaming of brilliant bougainvillea vines covering your gazebo? If you live up north, it’s not going to happen. The vine will die in your harsh winter. Want to line your front walk with colorful pansies? If you live in the South, these heat-intolerant flowers will be dead by June. Ignoring your zone will cost you money, and your garden will probably look bad, too.
2. Think Long-Term
Annual plants grow, bloom, and die within the span of a year. They’re showy and gorgeous, but they’ll drain your gardening budget fast. If you’re willing to be a bit more patient, perennial plants are worth the wait. These plants bloom year after year. Some die down to the ground over the winter, only to return in the Spring. Others stay above ground but go dormant until the temperatures warm up again.
By filling your garden with perennial flowers, 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 are perennial in some hardiness zones. Berries that grow on brambles are also perennial. (Be careful, though — blackberries and raspberries can take over your garden!)
3. Reap and Sow Seeds
If you can’t imagine gardening without annual flowers, chose ones which reseed themselves. Poppies, larkspurs, coreopsis, cosmos, and hollyhocks all prolific spreaders. Let a few of their blossoms turn to seed, and nature will take care of the rest.
With other annuals, you can harvest the seeds yourself. This involves waiting for a few blossoms to go to seed. When they’re ready, harvest and dry them on a paper towel indoors for a week. Slip the seeds into an envelope, label it, and sow them in the spring. You can do the same with most non-hybrid vegetable seeds, too. (Related: How to Make Seed Tape.)
4. Double up
Garden nurseries plant seeds the same way you do. They fill a container with a growing medium and sow several seeds at once. But sometimes, they don’t thin them all. Look for containers that have several healthy seedlings. When you get home, tease them apart with your fingers and plant them at the recommended spacing. Now you’ve got two or more plants for the price of one.
Double up on how you plant, too. Planting strawberries under roses keeps birds from stealing your berries. Tucking attractive vegetables like Swiss Chard into your flower beds adds color while saving space. In the vegetable garden, look into proven methods like Square Foot Planting to get the most out of every inch of soil.
5. Plant Ahead
Where I live, summers get too hot to plant by mid-June. That’s when our local garden center marks down the price of perennials, sometimes up to 70 percent. By that point, most people have already filled in their gardens and aren’t looking for more plants. So, it’s a great time to buy!
The key to planting late in the season is keeping things watered well, especially on hot days. You can do this by hand if you’re willing to water at least twice a day. Or, take some of the work out by running a timer-operated soaker hose at the base of your new plants. (This summer, I treated myself to this one.) Schedule it to run morning and night, and they’ll thrive.
6. Plant Seeds on Time
By far, the least expensive way to grow a garden is by starting it from seed. If you want to get a jump-start on your garden, start your seeds early indoors.
Starting seeds is simple. You only need to fill egg cartons or other small containers with potting soil and add seeds. Keep them moist until you see two sets of leaves, then move them to a sunny spot and water them daily. Once your last frost date has passed, transplant your seedlings outside. It’s that easy. And now that you know how to save money gardening, you’ll have more “green” in your wallet, too!