It can be easy to quickly fill your vehicle and blow your budget at seasonal greenhouses when spring fever fuels visions of a dream garden.
According to its annual survey, the National Gardening Association reports the average household spends $503 on gardening. Twenty-nine percent of gardeners are in the 18- to 34-year-old range, peak years for when it’s important to pinch pennies.
Fortunately, gardening can be one of the most budget-friendly hobbies if you plan well, have patience and do a little networking. Here are our top 10 tips for gardening on the cheap and protecting your investments.
Most seed packets contain more than any backyard gardener can use in a season. Find a neighbor or friend with whom you can split packets or set up a seed swap. It’s a great way to try more varieties of flowers and vegetables, without having to buy as many different seeds.
Use Up Older Seeds
If you have leftover seeds from previous seasons, you don’t necessarily have to throw them out. If you’re unsure whether they’re still viable, test them out by putting seeds between a few layers of damp paper towels. Put the paper towels on a paper plate and slide it inside an unsealed plastic gallon bag to hold the moisture but allow a little air flow. Within a couple of days, you can see which ones have sprouted and can be planted.
Buy vegetable or flower seeds to start indoors with seed starter trays or any DIY seed starter containers such as “free” well-washed yogurt cups, egg cartons or even cardboard toilet paper rolls.
Follow Planting Instructions
Seedlings need a few days to “harden off” (gradually adjusting to harsher outside temperatures and sunlight) before planting. This can avoid shock. Follow seed packet guidance on when to transition seedlings outdoors. Burpee’s free online growing calendar tailors planting information for your zip code.
Start Ready-to-Go Veggies
If you’re a complete beginner or working with young children, pick the least fussy vegetables and plant directly outdoors. Peas, lettuce and radishes sprout in cool conditions. Beans, cucumbers and summer squash like it warmer. Check the USDA plant hardiness zone guide to pick regionally appropriate plants and the right timing to start them outdoors for garden-fresh produce all season.
Find Garden Sales
If you crave a few unique varieties, check out garden club or public garden plant sales. Skip more expensive gallon-sized pots and look for less-expensive sturdy, healthy small seedlings. Seek a colorful assortment of heirloom tomatoes or sweet and spicy peppers or put together your own planters or hanging plants with a variety of annuals.
Revive Favorite Flowers
To avoid spending money on hanging or patio-ready flowerpots every spring, choose plants such as geraniums, wax begonias, dahlias, sweet potato vines and ivy, which can be cut back and brought inside for the winter. Begin watering them and put them in a sunny place in the early spring to generate fresh growth and another season of flowers.
Find a friend, neighbor or garden club member with whom you can swap seeds, seedlings or plants for a wider variety in your garden without spending extra money. Perennials, such as shade-loving hosta plants, can be expensive but are easy to divide and share once they’re established. Daylilies, ferns, iris, peonies, rudbeckia, coneflowers and daisies also multiply well and can be easily shared through dividing bulbs and plants.
Locate Plants Wisely
Don’t bungle your investment by putting plants where they won’t thrive. Pay attention to which plants can withstand full sun, partial shade or even deep shade. You can find free USDA grow guides for most plants and trees online. Also consider your soil, and whether the plants you choose like a moist environment or can tolerate sandy and well-drained soil. You can test your soil and modify it if needed.
Compost Enriches Soil
Collecting your kitchen food scraps and building a backyard compost pile or compost tumbler doubles as good for the environment and good for the garden budget. It creates a nutrient-rich additive for your garden soil and lessens the need for fertilizer. You can also take care of your soil and plants by mulching to retain moisture and prevent weeds.
Keep Away Garden Pests
When you’ve invested time and money into your gardens, you’ll want to keep pests from wiping out long-awaited flowers and vegetables. Consider pest deterrents such as bars of soap, homemade repellent sprays and marigolds to discourage rodents, deer and other wildlife. Building a fence does double duty by keeping out domestic wildlife, kids with soccer balls and rambunctious dogs.