Gardening is great fun and very satisfying pastime, but can be expensive if you buy everything you need retail. However, that isn’t always necessary. There are many ways to save money on your gardening needs.
The three major expenses for the home gardener are water, tools and plants. With a little ingenuity it is possible to cut these costs substantially.
Water rates are going up all over the country, so here are some ideas for conservation. Most importantly, mulch well. Mulch not only holds water, it also keeps soil moist by keeping direct sunlight off of it. Depending on your own tastes and where you live here are some cheap mulch ideas. Use old newspapers, grass clippings or shredded leaves (but not from highly acidic trees like pines). Any of these will serve will and cut your water bills. Also, use soaker hoses. A soaker hose is just a length of hose full of small holes that is closed at one end. Lay it out between plants and let it soak the ground thoroughly. You may have to buy this new, but the water savings make it worth the price. You can also save by not watering in hot, direct sunlight. Watering in the early morning or at dusk keeps cuts down on evaporation.
Tools are expensive if bought new, but because they are usually so well-made they often outlast their owners’ needs (and often the owners as well). Auctions are a great source. Look for auctions held by older folks who are selling their homes. Often you will find a lifetime’s worth of quality, well-cared for tools at rock bottom prices. Yard sales are another good source. Often people who are moving don’t want to move tools and increasingly suburbanites are using yard services and don’t need their own tools. These techniques take patience, but will let you build up a complete tool collection for pennies on the dollar compared with buying new.
Of course, plants is where the biggest gardening costs accrue so it is also where you can save the most. The key to avoiding high nursery prices is to grow your own plants from seeds. To cut costs even more practice seed saving. In the fall, as your plants are dying off, just collect their seeds, dry them between layers of paper towels and then store them in air-tight containers in a cool, dry place. Small, used tupperware containers and jars can often be purchased for pennies at your local Good Will or thrift shop and work very well. In the early spring, start your seeds on any sunny windowsill. While you are at the Good Will, pick up some old cake pans. These make excellent and cheap starter trays. Don’t forget to ask friends and relatives if you can collect seeds from their plants. too.
If you are in more of a hurry, grow plants from cuttings. This works well with most flowers and vines. Ask your friends and relatives to let you take cuttings from established plants. If you cut about six inches of stem and leaves and stick them in small containers kept well-watered you will have plants much faster than starting from seeds. Finally, don’t forget native plants that grow wild along roadsides and creek banks. Just pick up a used field guide, carry a trowel in you car and stop whenever something catches your eye. These plants are well-adapted to your local conditions and therefore need little care. If you have friends with perennials that have grown too large, offer to divide the plants for them if you can have the extras.
These are just a few ways to cut your gardening costs. Once you begin to try them out others will suggest themselves to you. So put aside your wallet and pick up that shovel. Enjoy a beautiful garden for much less than you thought necessary.