Did you know that on average more money is spent on gardening than on any other hobby? Gardening is the most popular hobby in America. As a gardener myself, I know firsthand just how addictive this pastime can be. The more your garden grows, the more you keep adding to it until you’re basically bankrupt. Whether it is an additional plant, bed, tools or even an ornamental piece, you soon find yourself spending money again and again. However, this does not have to be the case at all.
After a few years of investing more money than I could actually afford, I finally decided to try something different. Instead of continually buying new seeds or ready-to-plant flowers and shrubs each year, I began saving money by starting my own plants. Many seeds can be purchased for next to nothing, if you know where to look. Catalogs are great sources for seeds but compare prices beforehand in order to get the best savings. The type of seed packet you purchase is usually indicative of the overall cost with respect to the plant’s upkeep. For instance, plants which are more commonly grown in your area will normally require less maintenance, and therefore, the seeds may be less expensive. On the other hand, plants which are rare in your locality are oftentimes more costly and may require more of your time and money to ensure a healthy specimen. Therefore, it is better to stick with those types of plants in which you know something about as well as those which are commonly suited to your area. If you are really into cutting costs, why not try collecting your own seeds. Simply collect seed heads from the plants and store them in a dark, dry place. I like to use brown, paper lunch bags for storing my seeds. They are inexpensive and can be easily labeled for plant identification.
Instead of purchasing those costly pots and containers, I found ways of reusing the ones I already had as well as incorporating other objects such as old, worn-out work boots, wheel barrows, wash tubs, etc. I have even used jars, an old bath tub, and hollowed-out stumps as containers. As long as the object in question allows for adequate drainage, the possibilities are endless. When it comes to starting my seeds, I also like to recycle items. For example, I have found Styrofoam egg cartons to be quite useful for all kinds of things, especially seed germination. I simply cut the top of the egg carton off and set it aside. I then pierce a couple of small drainage holes within each of the sections along the bottom piece. Once the ‘mini pots’ are filled with soil mix and seeds, I place the top portion of the egg carton beneath it. I can then water my seeds without the worry of making a mess. The best part is that you can reuse the egg cartons over and over.
You might also consider dividing and transplanting what you already have. This has helped me to save money over the years as well. Also, family, friends, and neighbors are always good sources for trading plants and cuttings. You not only acquire more plants this way, but it’s a huge money saver and allows you an opportunity to share ideas with other people that also enjoy your passion for gardening.
If you take the time to design your garden based on your available space, this will also help to save money. For instance, instead of the traditional garden plot of rows, I have found that I can make the most of my space through small, raised beds. Not only do raised beds have looser soil, which is ideal for providing an optimum soil environment for root growth, but they require less maintenance. Nearly anything that holds soil and maintains shape can be used for the construction of a raised bed, and the size and number of beds is based on your particular needs. In other words, you can start out small and work up in size as time, space, and finances permit. Creating paths between the beds will simplify maintenance as well and looks attractive too. Container gardening is another option that can be implemented.
Mulching can get quite expensive, especially for those with large gardens. Few places offer mulch for free; however, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area full of pine trees, you will have a continuous supply of mulch for your plants. Believe it or not, pine needles make excellent mulch. They are loaded with minerals that can prove to be very beneficial to plants. I have used it on my own gardens and have found an additional benefit; the leaves and other plant material that accompanies the pine needles (not found in commercial bales) are great compost material. This is yet another way of saving dollars in the garden. You can also refrain from buying soil again and again simply by making a compost pile of your own. Grass clippings, kitchen scraps (no meats or fat), leaves, newspaper, and manure (no cat or dog droppings) are commonly used for composting. Also, by using manure, you don’t need to buy expensive fertilizers. Horse and chicken manure make great fertilizers and can be purchased at little or no cost. Actually, many people who own chicken farms or horse stables will allow you to get as much manure as needed for nothing at all. It saves them from having to clean it up. Those living in rural areas may have neighbors owning these animals and more often than not are usually glad to help. You may also want to consider using coffee grounds and crushed egg shells. These are great organic fertilizers; and if you’re like me, coffee and eggs are something commonly on hand.
Ridding your garden of insects and other pests can get costly as well. However, there are alternatives to buying expensive pesticides. For instance, soap or garlic sprays offer a safe, nontoxic benefit, and they deter many insects. You can also choose to add beneficial insects such as lady bugs or praying mantis to the garden. I have found that incorporating certain plants in my garden such as marigolds, garlic, and nasturtiums help deter many insect pests.
I have been an avid gardener for over ten years. In the beginning, I admit going overboard when it came to buying everything possible in order to create ‘the ultimate garden.’ It didn’t take long, however, before I started to incorporate my own creative ideas as a way to save money. Instead of buying expensive ornamental pieces for my garden, I started collecting interesting items gathered from yard sales or even transforming old, thrown-out remnants into unique objects. I once dressed up an old mailbox and implemented it as a haven for birds. I created a birdbath from old bricks and topped it off with a round, plastic tray. Discarded tools became ornamental focal points and even items such as metal gates or bed frames have been used as a trellis for climbing plants within my gardens. Remember, gardening doesn’t have to be expensive. Just by adding some creativity of your own, you can continue to enjoy one of America’s favorite pastimes for less than half the cost.