Access to materials and equipment is as close as the local garden center, the Internet, or the myriad catalogs that come our way year 'round. But even with great bargains at most of these places, a gardening hobby can be expensive. Take a look at some of the many ways you can reduce costs, and often help others at the same time. Feel free to post your own tips and ideas for saving us money.
PLANT MATERIALS: no true garden enthusiast can pass up a sale on plants. But FREE is even better!
- Swap varieties with friends, family, and neighbors. Put your extra plants to good use, and barter for something you don't have, or something you want more of. Plant Parties and Plant Swaps are great ways to meet other gardeners, and they are always well attended. Check with your local Extension office, or locate garden clubs or Master Gardeners. If you can't find anyone, organize your own event. Better yet, get in on the Plant and Seed Trading Community right here at Dave's Garden. With over 30,000 plants to choose from, you can't turn up empty-handed! Check out this article: Throw a Plant Party!
- Propagate new plants from your existing specimens. Use the extras for trading, or expand your gardens with them. Read Pass Along Houseplants
- Divide plants like daylilies, ornamental grasses, iris, and hosta, to name a few. Again, use them to fill out your existing or new beds, or use them as barter.
- Don't forget those plant volunteers in your own garden. When they reach transplant size, move them or pot them up for your plant swap.
- Scout out new places to acquire free plants: many nurseries and landscapers discard plant materials that are either not in A+ condition to sell, or those that are seasonal. The same goes for discount department stores that have a short-season garden department. Another possibility is houses or buildings slated for demolition. Contact the owner and ask permission to remove plant materials before the wrecking ball arrives.
SEEDS: one of the easiest way to expand your garden. All it takes is a little patience.
- Most packets have more seeds in them than we need. Divide and swap.
- Harvest your own. Flowers such as Marigolds, Columbine, Purple Cone Flower, and Black-eyed Susans produce industrial quantities of seed. Easy to harvest and easy to grow. More information from our stable of Dave's Garden writers: A Tale of Some Traveling Seeds, Seed Swapping on Dave's Garden, Seed Starting 101, (2) Collecting Seeds, Storing Saved Seed, and Saving Tomato Seeds
SUPPLIES: a little innovation can save money on the things you need for gardening.
- Starting your own seeds doesn't have to involve the purchase of any special supplies. Instead of peat pots, recycle cardboard paper towel rolls and turn them into individual seed pots. They absorb water quickly and decompose rapidly once planted in the ground.
- Seed starting trays can be made from cardboard flats used for canned goods.
- Make your own potting soil. You do have to buy the ingredients, but you end up with a large quantity. See the recipes at the end of this article.
- Fashion plant markers from plastic knives. Wooden craft sticks or popsicle sticks work also, but don't last more than a season.
- For plant supports, push strong straight tree branches into the ground, then secure tall or drooping plants using strips of nylon stockings or pantyhose. The nylon material won't harm the plant, and it is strong enough to withstand rain and wind.
- Organic fertilizer can be made from several things; bone meal from dried chicken leg bones, crushed and worked into the soil around the plants. Dry banana peels, then grind up and use to enhance potassium content in the soil. Composting is basically free fertilizer! Read more here.
- Make your own safe organic pesticide. Recipe here.
- Vinegar applied full strength is an excellent weed killer for focus applications such as dandelion or thistle, or for the cracks in concrete.
- Consider making your own mulch by running the lawnmower over leaves. Newspaper (black print only) makes wonderful mulch and attracts earthworms.
- Tools don't need to be either fancy or expensive, just good quality. Check yard sales, auctions, and thrift stores for good buys on the basics.
- Proper care of tools will keep them useable longer. Wash and dry after each use. Store in a moisture-free environment.
- Just about anything works as a garden glove. Again, thrift stores or dollar merchandise stores will have gloves adequate for digging in the dirt.
RESOURCES: saving money on saving natural resources is one of the best things you can do for your gardening habit. Cutting down on the water bill is a good start.
- Use a rain barrel. Excellent instructions for building one here and here.
- Use 5-gallon buckets in strategic places in your yard to catch additional rainwater, then use them to water that area when needed. Water conservation practices here.
- Keep a gallon milk jug next to the kitchen sink and fill it while waiting for the hot water to appear. Use the jug to water houseplants or patio pots.
- When establishing new plants in a garden, consider their water needs beforehand and plant accordingly. If a specimen needs plenty of water, and can tolerate some shade, find a spot where it won't dry out as fast. Here's a unique idea for containing water at the plant source.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. See more information here.
Potting Soil Mixes
Soil-Based: 1/3 screened mature compost or leaf mold + 1/3 garden topsoil + 1/3 sharp sand
Growing Mix for Pots & Planters (makes a lot): 30% topsoil + 60% peat + 10% perlite + 5 lbs. lime per cubic yard + 3 lbs. dolomitic lime per cubic yard
Mix for Bedding Plants: 25% compost + 50% peat moss + 25% perlite or vermiculite
For 2009, find ways to continue enjoying your gardens while keeping an eye on your pocketbook. Mother Nature is a salve to the soul when things get tough.