Frugal gardener or gardening on a budget – is it possible?
The short answer is yes, you can have a beautiful small space container garden, even on a limited budget.
It’s so easy to overspend in garden centers. To prevent getting carried away (and the shock when you see the total), take a close look at your space before you shop. Make a list, considering the space you have to work with, the exposure, how much sunlight your garden will get, and any other factors (such as wind, or only gets morning sun) and what gardening zone you live in.
Make a container garden plan. Then (despite the temptation) buy only what you need.
And here are more money (and sanity) saving tips:
The frugal gardener – Plants
- Starting your plants from seeds is always the cheapest, but more time-consuming and you also need space and either a sunny window or grow lights.
- Smaller plants (these are called plugs) are less expensive than larger, more developed ones in their own pots. Bigger or with more buds means sooner to bloom, but costs more.
- Exchanging plants with friends, neighborhood or charity plant sales, trading plants with other members of community gardens (allotments) or garden clubs, or looking in classified ads or local online ads for plants are more ways to get healthy plants for less than the garden centre prices.
- Big box stores may have more limited selection, but they can have the lowest prices, and they offer weekend specials and sometimes also have discounts if you buy the bulk packs (an entire flat of plants). If you can’t use that many, buy in bulk with friends, gardening neighbors or a garden group.
- Buy direct from growers.
- Mail-order. Plants arrive healthy and ready to plant. Another advantage is growers offer newly-developed plants and unusual plants you can’t find in local garden centers and will never see at big box stores.
The frugal gardener – something to plant in
Containers (like all garden supplies and furniture) go on sale in mid-summer and by early fall are often half as much (or less) as they were in spring.
But you can often find ones you like for much less at garage sales, church or charity sales and flea markets.
Also check the local free neighborhood goods exchange days and free online ads.
And you don’t need to be limited to store-bought pots for your plants. Anything that can contain soil and has drainage holes at the bottom can work as a planter. A colander makes a wonderful hanging basket; you could plant flowers in a rice sack or an old plastic purse or shopping bag and tomatoes in a wash tub. Whimsical planters are fun to do, you’re recycling and, bonus, you get a free (or really cheap) pot to plant in!
The frugal gardener – Soil
It’s tempting to plant in soil dug from a larger garden or a field but that’s not such a good idea. With that ‘free’ soil you could be getting bugs (or other problems). Also, plants growing in containers need soil that drains well and is high in nutrients to make up for the limited growing space.
You could mix your own soil specifically for the plants you want to grow. Plenty of gardeners do this, but it is actually more expensive, and you need the space to store the ingredients of your soil recipe.
The best option I’ve found is to buy quality soil or soil-less mix at either grocery or discount stores.
If you have storage space, you can save and re-use soil. I put it in double-bagged garbage bags, only partly filled so they don’t get too heavy, and then use it only in the bottom half of the next season’s containers, topping up with newly-purchased soil.
Sand mixed in your containers helps with drainage. It’s free at the beach – but may be contaminated. You can pay a lot for a very small bag of clean sharp sand (that just means fine sand) at garden centers, or get sand-box sand for a lot less at landscaping supply centers. It works just the same.
The frugal gardener feeds their plants
Composting is a great way to save money. Adding some compost (or manure) provides a power boost for many plants, but only use these on your outdoor containers that won’t be coming back inside for winter.
Slow-release fertilizers are convenient because you only need to feed once for the growing season, but this is the most expensive option. You will save money if you buy the liquid or powder plant food that mixes with water, easy to do. I’ve found the best prices for these at discount stores.