Gardening is what you make of it. It can be a chore, or it can be a relaxing and invigorating activity. It can be a necessity and a way of life, or it can be a useful hobby. Gardening can also be expensive. If you hire landscapers to do work for you, buy expensive plants and synthetic fertilizers, and construct beds out of landscaping materials, your costs can skyrocket quickly. Or, gardening can be very inexpensive. If you plan your garden carefully and thoughtfully, put in the work, and recycle materials, there is no reason you will have to spend too much to create a garden that is useful, practical, and beautiful.
- Plan ahead. The first rule of being frugal in any aspect of your life is to plan ahead. If you dive into gardening without a plan, you will spend more than you need to, end up with plants that won’t survive in your soil and climate, buy tools you don’t need, and otherwise waste your money. Take the time to plan thoroughly, which includes deciding what you want to grow in your garden and why. Decide if you will be starting a garden for practical purposes or to make your property look nice, or both. If you are growing food to help feed your family, planning is especially important. You need to think about what vegetables and fruits you can grow in your local climate and what foods your family will actually eat. If you are feeling a little lost because you have never gardened before, hit the library for free resources before you get started. You should be able to find books specific to the type of gardening you want to do and if you can’t, the librarian will get them for you.
- Seeds, cuttings, and more seeds. When getting new plants for your garden, you can buy them from the local nursery, hardware store, or farmer’s market, but there is a cheaper way to go about it. Start your plants from seeds, and you will save oodles of money. Plants that are already started cost much more because most of the work has been done for you. All you have to do is put the plant in the ground and water and care for it. Packets of seeds are much less expensive because you do the work of growing them into small plants. You get plenty of seeds per packet, so if you fail with some of them, you have not lost your entire investment. If you have gardening friends, you can even share and trade seeds. If one packet has more seeds than you can use, share with a friend and ask for some of theirs in turn. You can also make cuttings of larger plants to get new plants. This is another instance in which friends come in handy. Trade cuttings, and you can both get new plants for free. Once you have an established garden, collect seeds from your plants to use the following year. If you do this for long enough, you will end up creating your own heirloom varieties!
- Swap plants at a plant swap. Don’t have any gardening friends with whom to share cuttings and seeds? Make new friends by hosting a plant swap. A plant swap is when you and other gardeners get together to trade cuttings, plants, and seeds. You could even include other gardening materials. Maybe you make way more compost than you can use yourself or another gardener has mulch available from taking down and wood chipping a dead tree. Trade and share to save money for everyone. Make up a flier suggesting such an event and host it on your property. Invite neighbors and fellow gardeners to come by with anything they have to offer and make a day of it.
- Make and use compost. There are few things better for your garden than your own homemade compost. As you tend to your garden and property, you will end up with yard waste. In the kitchen, you get waste from your produce. Don’t just throw this stuff away. Start a compost pile in a corner of your yard and you will have a constant supply of free, organic fertilizer for your garden. Even if you are short on time and all you do is leave your dead leaves piled up in one corner, you have an excellent product. Within one season, your leaf pile will be a great supplement for your garden and will attract beneficial earthworms to your soil. Don’t spend money buying a premade compost container. A few pieces of scrap plywood nailed together make an adequate spot for rotting compost.
- Free, recycled, and discounted mulch. Mulch is another important aspect of any garden. It helps keep moisture in the soil, which saves you money on watering. It also suppresses the growth of weeds and keeps the temperature of the soil steady, both of which help your plants grow better. Mulch can be expensive if you purchase it from a garden center, especially if you replenish it every year for maximum effect. If you live in a city, check with the municipality to see if you have a free mulching service. If so, all you need to do is pick it up and haul it home at no cost. Alternately, try buying discounted mulch from garden centers. They will often sell damaged or torn bags of mulch at a significant discount. Ask if they have any on offer. You can also create mulch out of your own free, recycled materials. Newspaper, cardboard, and other paper materials make good mulch.
- Salvage materials. Why buy materials new when you can recycle? When starting seeds inside for your garden, use egg cartons, empty yogurt containers, and other small pots instead of buying small seed pots. Check with garden centers for the materials they throw out. If they can’t sell something, they will toss it. Ask if you can look through their plants, pots, and landscaping materials that are slated for the dump. Go to a nearby salvage yard to find materials and be creative. There is no reason you can’t use an old headboard as a trellis for climbing plants or an old bookshelf for a planter. You can even salvage materials from your house to use in the garden. Those old panty hose with the runs in them make great ties for climbing plants. The packing peanuts you were just going to throw out can be used as drainage material in the bottoms of pots.
- Use water efficiently. Watering in the summer can be one of the most costly things you do with your garden. There are many ways in which you can make watering more efficient and to save yourself a ton of money. When possible, use plants that are native to your local ecosystem. Exotic plants often need more water than you can expect to get from rainfall. Group plants together by water needs. Put the neediest plants together in one spot and place them close to the water source. When you water your plants, do so in the morning so the soil has a chance to soak it up before the heat of the day causes too much evaporation. Recycle rain water by placing a rain barrel under your gutter outlets. You can collect and reuse a lot of water this way. Consider installing a drip irrigation system. It may seem like an expensive task, but it really isn’t. And any initial investment will be paid off very soon. Drip irrigation is much more efficient than simply spraying your plants with a hose.
©2012 Off the Grid News